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What is Scientology?

Updated on December 26, 2016

Scientology is a quasi-scientific and religious discipline that claims to be both "the study of knowledge in its fullest sense" and "an applied religious philosophy". The Church of Scientology depends on the second claim, but in the early days of the movement its theory was described as "an exact science."

Origins and Development

The founder of Scientology was an American, L. (Lafayette) Ron Hubbard. In 1950 he published Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health, a best seller describing a therapy for "all inorganic mental ills and all organic psycho-somatic ills." By 1952 an international organization had been incorporated, now known under the name of Scientology. In 1955 the movement took on a religious direction with the creation of the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C., and New York. Hubbard carries on intensive communication with followers in the English-speaking countries and in Denmark, France, and Sweden.

Teachings and Practices

As a psychological technique, Dianetics depends on analysis of mental functioning into activities of the analytical and the reactive minds, which correspond roughly to the conscious and unconscious of psychoanalysis. Survival, said to be the primary goal of human mental organization, is served differently by the two activities. The analytical mind is the organ of experience and stores recoverable memories. The reactive mind stores what are called engrams, the sensory traces of painful events, of moments when one was unconscious, or even of prenatal injuries.

Dianetic therapy consists of reducing the power of engrams or converting them into memories by reviewing one's past with a person called an auditor. It stresses good communication techniques. In Scientology a device called an E-meter, which is similar to a skin galvanometer, helps by indicating emotionally charged words. A novice or preclear becomes a clear by long discipline in discharging such engrams, and then is able to become an auditor of others or a minister of the church.

Criticism and Conflict

Authorities in psychoanalysis deny that the unconscious can be so neutralized and they are therefore opposed to Scientology. The Federal Food and Drug Administration, reacting to the early quasi-medical claims of Scientology, raided the Washington church in 1963. The church won an appeal in 1971 on the basis of freedom of religion. The literature of Scientology and E-meters now carries disclaimers of intent to cure diseases. How practically motivated the newer religious emphasis of Scientology was is a moot question. Formal religious services seem to play no major part in the activities of the church. Scientology does, however, bear comparison with Christian Science.

The central idea in subsequent Scientology doctrine is that man is a thetan, a preexistent spiritual being which in life possesses a body and a mind. This idea shows the influence of Eastern religions on Hubbard and also suggests some Gnostic traditions.

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