Scientology, Church of

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Scientology, Church of

The Church of Scientology is a distinctly American religious movement that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, and it is one of the few such movements that has sustained organizational stability and growth. By the 1990s the church had branches in more than seventy countries and claimed a membership of several million based on participation in various church-sponsored programs. The church is sometimes described as New Age, given its individualistic, human potential orientation, and as quasi-religious, given its blending of religion and therapy. In comparison to other such movements, Scientology is tightly, hierarchically organized and has self-consciously chosen a religious identity.

L. Ron Hubbard: Founder of Scientology

The Church of Scientology was founded by Lafayette Ronald Hubbard. There are conflicting accounts of Hubbard's life. These range from Scientology's photographic biography L. Ron Hubbard Images of a Lifetime: A Photographic Biography (1996), to highly critical accounts such as Russell Miller's The Bare-Faced Messiah (1988). Hubbard was born in Tilden, Nebraska, in 1911. Many themes that became relevant to Scientology's development and Hubbard's leadership style—sailing and aviation; travel and exploration; workings of the human mind; fiction and nonfiction writing—can be traced to activities and interests he developed during his teenage and young adult years. Through the 1930s he devoted himself to writing and publishing different genres of fiction, most notably science fiction. During World War II he was commissioned as a naval lieutenant and saw combat in the Pacific. Toward the end of the war, while he was hospitalized, he began ruminating on the nature of the human mind, laying the groundwork for his subsequent development of Dianetics.

In 1950 Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health was published, and Dianetics quickly became a popular alternative to traditional therapy. Shortly thereafter Hubbard formed the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation to offer classes and train practitioners. As Dianetics developed, practitioners reported puzzling findings, incidents, and details from their previous lives. These reports led Hubbard to postulate the existence of an immortal essence for each individual that existed across lifetimes. These immaterial, immortal spiritual entities possessing virtually infinite powers he called thetans. The discovery of thetans led to the emergence of Scientology, with a spiritual rather than simply a therapeutic orientation. Hubbard spent the next two decades developing successively higher levels of Scientology thought and practice.

Hubbard served as administrative and spiritual leader of Scientology until 1966, when he resigned his organizational positions to pursue further research. He formed the Sea Organization, a church unit staffed by advanced members, that was located on oceangoing ships until in 1975 when it was moved to a land base in Florida. Hubbard continued to relinquish organizational control over Scientology; by 1980 he withdrew from public life and remained secluded until his death in 1986. Church leaders announced that Hubbard's body had become an impediment to his work and that he was continuing research on another planet.

Dianetics and Scientology Technology

According to Hubbard, the basic human objective is survival, and the mind functions to solve survivalrelated problems. The structure of the mind is triadic, composed of the somatic, reactive, and analytical minds. The somatic mind regulates the basic mechanisms that sustain an organism's life. The reactive mind operates on a nonvolitional basis but exerts influence over individual thought and action. The analytical mind is the conscious, analytic, problem-solving component. During periods of trauma, the analytic mind shuts down and the reactive mind assumes control, forming detailed memory records of experiences. Hubbard named these records engrams. The engrams in the reactive mind cause emotional and irrational responses to anything that produces an association with the original experiences. Engrams undermine the capacity for individuals to engage in survival-promoting behavior, to achieve personal development, and to reflect humanity's essential goodness. Instead, individuals engage in behavior that is individually and socially destructive. The goal of Dianetics therapy involves a process termed auditing, which eliminates engrams by identifying, recalling, and extinguishing traumatic experiences. When this process is complete an individual is pronounced "Clear." Scientology continues the auditing process to eliminate engrams accumulated from past lives so that individuals can fully express their essential nature.

The drive to survive and express individual essence occurs across a number of what Hubbard terms "dynamics." The eight dynamics constitute an ascending hierarchy of needs for: (1) individual survival, (2) sexual reproduction and family survival, (3) group and nation survival, (4) species survival, (5) survival of all life forms, (6) survival by the physical universe, (7) survival by the individual as a spiritual entity, and (8) survival through infinity/oneness. The highest level of survival therefore involves a spiritual entity uniting with the universe. Individuals who succeed in eliminating all accumulated trauma and achieving full self-expression are defined as operating thetans.


The organization of Scientology is threefold. One set of groups organizes the practice of Scientology and the training of practitioners. Local units consist of hundreds of missions and churches, which operate as licensed franchises offering introductory levels of Scientological training on a fee-for-service basis. Above the church/mission level are a number of types of organizations: (1) Saint Hill Organizations, which function as colleges for auditors and ministers; (2) a variety of advanced training units, which provide the highest levels of Scientology technology; (3) the Sea Organization, which parallels traditional monastic orders and staffs advanced and management organizations; (4) the Religious Technology Center, which oversees the quality of Scientology training and licenses local churches; (5) the Church of Scientology Spiritual Technology Organization, which preserves Hubbard's writings; (6) Celebrity Centers, which assist artists in developing artistic and communication skills; (7) the International Association of Scientologists, which disseminates information on religious and civil rights to members; and (8) the Church of Scientology International, which functions as the umbrella unit for all Scientology churches and organizations.

Social betterment groups apply Hubbard's technologies in the larger society. These include (1) Narconon and Criminon, which provide drug education and rehabilitation services to drug users and criminals; (2) Applied Scholastics, which employs Hubbard's educational technology to teach students how to learn and eliminate barriers to effective study; (3) The Way to Happiness Foundation, which disseminates Scientology's moral code; and (4) the Association for Better Living and Education, which coordinates and publicizes the various betterment programs.

Social reform organizations include (1) the Citizens' Commission on Human Rights, which primarily targets abusive practices in psychiatry; (2) the National Commission on Law Enforcement and Social Justice, which combats abuses by national and international policing agencies; and (3) the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises, which offers training in a variety of business skills.


Scientology has been embroiled in controversy since its inception. Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association dismissed Dianetics soon after its publication. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation of possible violations of unlicensed medical practice. The transition from Dianetics to Scientology was followed by an Internal Revenue Service challenge to Scientology's status as a church. The tax-exempt status of the church was revoked and was not reinstated until 1993. For its part, Scientology has always adopted a militant posture toward critics; during its early history the church engaged in covert campaigns to intimidate, discredit, and neutralize opponents. Most notable was the infiltration of government agencies and the theft of documents, which resulted in the imprisonment of several high-level church leaders. The church has renounced its former tactics and dismissed leaders responsible for them, but it continues to acknowledge use of all possible legal means to combat opponents. The church remains the target of governmental control efforts, particularly in Europe.

See alsoHuman Potential Movement; New Age Spirituality; New Religious Movements; Psychotherapy.


Bromley, David, and Mitchell Bracey. "Religion as Therapy, Therapy as Religion: The Church of Scientology as a Quasi-Religious Therapy." In Sects,Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis, edited by William Zellner and Marc Petrowsky. 1998.

Church of Scientology. The Scientology Handbook. 1994.

Church of Scientology. Scientology: Theology and Practiceof a Contemporary Religion. 1992.

Wallis, Roy. The Road to Total Freedom. 1977.

David G. Bromley

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