4
Making Sense of
Scientology: Prophetic,
Contractual Religion

David G. Bromley

Many scholars analyzing the cohort of new religious movements (NRMs) that appeared or gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s have linked their growth to a major sociocultural dislocation in the United States and western Europe. As Robbins (1988: 60) puts the matter, there is “some acute and distinctively modern dislocation which is said to be producing some mode of alienation, anomie or deprivation” that in turn leads to individuals “responding by searching for new structures of meaning and community.” Some of these analyses have emphasized the cultural and others the social structural dimensions of this dislocation. Bellah (1976) and Tipton (1982) argue that the moral crisis during this era involved a repudiation of the two dominant elements of American culture through which individuals constructed moral meaning, utilitarian individualism, and biblical religion. Bellah argues that the American civil religious myth has been eroded, leading to a crisis of moral meaning and a variety of attempts to create new mythic systems. Tipton argues that youthful protesters have rejected utilitarian culture and its central values (power, money, technology) in favor of expressive culture values (selfactualization, interpersonal love, and intimacy). By joining NRMs, young adults resolved the historic tension between utilitarian and expressive culture. Hunter (1981) describes an erosion of traditional social order that has divided the contemporary world into public and private spheres. The public sphere (governmental, legal, corporate institutions) is highly rationalized, impersonal, and bureaucratically organized, which undermines any sense of personal uniqueness and increases the individual’s sense of vulnerability and expendability. By contrast, the private sphere (intimate, friendship, familial, spiritual relationships) has been progressively deinstitutionalized. The result

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