Scientology is what sociologists classify as a New Religious Movement, or NRM. But for many people it is a buzzword for “fringe religion,” or a “Hollywood” faith for celebrities whose propensity to make news guarantees that Scientology has a profile out of proportion to its membership numbers.
In fact, among NRMs, few make headlines as regularly – or generate as much controversy – as Scientology. When John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son, Jett, died in January 2009, the church’s beliefs about mental disorders and about the afterlife became one of several story angles pursued as the tragedy unfolded. When Tom Cruise questioned Brooke Shields’ use of medication to treat postpartum depression in 2005, Scientology’s long-standing opposition to psychiatry and its treatment methods became a topic of hot debate. And when communities and schools around the country have turned to Scientology-based education and rehabilitation programs, public opposition has sometimes followed.
And yet for many Americans, the Church of Scientology remains something of a mystery, better known for its celebrity adherents than for its tenets and practices. In some respects this is unsurprising, given the zeal with which Scientologists protect the faith’s texts, imagery and “religious technologies.” In addition, the church’s reputation for litigiousness has tended to limit open debate and stifle some critics, though the relative anonymity afforded by the Internet has changed that somewhat in recent years.
Over time, reporters both on the religion beat and elsewhere are likely to encounter stories involving Scientology. ReligionLink offers background and resources to assist in coverage.
- General Scientology Web sites
- Additional Web resources
- Basic tenets
- Texts and services
- By the numbers
- Governance and affiliates
- Find a center or practitioner
- Press contacts
- Opposition Web sites
- Issues to explore
- Articles, transcripts
- International sources
- National sources
- Regional sources
Scientology’s online video channel includes presentations on everything from the church’s history to its involvement in social issues.
A Web site devoted to L. Ron Hubbard gives extensive information about the church’s founder.
The Religious Movements Homepage Project provides extensive information and links on Scientology.
An explanation of Scientology beliefs and practices can be found in “Scientology: The Marks of Religion,” which was written by Frank Flinn, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
ReligiousTolerance.org posts information about the church.
Beliefnet summarizes some of Scientology’s basic tenets.
Science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard founded Scientology in the early 1950s as a religious philosophy built upon the framework of his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Followers set up the first local Church of Scientology in 1954 in California. More on this can be found on the Religious Movements Homepage at the University of Virginia and at ReligiousTolerance.org.
Hubbard died in 1986. (Or, as reported on the Scientology.org Web site: “On 24 January 1986, having accomplished all he set out to do, Ron departs his body.”)
Through the years, various national governments have come into conflict with Scientology, primarily over whether it merits religious recognition and privileges. In the U.S., federal tax-exempt status was granted in the 1950s but then withdrawn in 1967; the church didn’t regain full religious recognition and tax exemption here until 1993. Read about it here and here.
Scientology acknowledges “a spiritual debt to the Eastern faiths” while also charting its own path.
A fundamental truth for believers is that people are spiritual beings, called thetans, whose existence spans multiple lifetimes.
In Scientology, salvation is the responsibility of each individual and is achieved through the religious practices known as auditing and training. The goal of auditing is to reach a state of spiritual awareness called “clear.” Individuals may then progress beyond “clear” to higher spiritual levels.
The faith has eight “dynamics,” the last of which is defined as “the urge toward existence and survival as INFINITY. The eighth dynamic also is commonly called God, the Supreme Being or Creator, but it is correctly defined as infinity.” Scientology does not assign anthropomorphic qualities to the Supreme Being but instead encourages adherents to reach their own conclusions about the nature and character of God.
The church’s creed summarizes Scientology beliefs.
A prolific writer, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard detailed his philosophies and principles in numerous books, articles and recorded lectures that Scientologists today view as scripture. The primary sacred text is Hubbard’s Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, a best-seller published in 1950. For more details, read here and here.
Churches of Scientology hold communal services for such things as holidays and rites of passage, but the two main spiritual practices are auditing and training, both of which are geared more to the individual’s spiritual journey.
