The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion


Scientology is one of the wealthiest and most powerful new religions to emerge in the past century. To its detractors, L. Ron Hubbard's space-age mysticism is a moneymaking scam and sinister brainwashing cult. But to its adherents, it is humanity's brightest hope. Few religious movements have been subject to public scrutiny like Scientology, yet much of what is written about the church is sensationalist and inaccurate. Here for the first time is the story of Scientology's protracted and turbulent journey to recognition as a religion in the postwar American landscape.

Hugh Urban tells the real story of Scientology from its cold war-era beginnings in the 1950s to its prominence today as the religion of Hollywood's celebrity elite. Urban paints a vivid portrait of Hubbard, the enigmatic founder who once commanded his own private fleet and an intelligence apparatus rivaling that of the U. S. government. One FBI agent described him as "a mental case," but to his followers he is the man who "solved the riddle of the human mind." Urban details Scientology's decades-long war with the IRS, which ended with the church winning tax-exempt status as a religion; the rancorous cult wars of the 1970s and 1980s; as well as the latest challenges confronting Scientology, from attacks by the Internet group Anonymous to the church's efforts to suppress the online dissemination of its esoteric teachings.

This book demonstrates how Scientology has reflected the broader anxieties and obsessions of postwar America, and raises profound questions about how religion is defined and who gets to define it.


We have a practical religion. And before you say, “Religion, grrrr,” think
ofthat—it is a practical religion and religion is the oldest heritage that
Man has…. We can only exist in the field of religion. Of course, it would
be up to us to make religion a much better thing than it has been.

—L. Ron Hubbard, “The Hope of Man” (1955)

Strange things seem to happen to people who write about Scientology.

—Richard Behar, “The Scientologists and Me,” Time (1991)

Surely few new religious movements have been the subject of more scandal, controversy, media attention, or misunderstanding than the Church of Scientology. Well known for its high-profile celebrity patrons such as John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and Tom Cruise, while boasting over seven hundred centers in sixty-five countries, Scientology has also been attacked by government agencies, anticult groups, and the media as a swindling business and a brainwashing cult. Its founder, L. Ron Hubbard (1911–1986), has been described variously as the man who “solved the riddle of the human mind” (by the Church of Scientology), as “a mental case” (by the FBI), and as “hopelessly insane” (by his former wife). Since the 1950s, Scientology has come into a series of conflicts with various branches of the U.S. government, particularly the FBI, FDA, and IRS, regarding its status as a religious organization and its involvement in an array of alleged crimes. Dubbed the “Cult of Greed” by Time magazine, Scientology has been singled out by the media and anticult groups as the most rapacious and dangerous new religious movement today Among the most withering critiques was one that appeared in a June 2009 series in the St. Petersburg Times, which focused on Scientology’s current head, David Miscavige. Using interviews from . . .

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