The image to the left shows Braco Ivica, a 48-year-old Croatian man known to his followers as “The Gazer”.
They believe that, if they return his gaze, he will somehow be able to ‘absorb’ their mental and physical ailments, and heal them. They make a variety of claims to this effect.
When Braco appears in public (for his followers to gaze upon him) he protects his mystique by a policy of enigmatic silence – he never, ever speaks a word. He hardly even moves. He also provides regular video feeds, enabling followers to experience his virtual gaze.
On the surface, there appears to be no similarity between Braco and Scientology. However, one of Scientology’s ‘training routines’ is actually very similar indeed to ‘gazing’. I suspect that both Braco and the TR exploit the same compelling psychological phenomenon. After that, the parallels come thick and fast. Continue reading
Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through
interpersonal gazing | Giovanni B. Caputo| Psychiatry Research 228 (2015) 659-663 Download Full Text as .pdf
In plain language, this scientific paper describes a series of experiments which investigate the psychological consequences of two people (a dyad) staring at each other for a period of time (in this case, no longer than 10 minutes).
The author concludes that this can bring about visual hallucinations and a dissociated state, including a feeling of being disconnected from your body.
This is highly relevant to the ‘Training Routines’ (TR’s) taught to beginners in Scientology and Narconon – especially “TR0 Confronting“which is described on the linked page. During this exercise participants (who stare at each other for two hours or more) commonly recruit strange hallucinations and a feeling of leaving their body.
Note: page numbers given are from the .pdf reader software, not the article itself. Continue reading
1982 | On the Presumed Fragility of Unconventional Beliefs | David A Snow and Richard Machalek | Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 21 (1) 15-26
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To an outsider, it is an understatement to say that the doctrines of Scientology appear implausible and lack credibility. A common question from people who encounter them for the first time (for example the Xenu story) is, ‘how can anyone believe this nonsense?’.
Scholars tend to assume that because such ideas are easily disproved, belief in them is “fragile” – this is, it may be broken or lost at any time. They have developed various theories to explain why it often persists despite this fragility. Most hold that fringe groups exert powerful social pressure on believers, who rationalise away their doubts in a psychological process known as cognitive dissonance.
The authors of this paper observe that scholars are (by nature and training) analytical and sceptical – and that this may be a form of bias. They suggest ‘true believers’ do not share these characteristics, and may have no difficulty in holding weird beliefs. In other words, scholars are over-thinking it, and inventing complex theories to solve a problem which, in fact, only exists for them.
They turn the tables on scholars and ask, “perhaps it is disbelief, rather than belief that is in need of attention”.
This is a genuine, well-argued, minority viewpoint. I think it has some merit – but is dangerously inappropriate when applied to Scientology (which is one of their examples).
2011 | The History of Credibility Attacks Against Former Cult Members | Stephen A Kent Phd
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This paper discusses the controversy within social science (Kent is a sociologist) regarding the value of the testimony of ex-members of “high-control groups” – including the odd reference to Scientology.
In it, a prominent academic who has worked extensively with ex-members of these groups (and is an expert on Scientology) discusses,
[the problems] that have arisen with cult critics attempting to work with some former members, or at least people claiming to have left various groups.
and notes that,
A brief history of those problems, therefore, provides a cautionary tale worth telling in anti-cult
or counter-cult circles.
It is by keeping half an eye on the possibility that some few ex-members are not completely reliable that Kent has developed his formidable reputation as an accurate and objective scholar. This makes his criticisms of “high control groups” all the more effective – for example, his condemnation of Scientology’s labour camps (the RPF) for human rights abuses.
This is a good lesson for activists, who may find their own long-term credibility damaged by an encounter with any of the six types of unreliable potentially unreliable informants that Kent Describes. Continue reading
2003 | Scientology: Religion or Racket? | Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
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This paper is an original take on the ongoing debate over whether or not The Church of Scientology is a religion or not.
In 2001, after the terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Centre, Fox news received an e-mail. It included a ‘hotline’ which the author claimed would provide people traumatised by this terrible event with referrals to appropriate agencies and emotional support.
In the chaos after the attack, journalists included this number in their coverage without checking into its source. For several hours, viewers of Fox news saw a telephone number scrolling across the bottom of the screen: “MENTAL HEALTH ASSISTANCE 800-FOR-TRUTH” (see the image above).