In auditing, a church counselor meets with an adherent and asks questions aimed at helping the person achieve “clear” status. Typically, this process requires a series of sessions. A device called an E-Meter is used in auditing to help identify subject areas needing further exploration.
Beyond “clear,” advanced levels of auditing are conducted on a solo basis; the person acts as his or her own auditor.
Training consists of intensive study of the faith’s tenets and scriptures.
In the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, 55,000 U.S. adults self-identified as Scientologists. The just-released 2008 ARIS doesn’t give a separate figure for Scientologists but includes them, along with 11 other groups, in “New Religious Movements and other religions”; the total number of U.S. adults in that category is reported to be 2.8 million, up from 1.77 million in 2001.
According to ReligiousTolerance.org, estimates of the number of Scientologists worldwide range from 100,000 to 10 million. The site explains why it is particularly difficult to pin down such numbers.
In 2004, an article in the Deseret News reported that the church claimed to have 4 million adherents in the U.S. and 8 million to 9 million worldwide.
The “What is Scientology?” Web site reports some church statistics, though many appear to be at least a decade old. Among them: As of 1997, the faith was practiced in 129 countries and on every continent, and 43 percent of the church and mission staff members were based in the U.S.
Another Scientology site says the religion ministers to more than 8 million people in 159 countries.
The nonprofit Religious Technology Center was established in 1982 to “preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion.” The center guards against improper use of Scientology’s religious symbols and technologies and has final ecclesiastical authority regarding their application, but it is not involved in routine church matters. David Miscavige has been the RTC’s chairman of the board since 1987.
Each Church of Scientology has its own board of directors and executives. (See details about churches’ structure and organization). The faith’s parent organization is the Church of Scientology International, which is based in Los Angeles.
Other major centers in the U.S. include the Flag Service Organization in Clearwater, Fla., which is referred to as the worldwide spiritual headquarters; and Gold Base, headquarters for the Religious Technology Center and the site of a media production studio for the faith. Gold Base is near Hemet, Calif.
The Sea Organization, or Sea Org, is a religious order in Scientology. The church describes Sea Org members as “the most dedicated Scientologists in the world — individuals who have dedicated their lives to the service of their religion.” At one time they were literally based on ships, but today most of them are land-based (though they do still wear maritime-style uniforms).
Scientology also has several affiliated but legally distinct programs, including Narconon, which combats drug and alcohol abuse; Criminon, which works to rehabilitate prison inmates; and Applied Scholastics, which applies Hubbard’s “study technology” to fight illiteracy.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights was established as an independent body by the Church of Scientology in 1969 “to investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights and to clean up the field of mental healing.” The commission maintains a museum in Los Angeles and has chapters in 16 states and 34 countries. Jan Eastgate is president, and there is an extensive board of advisers. Contact 800-869-2247, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scientologists observe various holidays throughout the year. Many of them commemorate the introduction of the faith to a particular country or the launching of one of the church’s programs, such as Narconon.
Church locations worldwide, their contact information and links to their Web sites can be found on this map.
Scientology volunteer minister centers in specific regions can be located and contacted through this Web site.
To find individual Scientologists in your state, check this link.
The Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch is president of the Church of Scientology International and is described as its leading spokesman. Contact through the media relations office, email@example.com.
David Miscavige is chairman of the board of Religious Technology Center, the nonprofit organization that controls the trademarked names and symbols of Scientology. Miscavige has been described as the worldwide ecclesiastical leader of the religion. Contact through the RTC International office in Los Angeles, 323-663-3258.
News releases and online reference guides for the media can be found at the bottom of this church Web page.
A number of Web sites have sprung up in opposition to the Church of Scientology. They include:
- Operation Clambake
- Suppressive Person Defense League
Here are just a few issues that crop up periodically regarding Scientology:
Free speech: Through the years, the church and its critics have accused each other of free-speech abuses. Scientology opponents say those who speak out publicly have faced intimidation, harassment and ostracism; the relative anonymity afforded by the Internet, though, has encouraged some of them to push back. This, in turn, has led to accusations by the church that it is the victim of cyberterrorism by one group, which calls itself Anonymous.
