Watching the Scientologists

She's filing her nails as they're dragging the lake - Elvis Costello, Watching the Detectives

A selection of academic papers are accessible in .pdf format from a CoS Web page:
'What Religious Scholars Say About The Scientology Religion'

A shorter list in HTML with one new paper is at:
'The Bonafides of the Scientology Religion'

These papers appear to have been collected over the years by the CoS, some in relation to efforts to obtain IRS tax exemption. It is possible critics have assumed these to be propaganda pieces, but this turns out not to be the case. Most of the papers are worth a look and some are interesting.
I take these to be the papers to which Stephen Kent refers ('Although some social scientists insist that Scientology is a religion') in his antithetical article often quoted by critics and webbed at several locations including
Since every controversy has two sides, both should be considered. What follows are notes and comments on some of the CoS papers. I think anyone interested in this aspect of scientology should read them. They are also looked at by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi in his paper Scientology: Religion or racket? (Marburg Journal of Religion, 2003) in the section "SCIENTOLOGY AND THE NRM SCHOLARS").
None of these papers have a copyright notice. I have put dates below where these are indicated in or can be inferred from the papers. For an organisation that is obsessed with protecting the copyright of its own work, this seems strange.

Scientology, Social Science and the Definition of Religion
James A Beckford
Prof. of Sociology, University of Warwick, England

Two ways of defining religion are considered, Functionalist and Substantive. On Functionalist grounds (does it do for people what religions do) Prof. Beckford considers Scientology fits the bill.
On Substantive grounds he goes for a definition I've supported elsewhere, that of a religion requiring a 'distinction between an empirical and a super-empirical, transcendent reality'. He takes Scientology's belief in thetans to be an essential element and assumes they can be equated with the Christian soul; therefore the definition fits.

One paragraph I confess to be mystifying:
'My conclusion is that Scientology, whilst clearly differing from the majority of Christian churches, denominations and sects in beliefs, practises and organisational structures, nevertheless...' Er, what? Scientology doesn't differ from a minority of Christian denominations?

A Comparison with Religions of the East and West
Per-Arne Berglie
Prof., History of Religion, Univ of Stockholm

Berglie, having established that he has no problems regarding the CoS as a religion, falls straight into the trap:
'the starting point as far as the source of the religion is concerned is simply the picture of itself which the church considers to be representitive'.
Fine, except that this breaks down if the church isn't telling the truth or has (as the CoS does) secret teachings.
In some instances he appears to have smelt a rat, for example he wonders if L Ron's official life might be hagiographical, and if the religious services he has read about are really as central to CoS activity as he is being told.
On the East-West question he has very little to say, pointing out the obvious similarities but not going into enough detail to start a debate.
Don't bother with this one.

Is Scientology a Religion?
Alan W Black
Ass. Prof. of Sociology, Univ of New England, NSW, Australia.

Prof. Black, having read most of the publically available CoS texts with which we are familiar, considers Scientology according to seven dimensions which religions typically include:
Doctrinal and Philosophical, Practical and Ritual, Experiential, Narrative or Mythic, Ethical, Social and Institutional, Material.
His analysis of Scientology is considerably less opaque and bland than the PR on, and he correctly spots some less than obvious concepts, such as the special meaning of 'Ethics' in Scientology.
Quite good.

Scientology: A New Religion
M Darrol Bryant, Ph.D.
Prof. of Religion and Culture, Univ of Waterloo, Canada

Bryant starts by a general look at 'new religions', comparing them with the new religions of previous centuries and pointing out where they seem to differ.
His definition is 'a distinctive set of religious beliefs concerning the meaning and ultimate end of human life'. On this basis he give Scientology a pass.

Regis Dericquebourg
Prof., Sociology of Religion, Univ. of Lille, France
Translated from French by (I think) an English Scientologist

'Our presentation is neither polemic nor apologetic', says Dericquebourg, who claims to have been studying the CoS for some time.
He starts with an exposition of CoS beliefs and practises, and then moves on to a survey of French Scientologists. 285 'followers' (= non-staff?) were included. Some interesting data here.
In addition 15 members were interviewed on their beliefs to see if they matched the 'official' CoS ones (good idea!) which with some exceptions they did. In analysing the results Dericquebourg points out some of the unique aspects of Scientology quite well.