It soon emerged that the hotline was provided by the Church of Scientology in an apparent attempt to insure that vulnerable people contacted The Church of Scientology instead of their perceived enemy, psychiatry (which they believe is engaged in a conspiracy to oppress mankind, and is responsible for many historical evils – including the Nazi Holocaust). Continue reading
1983 | Psychology’s Occult Doubles: Psychology and the Problem of Pseudoscience
Thomas Hardy Leahey and Grace Evans Leahey
This site began as an attempt to compile a comprehensive and up-to-date list of books examining Scientology from an academic and critical perspective. It branched out partly because I was running out of books. However, now and again, an overlooked but very valuable text turns up – and this is one such.
The book begins by using the work of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper in the philosophy of science to clearly draw the distinction between real science (specifically psychology) and pseudoscience.
The authors then develop their thesis by examining a number of historical pseudosciences which claimed to understand the human mind – Phrenology, Mesmerism, Spiritualism, Psychical Research and finally, “Contemporary Therapeutic Cults”. Their discussion of Scientology in this section is brief, but penetrating. Continue reading
Gateshead (UK) ‘Ideal Org’ in 2011
There is a lot going on in this academic treatise.
Kent analyses the development of Scientology according to the ideas of the Sociologist Rodney Stark. Stark has constructed a theoretical model that tries to explain why new religions succeed or fail .
Kent concludes that, according to Stark’s model, Scientology in Europe and the US is in decline, and the long-term prognosis is terminal.
Kent is not the only academic to have applied this theory to Scientology. Religious scholar James R Lewis has also done so in a book simply entitled “Scientology” (which has been widely criticized as an apologist work).
In this paper, Kent also critiques Lewis’ conclusions, both on matters of fact and interpretation. Continue reading
2002 Hollywood’s Celebrity-Lobbyists and the Clinton Administration’s American Foreign Policy Toward German Scientology
Stephen A Kent | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture Volume I: Spring 2002
View Online (.pdf)
In this paper, the Canadian sociologist Stephen A Kent analyses Scientology’s lobbying of the Clinton administration, with the aim of persuading it to intervene on its behalf with the German Federal Government.
Kent links this PR effort with Scientology’s ‘victory’ over the American tax authority (the IRS) in its protracted battle for charitable status. Now that the organisation was tax-exempt, they could afford to spend serious money on lobbying efforts (for example, between 1976 and 1997 they paid $750,000 to a Washington lobbying firm, “Federal Legislative Associates” alone).
At this time, Scientology was under investigation by the German Federal Government, who concluded not only that it was not a religion, but also that the organisation constituted a thread to democracy. Kent argues that Scientology exploited both their new status as a ‘religion’ in the US and their enhanced income to persuade the Clinton administration to influence the German Federal Government. Their ultimate aim was to achieve the same tax-exempt and unregulated status in Germany that they has just gained in the US. Continue reading
2001 The French & German vs. American Debate over ‘New Religions’, Scientology, and Human Rights
Stephen A Kent
Marburg Journal of Religion Volume 6, No. 1 (January 2001)
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Abstract: This article critically examines the allegations of religious intolerance that United States officials and governmental staff have levelled against France and Germany (along with other European countries) for their policies on, and actions toward, Scientology and other controversial groups. It argues that American officials appear to be poorly informed about the bases for the Europeans’ critical positions, and that those officials have been the recipients of selective information provided by Scientology itself along with Scientology’s supporters. It concludes by offering a preliminary analysis of this Euro-American debate in the context of ‘international social movements’ theory within the social sciences.
2009 | Scientology | Edited by James R Lewis
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Academics are not activists. Their job is to present an objective account of their object of study – to provide the truth. This makes the work of people like James R Lewis particularly galling.
Lewis edited this book, which is a compilation of articles about the Church of Scientology – supposedly from a Sociological perspective. However, it suffers from a number of fatal flaws, any one of which is sufficient to bring its objectivity and the editors’ professional standards into serious question. These shortcomings are clearly laid out in a book review by Terra Manca (quoted below) Read Online | Download as .pdf
(Edit: and addressed in detail by Stephen A Kent – in this later post)
This book was so bad, it attracted not only the disapproval of the academic community, but also the astonished attention of “Private Eye”, a popular UK satirical magazine.