Scientology is arguably the most persistently controversial of all contemporary New Religious Movements. The Church of Scientology has been involved in battles over tax issues, a ten-year conflict with the Food and Drug Administration, extended turmoil with a number of European governments, and has even been subjected to FBI raids in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.

Negative publicity, however, has not prevented the Church from experiencing remarkably steady growth. Official national census figures indicate that the number of Scientologists grew significantly in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia throughout the 1990s, and studies show that the Church gained 10,000 members in the United States during that decade. This has led Scientology to begin referring to itself as "The World's Fastest Growing Religion." But despite its highly public profile, recently enhanced by celebrity spokespersons like Tom Cruise and Isaac Hayes, little has been published about the Church, its history, theology, and mission.
The present volume brings together an international group of top scholars on New Religious Movements to offer an extensive and even-handed overview and analysis of all of these aspects of Scientology, including the controversies to which it continues to give rise. The book's six parts take a detailed look at the Church through its similarities to and differences from other religions, conflicts with various groups, overseas missions, and its theology, history, and sociology.

James R. Lewis has assembled an unusually comprehensive anthology, incorporating a wide range of different approaches. This volume is a welcome and long-overdue resource for scholars, students, and others interested in this controversial and little-understood religious movement.


James R. Lewis

In midsummer 2007 as I was finishing up the manuscript for this book, Tom Cruise was in the news again. It seems many Germans objected to a Scientologist playing Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a national hero, in the upcoming film Valkyrie. As a consequence, the German government refused to allow the production company to shoot parts of the movie in certain historic buildings. (Cruise, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Stauffenberg.) All too predictably, a number of cable news programs used this incident as yet another opportunity to heap scorn on the Church of Scientology.

During the lead-in to a cable news program I watch on a semiregular basis, it was announced that they would be including a segment on the Cruise-Germany incident that would feature a research professor from a respected university. The researcher was billed as a “Scientology expert.” This piqued my curiosity. In the early stages of the present book project, I had invited most of the relevant mainstream academicians to contribute chapters. I was thus quite surprised that I did not recognize the name of the guest expert.

When I finally saw the interview, I was even more surprised to hear this “expert” mouthing popular simplistic stereotypes about “cults,” rather than presenting reputable, scholarly information. He emphasized standard negative information about Scientology, such as the Guardian Office’s covert infiltration program (neglecting to mention that the Church eventually shut down the Guardian’s Office and disciplined the individuals responsible for illegal activities). He even went so far as to depreciate Tom Cruise’s intelligence, as if Mr. Cruise’s membership in the Church of Scientology was prima facie evidence that he was not very bright. I found this latter item . . .

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