Scientology: The Marks of Religion
Frank K Flinn
Adjunct Prof. in Religious Studies, Washington Univ., Saint Louis

The author is a Catholic and was for six years a Franciscan. He goes for three characteristics of religion similar to those set out by others.
Having reprinted the Creed and the Eight Dynamics as evidence of a system of beliefs, he runs though other beliefs. Unlike other authors he makes reference to the CoS objective of 'clearing the planet', and he does look for parallel beliefs in older religions.
The bulk of his arguement is however devoted to demonstrating that 'auditing and training are the central religious practices and chief forms of worship of the Church of Scientology'.

Worth reading for this latter part. Incidentally this is the 'exposition' that is sometimes used by OSA as spam on the ARS newsgroup, cut up into short and out of context sections.

Scientology and Contemporary Definitions of Religion in the Social Sciences
Alejandro Frigerio
Ass. Prof. of Sociology, Catholic Univ. of Argentina.

Having defined five ways of defining religion, the author proceeds to look at each in turn. This is a different approach to that of others, and it works quite well in sub-dividing the author's arguement. He seems to have a good grasp of some of the essentials, such as the inerrancy and clarity of scripture and the consequent ban on interpretation of scripture.
The final way considers whether ordinary people and outside bodies consider Scientology to be a religion, and includes a long list of such bodies presumably provided by the CoS.
While the logic holds together, this is very much a 'hands-off' approach, dealing with the CoS as it wishes to be seen rather than the CoS as it is.

Scientology: Its True Nature
Harri Heino
Prof. of Theology, Univ. of Tampere, Finland

The author takes yet another multi-part definition of religion, compares it to official CoS publications, and finds it fits. There is no indication he has checked with reality.
Don't bother.

Is Scientology a Religion?
Dean M Kelley
Counselor, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA

The author sets out to examine whether Scientology should be considered a religion in a legal sense in the USA.
He interviewed 21 CoS members to detirmine how they viewed the movement. His cross section seems a fair one, and his results seem to me to match up with what I have read elsewhere. Though the sample is not large, he says he stopped because he wasn't picking up anything new from later interviewees.
He then takes a particular definition of religion, in this case one from a Californian court ruling (?), and compares it to the attitudes expressed in his survey. It seems to fit.
For another definition he turns to the 13 points reportedly used by the IRS to identify a religion. Have these been quoted on the Net anywhere else? I scored the CoS at around 9/13, though I agree with Kelley that it is difficult to match up some of the criteria in a meaningful way. The IRS does say that the criteria are just guidlines, but they certainly explain some matters that the CoS is still sensitive about.
After looking at some legal cases, he comes up with another attempt at definition: does Scientology 'offer some explanation of the ultimate meaning of life such as satisfies the needs of its adherents'?
His interviewees being convinced that it does, this leads him to a postive answer to his inquiry.
There are some thought provoking arguements in this one.

The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements
Lonnie D Kliever, Ph.D.
Prof. of Religious Studies, Southern Methodist Univ, Dallas. 1994?

I think the title is enough to cause blood pressures to rise for some critics! The author says 'as a specialist in modern religions, I have conducted an extensive scholarly study of the Church of Scientology'. He makes no mention of having met any apostates (or heretics).
After a look back at the historical treatment of apostates, Kliever moves on to his main subject. He suggests that most of those who leave do so without fuss, considering they have learnt some valuable lessons but that this particular religion is not for them. He also points out that 'kidnapped/rescued' cases are a tiny minority.
This leaves the true apostates, those who 'leave deeply embittered and harshly critical of their former religious assocations and activities'. Comparing such seperation to a divorce, he pulls no punches in describing the lengths he believes such apostates can go.
He also has harsh words for 'biographies of cult survival', saying social scientists see them as 'highly stylised' and 'rehearsed'.
His conclusion is that apostates cannot be regarded as reliable informants. This is fine as far it goes: what he fails to say is that they should not be ignored. It may be he thinks they should be - a final quote:
'...the various brainwashing scenarios so often invoked against the new religious movements have been overwhelmingly repudiated by social scientists and religion scholars as nothing more than calculated efforts to discredit the beliefs and practises of unconventional religions in the eyes of government agencies and public opinion'.
I've seen this in other places. It smells of 'received wisdom' to me, and I'd like to see some evidence. All that I have read of 'cults' suggests to me that most of them do engage in practises aimed at reducing 'independent thinking', 'freewill', however you care to label it. The problem as I see it is that there is no clear 'they brainwash, we evangelise' division here, there is a continuous scale of practises.
What the major, respectable religions need to face up to is that the temptation exists for all religions/cults to lie, distort or be 'economical with the truth' to gain converts. This is souls burning in hell for eternity if we don't save them for Jesus right now we are talking about, surely a little creative PR is OK?
The answer is a simple one. Telling lies may up your recruiting stats, but it won't impress God.

