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SCIENTOLOGY is a spiritual movement that grew out of the ideas and practices advocated by Layfayette Ronald (L. Ron) Hubbard (19111986), a writer and former U.S. naval officer. After his discharge from the navy, Hubbard became a writer of popular fiction, but even before he left the service he dedicated himself to determining both the cause of the human situation and the means of correcting it. His efforts led him to author several book-length manuscripts in the late 1940s and to publish several articles. Then in 1950 his book Dianetics, released by a small publishing house, jumped onto the New York Times best-seller lists.

Dianetics was the name Hubbard gave to the system of thought and practice that grew out of his concentrated exploration of the human mind. He believed humanity's problems were caused by mental aberrations (called engrams ); he proposed a form of counseling termed auditing as the means to rid the self of the engrams. Dianetics teaches that the human mind has a twofold structure: the analytic mind and the reactive mind. The analytic mind thinks, plans, observes the world, and records memories. However, at particular moments, especially at times of severe distress or pain, the analytic mind recedes, and the reactive mind takes over. The reactive mind simply observes, records, and stores memories at times when the analytic mind is not functional. Such memories are generally not available to the conscious self but may be the source of irrational and dysfunctional behavior. Dianetics was designed to rid people of the effects of the reactive mind and bring them to a state of clear.

When Dianetics became a popular movement, Hubbard gathered his most enthusiastic supporters, including a number of physicians, into a board and founded several organizations to structure the movement. He continued to observe people undergoing Dianetic counseling or auditing, which explored individuals' memories. During these processes Hubbard began to encounter memories that seemed to reach to a time prior to birth and even to a previous existence in a different body. This experience and other factors led him to refocus his primary concern from the mind to the human spirit, that permanent part of the self that he believed could continue past death and into reincarnation, a different physical existence in a new body.

Speculation on the human spirit seemed to be suggesting the movement toward religion, a direction that many of Hubbard's associates (including some board members) rejected. Hubbard persisted in developing his thought, however, which as early as 1952 he called Scientology. The first Church of Scientology was founded in Los Angeles in 1954; another opened in Washington, D.C., the following year, with Hubbard serving as its executive director. Other churches soon emerged in New Zealand, South Africa, England, and Ireland.

Scientology Beliefs

Scientology most closely resembles a Western esoteric-Gnostic system. In the early 1950s Hubbard posited the existence of a spiritual being called a thetan that was neither body nor intellect. He hypothesized that the thetan could live apart from the body (a phenomenon he called exteriorization ) and had existed in other bodies prior to the present one. Further, he concluded, it was the essential nature of the thetan to survive, and it attempted to do so around a set of ever more inclusive concerns that he termed the eight dynamics. First, it seeks to survive as an individualfinding expression in creativity, sexuality, and family life. It then seeks to survive by identification with various human groupings, humanity as a whole, all life-forms, and eventually larger concernsthe universe, spirituality, and the infinite or Supreme Being. Hubbard's discussion of the infinite aligns with both Eastern and Western mystical speculations.

Scientology is structured toward grasping the eight dynamics sequentially, beginning with the seemingly mundane issues of individual and social issues, gradually reaching levels at which (in Western eyes) more traditional religious concerns are addressed. The church teaches that until the basic issues of life are set right, the larger issues of spirituality and God are difficult to bring into focus.

Hubbard also set the thetan's path to enlightenment into a fairly familiar myth of entrapment and escape. Thetans are thought to have come into existence billions of years ago. Along the way, they fell into the universe of matter, energy, space, and time (MEST). Although thetans had created MEST, they eventually forgot they were the creators and became imprisoned in their own creation. The thetans as a group also went through several horrendous cosmic events that further stripped them of their abilities and even the conscious memory of what had happened to them. Their various adventures have led them to the present time on earth.

As with other forms of esotericism (alchemy, Qabbalah, hermetics), Scientology proposes an explanation of the human condition, a means of escape, and a way to return to the spiritual world of the pre-MEST thetan. When individuals reach the state of clear, they are no longer bound by the reactive mind and are ready to confront the barriers to complete freedomthose products of the early cosmic events that still affect their lives. Scientology literature describes the cosmic career of the thetans in mythic stories similar to those in ancient Gnostic and Hindu myths. The full content of these myths are revealed only to the church member as they move through the upper levels of church life.

By the time they reach the higher or operating thetan (OT) levels of church membership, members have become intimately familiar with auditing, the basic counseling technique that rids them of engrams and the reactive mind. At the higher levels, auditing is also used to confront additional encumbrances on the thetan produced by its cosmic history. Auditing uses an instrument called an e-meter, a modified whetstone bridge that measures subtle changes in the electrical current moving through the body. In the hands of a trained auditor, it is believed that the e-meter can register changing states in the thetan and greatly assist the process of gaining awareness.