- Read a June 1, 2009, Wall Street Journal story about a decision by Wikipedia, the open-source, user-edited Internet encyclopedia, to ban the Church of Scientology from editing entries about Scientology. The decision came after months of debate by Wikipedia’s arbitration committee and resulted from the high degree of conflict over entries on Scientology. A few Scientology critics were also banned from editing Wikipedia entries on the topic.
- Read a May 11, 2009, Los Angeles Times article, “‘Anonymous’ hacker pleads guilty to 2008 attack on Scientology sites.”
- Read a March 3, 2009, Los Angeles Times article (posted by RickRoss.com) about a new Riverside County, Calif., law limiting protests outside the church’s Golden Era studio complex. Some say the law violates the First Amendment.
- Read a March 3, 2008, Los Angeles Times column about how the Internet has emboldened Scientology critics and what the church says about it.
- Read a June 25, 2006, St. Petersburg Times article about ostracism of those who leave Scientology. A sidebar gives the church’s rebuttal.
- Read a Jan. 30, 2005, Buffalo News article (posted by RickRoss.com) about the Cult Awareness Network. According to the article, the network was sued numerous times by Scientologists. Later, individual Scientologists bought the network after it was driven into bankruptcy; the network no longer considers Scientology a cult, the story says.
Affiliated programs: Scientology has several affiliated but legally distinct programs targeting social ills, such as drug dependency and illiteracy. Sometimes when these programs are proposed in communities, suspicion and opposition arise, particularly if officials or residents believe that the connections to Scientology haven’t been sufficiently disclosed. Some critics also question the programs’ accuracy or effectiveness.
- Read a June 29, 2008, Los Angeles Times article about a new private school founded by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. The school has generated some controversy because it uses teaching methods developed by Scientology’s founder and some of its teachers are Scientologists. Its top administrator says the school is secular, not religious.
- Read an April 16, 2008, Boston Herald article (posted by RickRoss.com) about concerns regarding Scientology’s ties to a proposed curriculum for a taxpayer-funded pilot school in that city.
- Read a Jan. 19, 2007, Wall Street Journal article (posted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) about a prison program in New Mexico that uses principles espoused by Scientology’s founder.
- Read a Feb. 25, 2005, San Francisco Chronicle item about the state superintendent in California urging schools to drop the Narconon anti-drug education program.
Mental health: Scientology has long been known for its opposition to psychiatry. Whether that opposition extends to treatment of autism and similar disorders became a subject of some news stories after the January 2009 death of Jett Travolta. Jett’s parents, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, are Scientologists. They have attributed his health problems to a childhood bout with Kawasaki disease, not autism as some observers have speculated.
- Read a Feb. 21, 2009, St. Petersburg Times story about two wrongful-death lawsuits dealing with Scientology’s stance on psychiatry. One has been settled; the other was just recently filed.
- Read a Beliefnet Q-and-A with a Scientology spokesman about the church’s positions on autism, medical care and death. The interview was published Jan. 17, 2009, in the Winston-Salem Journal.
- Read Lawrence Wright’s February 2011 New Yorker article about film director Paul Haggis’ break from the church.
- Read Howard Kurtz’s Feb. 22, 2010, column in The Washington Post about the church paying three prominent journalists to examine the St. Petersburg Times’ coverage of Scientology. WUSF Public Broadcasting, located at the University of South Florida in Tampa, reported three days later that the church has decided not to release the reporters’ findings.
- The St. Petersburg Times published a three-part series on the church in June 2009. Read “Scientology: The Truth Rundown,” which ran June 21; “Death in slow motion,” the June 22 installment; and “Scientology: Ecclesiastical justice,” published June 23. The paper also posted the church’s response and videos of interviews with key sources.
- Read an article from Scientology’s Freedom magazine examining the St. Petersburg Times’ coverage of the church. The article was part of a large package of stories the magazine produced about the newspaper.