Religious Philosophy, Religion and the Church
G. C. Oosthuizen, Th.D.
Prof.(rtrd). Univ of Durban-Westville, S Africa

This essay is aimed at a South African audience, refuting objections to Scientology being recognised as a religion in that country. The author's chief arguement is that the CoS is no more removed from his own Calvanist theology than other religions which have already been accepted, some of which he can't resist taking side swipes at! That he employs a positively CoS chutzpah by stating at the start of his paper that he is not biased does not cause me to have much confidence in his logic. He shows no signs of any knowledge about the Church of Scientology outside having read some of Hubbard's works.

The Religious Nature of Scientology
Geoffrey Parrinder, Ph.D.
Prof. Emeritus, Comparative Study of Religions, Univ. of London. 1977

This paper was comissioned by the CoS, presumably as an 'expert witness' piece in a court case.
Having considered the place of God and ceremonies in Scientology, Parrinder briefly looks at other organisations including Freemasonry, but strangely fails to see the most obvious similarity, that of having 'secrets' (see below).
Brief and to the point.

The Church of Scientology
Juha Pentikainen
Prof. Study of Religions, Univ. of Helsinki
Marja Pentikainen

The authors start by repeating CoS claims about the size of the Church (1994: 2,318 groups, 8M scientologists). They point to growth in some areas such as Eastern Europe, but fail to note decline by the same criteria in others such as North America.
Moving on to the question of defining religion, they propose 'Five Dimensions' and then move on to a general description of Scientology. As with other authors they rely on the same CoS manual (clue: mention of auditing followed immediately by 'the other central practise of Scientology is called "training"'). They correctly recognise one unique aspect of the CoS, the belief that Hubbard's writings should not be interpreted, and see the veneration of the Founder as having parallels in other movements.
Having returned to their 'Dimensions' and found that Scientology fits them, they conclude by dividing the literature into four categories. Naturally they see the critics as being 'often polemic and attitudinal' and their fellow scholars are being 'more neutral'!
One of the longer papers, but inclined to woffle.

Scientology: Its Historical-Morphological Frame
Dario Sabbatucci
Prof. History of Religions, Univ. of Rome.

Sabbatucci notes similarities with such religions as Baha'i, Christian Science and Vedic Hinduism, and between the atman of the latter and scientology's thetan. He sees auditing as being 'gradual initiation', a point others miss.

The Relationship between Scientology and other Religions
Fumio Sawada
8th Holder of the Secrets of Yu-itsu Shinto

The author sets out his intention of looking at Scientology from a Japanese prespective. He points out that the Scientology concept of being compatible with other religions is well understood in Japan, where people often follow both Buddism and Shinto.
Mr Sawada sees 'The Fundamentals of Thought' as having parallels with some Shinto and Buddist sects, as has auditing.
Surprisingly the only Eastern contribution in this collection, and worth a look on that basis.

Scientology: A way of Spritual Self-Identification
Michael A Sivertsev, PhD.
Chairman for New Religions, Office of the Russian President

The author sets himself the question as to why Scientology should have been as successful as it was in Russia in the immediate post-totalitarian years.
As evidence that Scientology has a theological system, he identifies two elements: Hubbard as charismatic leader and the doctrine and knowledge he provided. He correctly notes:
'The door for any possibility of new interpretations of the authoritative texts is closed in an extremely simple but effective way. It is supposed that the full truth was found in Hubbard's personal experience'.
His analysis of the doctrine is also quite perceptive. This is I would suggest because he has dug beneath the PR leaflets and tried to get at the underlying essence. He has seen or at least knows of some of the secret scriptures, alluding both to thetans becoming lost in their own creations and - goodness! - to the Xenu myth.
This enables him to see Scientology as an esoteric religion, in the sense that 'one possessing the highest level of knowledge cannot, even if he wishes to do so, relay this knowledge to a person who has not yet passed all the requisite stages...'
In considering 'The Structure of the Spiritual Message of Scientology' Sivertsev looks at heroic myth. He identifies a fundamental difference with Christianity: in Scientology Man is basically good and can return to this state by personal effort, whereas in Christianity Man is sinful and cannot achieve his own salvation.
I must confess the concept of Scientology as a Heroquest had not occured to me!

The author correctly spots the 'compatibility with other religions' ploy for the sham it is.
His conclusion is that Scientology 'lays out how to attain [understanding of the Absolute] rather than describing it', and conforms well to that religious model.

Definitely worth reading, even if the meaning of some words has to be puzzled over.

