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Scientology as case study

What the ethical and legal history of Scientology can teach us about religion

By Leigh E. Rich

Though in many ways still shrouded in secrecy, Scientology could be said to be one of the most “accessible” religions in the world—that is, in terms of documenting and understanding its origins. Part of this has to do with its young age, having been born in May 1950 with the publication of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard’s essay “Dianetics, the Evolution of a Science” in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Insight into the roots of this religion also has to do with the existence of texts and other documents from Hubbard himself, a prolific if not always successful (or scrupulous) writer, as well as the public and legal battles involving Scientology—some as defendant, some as plaintiff—ever since. While many articles, books, exposés, and films focus on the “legitimacy” of Scientology as a religion, scandals and abuses within the church, or (what seems to titillate the mainstream media the most) the “portion of Hubbard’s space narrative [that] is contained in the confidential upper levels of Scientology training that describe the mysterious figure of Xenu” (Urban 2011, 74), Ohio State University religious studies professor Hugh Urban takes a different—and more balanced—path in his book, The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. In fact, although Scientology is perhaps the “case study” in Urban’s book, the questions he raises and his broader analysis apply to all religions and offer insight into the complex and tangled issue of guaranteeing freedom of religion within a society such as the United States.  [continued …

Read the full article

Rich, Leigh E. 2012. Review of The church of Scientology: A history of a new religion by Hugh B. Urban. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 9(4): 503–506. doi:10.1007/s11673-012-9409-4.

Urban, Hugh B. 2011. The church of Scientology: A history of a new religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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