Church Organization

The Church of Scientology is organized hierarchically. At the lowest level are the local churches and missions that introduce people to the church and provide members with basic teachings and auditing leading to clear. Local churches are tied together by the Church of Scientology International, which operates similarly to the Mother Church of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Local churches and missions are autonomous but are bound to the international body by a set of licenses that grant the use of Scientology copyrights and trademarks. Local churches also agree to follow the procedures (called the technology ) laid down in Hubbard's writings in all of the classes and auditing they provide for members. The copyrights and trademarks are held by a unique church structure, the Religious Technology Center, whose chair is considered the true head of the church.

In addition to local churches, there is a set of special church facilities designed to provide the materials, teachings, and services for operating thetans. The basic OT levels (I-V) are provided at the several Advanced Organizations (in Los Angeles, Sydney, Copenhagen, and East Grimstead, United Kingdom). OT VI and VII are delivered through the Flag Service Organization in Clearwater, Florida. OT VIII, the highest level available to church members in the early twenty-first century, is offered aboard an oceangoing vessel, the Freewinds. Additional levels are expected to be offered, but their release awaits enough members having attained OT VIII.

Auditorsministers found in every church facilityare trained at the Saint Hill organizations in Los Angeles, Sydney, and East Grimstead, which function as seminaries. In addition the church has developed a special concern to serve individuals in the arts, many of whom lead public lives. To allow such members the privacy to pursue their own spiritual advancement, the church supports a number of celebrity centers where they may go for auditing and other Scientology course work. A number of Hollywood entertainers have joined the church, and a few, such as Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley, have served as spokespersons.

In 1967 Hubbard created a fraternity of dedicated Scientologists to whom he assigned the exacting task of delivering the higher OT levels to the membership. The group, known as the Sea Organization, evolved into an ordered community (analogous to monastic orders) of men and women who committed their lives to working for the spread of Scientology worldwide. Following the reorganization of the church in the early 1980s, the Sea Organization assumed leadership of the church internationally; everyone who holds policy-making and administrative positions at the continental and global levels is a Sea Organization member.


Controversy has plagued Scientology from its earliest days. Many early participants rejected the change from secular Dianetics to religious Scientology. Many early observers, noting the difference between Scientology and the more dominant Western religions, missed the many religious trappings with which they were familiar. Controversy reached a new height in 1963, when U.S. government agents seized the church's e-meters and accused it of practicing medicine without a license. This action had international repercussions. Scientology was banned for a time in parts of Australia, and other governments began to limit the church's activities. The Guardian's Office was established in 1966 to handle attacks on the church.

Controversy peaked in 1979, when members of the Guardian's Office, in their attempt to locate government records about the church, infiltrated government offices and made copies of official documents. After the arrest and conviction of the office's leadership, the church was completely reorganized under the Religious Technology Center and the Church of Scientology International.

Much of the ongoing controversy concerning the church concerns its structure as an esoteric organization (in which teachings are only revealed to the higher-level members) and its finances. The church works on a basis of reciprocitythat is, members give of their time and energy, and the church delivers its services. Most often members donate money for which they receive auditing or classes. This structure, though widely used among esoteric groups, has caused many, including some governments, to question the church's religious nature and brand it a business operation. Before granting the church tax-exempt status in the early 1990s, for example, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service conducted the longest investigation in agency history to that date.

As the anticult movement emerged in the 1970s, critics of Scientology labeled it a cult and published a number of books and shorter writings attacking it. The church fought back in the courts, and while frequently winning, gained a reputation for litigiousness. In subsequent years, critics have contested every aspect of the church's life, while the church has aggressively defended its founder and program.

In spite of ongoing problems with several European countries and its frequent court appearances, the Church of Scientology experienced steady growth through the first half-century of its existence. Since 1954 congregations and missions have opened in more than seventy countries around the world, and the basic text Dianetics has been translated into more than fifty languages. The church sponsors a spectrum of social programs to combat illiteracy, drug abuse, crime, and the breakdown of social ethics.

See Also

Anticult Movements; Hubbard, L. Ron.


Christensen, Dorthe Refslund. Scientology: Fra terapi til religion. Copenhagen, 1997.

Church of Scientology International. Scientology: Theology and Practice of a Contemporary Religion. Los Angeles, 1998. Includes brief articles by a spectrum of scholars on Scientology.

Church of Scientology International. What Is Scientology? Los Angeles, 1998.

Friends of Ron, comp. L. Ron Hubbard: A Profile. Los Angeles, 1995. A comprehensive biographical work from the Church of Scientology.

Hubbard, L. Ron. Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. New York, 1950; reprint, Los Angeles, 2000.

Melton, J. Gordon. The Church of Scientology. Salt Lake City, Utah, 2001.

Whitehead, Harriet. Renunciation and Reformulation: A Study of an American Sect. Ithaca, N.Y., 1987.

J. Gordon Melton (2005)

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