Scientology and Religion
Christiaan Vonck, Ph.D.
Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions, Antwerp.

Vonck has his own definition of religion: a link with the spiritual; doctrine and rituals; a community centred around them.
He picks a curious set of religions with which he considers Scientology to have characteristics in common, but curiously fails to explain what these might be... I'd be fascinated to learn what he thinks Scientologists have in common with Quakers for example!
Next comes a digest of Scientology PR, including (with no attempt at analysis) the Eight Dynamics and the Creed. Based on this, Scientology must, of course, be a religion.
Nothing of interest here. Move along please...

Apostates and New Religious Movements
Bryan Ronald Wilson, Ph.D.
Fellow, Univ. of Oxford.

This goes over much the same ground as Kliever (above), being a polemical attack on the veracity of apostates. The author hedges his remarks with plenty of caveats, but fails to mention the other side of the coin: that the orthodox cannot be trusted either for equally valid reasons.

Social Change and New Religious Movements
Bryan Wilson (as above)

The author starts by pointing out that Christianity has given Western society a tradition of religious intolerance, from the rise of Protestantism through to attacks on Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses in this century. At which point I start worrying - Wilson gives the impression that it is 'refusing to salute the flag' and 'objection to military service' that cause concern about the JW's, which is far from being the case.
After some Aunt Sally attacks on the media, the author suggests that, for example, to attack one new religion for permissiveness and another for asceticism is inconsistent. I see this rather as a dislike of extremism. He dismisses the suggestion that new religions break up families by, if I understand him correctly, redefining the phrase to refer to those religions that have seperation from non-members as part of their expressed doctrine, and then finding that no such religions exist.

He then turns specifically to Scientology in a section headed 'Opposition to Scientology', where he sets out to summarise 'a variety of diverse concerns'. These are:

  1. the mixing of spiritual goals with rational procedures and systematic learning, including payment for services
  2. fear of competition by psychiatrists
  3. family concern about relatives joining staff and becoming estranged
  4. being different from Christianity

It would be interesting to know if the author has been adding to this list since this paper was written.

General Points

There are some assumptions and omissions that seem common to most of these papers with which I, and probably other critics, would take issue.

(1) The secret scriptures. Only one of the authors mentions these, which is extraordinary for those claiming extensive knowledge of Scientology and inexcuseable for those writing following Xenu's 'outing'. Even the author who does (Sivertsev) does not appear to realise they are secret.
Even my sketchy knowledge of the secret scriptures indicates that they address precisely those issues that lie at the heart of philosophy and religion: Who are we? Where do we come from? What is the Purpose of life? etc.
The CoS is indisputably an esoteric religion, with some inner teachings only accessible to initiates and most teachings believed to be understandable only if learnt in strict sequence.

(2) If Hubbard was a fraud, then some of the analysis in these papers has to regarded in a different light. Hubbard's writing on Eastern religions, for example, would require an acknowledgement that he was not thinking along the same lines as them or influenced by them but that he was designing a theology that resembled that of other religions but was sufficiently vague so as not to restrict his power over his followers. Using Eastern religions with which most of his Western followers would be unfamiliar would be a means to this end.

Some of the authors have spotted that CoS members often have no interest in theology, that they see Scientology as the applied, practical self-help movement they initially joined. This does not deter the religious scholars from homing in on the theology and ignoring the rest!

(3) Most of the authors point out that they are not passing judgement on whether scientology makes sense, only on whether its followers think it makes sense. Whilst a few have spotted discrepencies in CoS claims, most seem content to believe that what the CoS says about itself is true.

As an example, take 'Sunday services'. Some authors refer to them in terms which indicate they think they are a meaningful and relevant part of CoS life. My impression from what I have read elsewhere is that this is not the case. On practical grounds alone, only a small percentage of the claimed CoS membership could attend them. When the CoS does hold mass meetings, it hires halls or conference facilities or (at Saint Hill) hires marquees.
I have to register the suspicion that some authors have latched on to 'Sunday services' simply because they resemble something they are familiar with from Christianity.

(4) One point several authors make is that religions are normally subject to evolution and should not be judged on early, superceded doctrine. This seems at variance with their unverified acceptance of CoS PR in other areas, since the CoS is quite clear about Hubbard's teachings being inerrant and complete.

(5) None of the authors makes any attempt to seperate the organisation from the faith. In reality right from the early days the CoS has had its share of heretics, some of whom have attempted to set up rival organisations. Their very existence requires that scholars look at scientology as it is, not as the Church claims it to be.

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