Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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One of the more controversial of the so-called new religions. Begun by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard initially under the term Dianetics , the Church of Scientology is now a worldwide new religion of significance.

Hubbard began developing his ideas concerning Dianetics as a way to heal the mind in the late 1940s in science fiction publications. His promotion of a lay psychotherapy in Dianetics , published in 1950, was supposed to offer relief from psychosomatic and psychological symptoms. The book, which became an immediate best-seller, had a large appeal, and informal groups sprang up around the United States to put Hubbard's ideas into practice. A few years later, Hubbard broke with those leading the Dianetics movement, apparently over issues of his authoritarian control, and established Scientology. The new movement incorporated ideas from Dianetics but also added a number of new elements, which, according to Hubbard, gave the new movement much more of a spiritual dimension. In 1956, Hubbard officially established the Founding Church of Scientology.

A key idea from Dianetics was that of engrams , which are defined as "psychic scars" deriving from past traumatic events. These engrams preclude a person developing his or her full potential unless cleared through processes known only to Scientology. Some of the processes developed within Scientology use a device called an "E-meter," which is based on the principle of galvanic skin response. Use of this device was banned at one time by the Food and Drug Administration over claims being made by Scientology that its use could cure many ills.

Scientology has been in a continual controversy with the psychiatric profession over some techniques, such as shock therapy, used within the mental health profession. Scientology also has a reputation of being the most litigious of all the new religions, as it quite frequently engages in legal battles with governments and with other detractors. It also has been the target of civil and criminal actions as well as of government bans in some countries. Scientology has overcome many of the legal hurdles it has faced over the years, and some of the cases have become major freedom-of-religion cases. For instance, the leading case in Australia on the issue of defining religion and establishing legal guarantees for minority religions derived from a battle won by Scientology to define itself as a tax-exempt religion. Recently in the United States, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it was giving up its decades-long battle with Scientology over the tax-exempt status of payments for Scientology courses designed to achieve various levels of the "clear" status. The U.S. State Department also has officially expressed its concern to Germany over German repression of Scientology.

Scientology has recently joined a number of other minority and new religions in moving into former Soviet Union and Eastern and Central European countries following the fall of communism. It has established organizational outposts in those countries and is expending significant resources to spread its message.

James T. Richardson


W. S. Bainbridge and R. Stark, "Scientology," Sociological Analysis 41(1980):128-136

G. Malko, Scientology (New York: Dell, 1970)

R. Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom (London: Heinemann, 1976).

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