CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

Review of Gordon Melton’s Book on Scientology

"Journal of Church and State" (Vol. 42 n. 4, Autumn 2000)


The Church of Scientology. By J. Gordon Melton. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2000. 80 pp. $12.95.

This short book is the first in a series of general introductions to new religions offered by the Center for Studies on New Religions. Future titles will examine Baha'i, Sokka Gakkai, Unificationism, The Family, and other religions new on the landscape.

Gordon Melton needs no introduction. He is among the foremost experts on new and nonconventional religions. Few scholars understand Scientology better than Melton, and his expertise is evident in this crisp, cogent study of one of the world's fastest growing religions.

Scientology emerged in the early 1950s as a movement that found its inspiration in the voluminous writings of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). Hubbard's seminal work, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, published in 1950 and an immediate best seller, contained Hubbard's conclusions about mental aberrations experienced by all human beings and how to "clear" them through a counseling technique called auditing. Dianetics, however, presented no comprehensive worldview that might be called a religion; it was strictly an analysis of how the mind functions. But Hubbard soon shifted his emphasis away from the mind itself to an emphasis on the greater entity that observes and directs the mind-what Hubbard called the thetan, from the Greek letter theta, for thought or life - what many religions call the spirit or soul. One's thetan is eternal and, in keeping with Eastern thought (with which Hubbard was well familiar), is continually reincarnated. The term Scientology emerged as a description of this deeper understanding of humanity's place in the cosmos. Scientology was soon serving as a religion for many of Hubbard's followers; thus it came as no surprise that the first Church of Scientology was founded in 1954. As Melton relates, few religions grew as fast or drew as much attention in the half century to follow.

Melton traces the growth and development of Scientology, describing the structure of the church, its system of ethics and justice, its social betterment and social reform programs, its impressive commitment to religious freedom and other human rights, and its struggle to win acceptance. Many countries, including the United States, now give official recognition to Scientology as a religion, but many do not. It is widely condemned in many parts of Europe, especially Germany, as part of a growing "anti-cult" movement, yet it continues a meteoric growth not only in Europe but also worldwide. As Melton describes it, "Scientology has overcome one controversy after another, each of which inhibited growth in one country or the other for a brief period, [but] the overall trend has been one of continuous expansion." Members of the church can today be located in most countries around the world, and its materials are now translated into fifty-four languages. Scientology seems to have found the permanence it has sought, although it is still too early to tell if it will win the acceptance it seeks.

Few books pack as much information into so little space. Anyone seeking a brief, insightful, objective, and scholarly summary of Scientology will find this book a valuable resource.

Baylor University
Waco, Texas

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