- Read a June 17, 2009, Wired.com story about an ad campaign by the church. View the ads here.
- Read a June 15, 2009, Associated Press story (posted by FoxNews.com) about a French trial in which the prosecutor is seeking to have the Church of Scientology banned in that country.
- Read a Jan. 24, 2009, article from The Times of London about concerns in Germany that the popularity of Tom Cruise’s film Valkyrie could popularize Scientology there.
- Read a Jan. 15, 2009, article from The Salt Lake Tribune about Scientology’s beliefs on the afterlife. The article is posted by the WorldWide Religious News Web site.
- Read a Jan. 14, 2008, New Yorker article, “Château Scientology: Inside the Church’s Celebrity Centre,” about Scientology’s outreach to celebrities.
- Read a Nov. 1, 2007, CNN story about two Christian pastors embracing elements of Scientology for their congregations.
- Read a Feb. 23, 2006, Rolling Stone article, “Inside Scientology.”
- Read an ABC transcript of a 1992 interview between Ted Koppel and David Miscavige. The interview was said to be the first ever granted by the Scientology leader.
- Read a May 1991 Time magazine cover story about Scientology. The church took great exception to the article, which went on to receive the Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial journalism, the Worth Bingham Prize and the Conscience in Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
- The Los Angeles Times published a six-part series about the religion in 1990.
- The St. Petersburg Times keeps an extensive archive of recent and older articles it has published about the church, including a report that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.
- Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi is a psychology professor at the University of Haifa in Israel. His areas of expertise include the psychology of religion. He wrote an article titled “Scientology: Religion or racket?” that was published in September 2003 by the Marburg Journal of Religion. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Douglas E. Cowan is professor of religious studies at Renison University College/University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He is co-author of Cults and New Religions: A Brief History (2007), which includes a chapter on the Church of Scientology, and has chapters on Scientology in a number of edited collections, including Scientology (March 2009), edited by James R. Lewis. At the 2004 international conference of the Center for Studies on New Religions, Cowan presented a paper on the difficulties of researching Scientology. Contact 519-884-4404 ext. 28607, email@example.com.
- John Duignan is co-author of The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology (2008). He says he is a former high-ranking member of the church. Amazon’s United Kingdom branch stopped selling Duignan’s book after receiving a claim that it libeled a church member; the publisher, Merlin Publishing, has denied that. Contact through the publisher (in Ireland), +3531 4535866, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Stephen Kent is a sociology professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He studies new and alternative religions and has written a number of articles about Scientology. Contact 780-492-2204, email@example.com.
- David G. Bromley is a professor of religious studies and sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He has written extensively about Scientology and is co-author of Cults and New Religions: A Brief History (2007), which includes a chapter on the church. Contact 804-828-6286, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dell De Chant is an instructor and associate chair in the department of religious studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He co-authored a chapter on Scientology in World Religions in America: An Introduction. Contact 813-974-0576, email@example.com.
- Frank Flinn is an adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He has served as a forensic expert on the legal definition of religion, religious organizations, religious finances and various religious controversies, and he has testified concerning Scientology and many other New Religious Movements. Flinn wrote “Scientology: The Marks of Religion,” which examines the beliefs and practices of the church. He is now editing a five-volume Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Contact 314-935-8677, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- James R. Lewis is a lecturer in religious studies in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He is the editor of Scientology (March 2009), described as a comprehensive examination of the church’s theology, growth and controversies. Contact 715-346-3340 (department), email@example.com.
- J. Gordon Melton is an independent scholar and founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including the Encyclopedia of American Religions and one on Scientology that is part of the Studies in Contemporary Religion series. Contact 805-961-0141, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- Timothy Miller is a professor in the department of religious studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He is the editor of America‘s Alternative Religions. Contact 785-864-7263, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sarah M. Pike is a professor of religious studies and American studies at California State University, Chico, and a specialist in New Religious Movements. Contact 530-898-6341, email@example.com.
- Janet Reitman is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine, where she wrote an article on Scientology that was a finalist for a 2007 National Magazine Award. Reitman is also the author of Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion (July 2011). Contact through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publicist Taryn Roeder, 617-351-3818, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Anson Shupe is a sociology professor at Indiana State University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. He has written critically about the anti-cult movement, and a book he co-authored, Agents of Discord: Deprogramming, Pseudo-Science and the American Anticult Movement (2006), includes an examination of the original Cult Awareness Network. Contact 219-481-6667, email@example.com.
- Hugh Urban is a professor in the department of comparative studies at Ohio State University in Columbus. He is particularly interested in the study of secrecy in religion and wrote an article, “Fair Game: Secrecy, Security and the Church of Scientology in Cold War America,” published in 2006 by the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. His book The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion (August 2011) takes a scholarly look at the religion. Contact 614-292-9855, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Eugene V. Gallagher is Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies at Connecticut College in New London. He is the author of The New Religious Movements Experience in America, which includes a discussion of the Church of Scientology. Contact 860-439-2169, email@example.com.
- Mathew N. Schmalz is an associate professor of religious studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. His article “Scientology and Catholicism Do Mix: A Note on Teaching New Religions in a Catholic Classroom” appeared in the January 2006 edition of the journal Teaching Theology & Religion. Contact 508-793-2557, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Courtney Bender is an associate professor of religious studies at Columbia University and can discuss New Religious Movements in America. Contact 212-851-4134, email@example.com.
- David S. Touretzky is a research professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a longtime Scientology critic. He maintains an extensive collection of Scientology-related Web sites on his home page. He has given many radio interviews and appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann (twice) and CNN Headline News with Glenn Beck to discuss Scientology. Contact 412-268-7561, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Danny Jorgensen is a professor in the department of religious studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He co-authored a chapter on Scientology in World Religions in America: An Introduction. Contact 813-974-1848, email@example.com.
- Sean McCloud is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in New Religious Movements. Contact 704-687-2542, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Catherine Wessinger is a professor of religious studies at Loyola University in New Orleans and co-editor of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. Contact 504-865-3182, email@example.com.
- Allan McConnell is executive administrator of the Watchman Fellowship of Alabama, an evangelical Christian outreach ministry to cults and New Religious Movements. The fellowship’s Web site includes a page about Scientology. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Don Malin is the Mississippi state director of Watchman Fellowship, an evangelical Christian outreach ministry to cults and New Religious Movements. Contact 601-924-3879.
- W. Michael Ashcraft is an associate professor of religion at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. He is co-editor of the five-volume Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Contact 660-785-7531, email@example.com.
- The Rev. John Saliba is a professor of religious studies at the University of Detroit, Mercy. A Jesuit priest, he took part in a three-year Vatican study of New Religious Movements and is the author of Understanding New Religious Movements (Second Edition). Contact 313-993-1088, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Derek Davis is dean of the college of humanities and of the graduate school at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, where he also directs the university’s Center for Religious Liberty. He has written about the Church of Scientology’s pursuit of legal recognition. Contact 254-295-4143, email@example.com.
- Barry Hankins is a history professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and co-editor of New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Contact 254-710-4667, Barry_Hankins@baylor.edu.
- J. Phillip Arnold is executive director of the Reunion Institute in Houston, a nonprofit teaching fellowship on religion. Arnold has lectured on religious liberty issues and is on the referral list of the Cult Awareness Network. Contact 713-523-1861, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- H. Newton Malony is a senior professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., whose areas of expertise include religious tolerance and the psychology of religion. An ordained United Methodist minister, Malony has preached about tolerance toward Scientology and other groups. The Cult Awareness Network includes him on its professional referrals list. Contact 909-625-9214, email@example.com.
- James Richardson is a professor of sociology and judicial studies at the University of Nevada in Reno. He wrote an entry on Scientology for the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Contact 775-682-7985, firstname.lastname@example.org.