The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion

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by Hugh B. Urban
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

The Church of Scientology 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.

Editorial Reviews

London Review of Books
In The Church of Scientology, one of only a handful of academic treatments of the subject, Hugh Urban is less interested in the experiences of Scientologists than in the legal processes and semantic twists through which a set of beliefs becomes a religion. A professor of religious studies at Ohio State, Urban is interested in secrecy in religion, and in this book he chronicles the way Hubbard reacted to legal and political challenges to his authority by attempting (largely successfully) to conceal his theories from the public.
— Rachel Aviv
The Nation
[A] slim, thoughtful investigation of Scientology as a uniquely American religious phenomenon, one whose history has a great deal to teach us. . . . He is more interested in how the church has reflected and influenced currents in American history. . . . Most fascinating is Urban's argument that Scientology has been instrumental in shaping how the US government defines religion.
— Mark Oppenheimer
Scientific American
The most scholarly treatment of the organization to date.
— Michael Shermer
Village Voice
Urban's book is valuable for how well he organizes a massive amount of information in a well-paced, enjoyable read. . . . [A] fascinating book.
— Tony Ortega
Boston Globe
A fascinating account of how a healing practice called Dianetics came to define itself—and become officially recognized—as a religion in the United States. Urban strains to strike a balance between what he calls 'a hermeneutics of respect and a hermeneutics of suspicion,' grounded in a firm belief in freedom of worship and an obligation to ask tough questions about alleged misbehavior by Scientologists.
— Glen Altschuler
The Guardian
The Church of Scientology is a fascinating book. . . . [A] deep and often brilliant anthropological dissection. . . . Where more populist authors might find it difficult, for instance, to take seriously a religion that makes its most devoted followers sign a 'billion-year contract', Urban is po-faced throughout. As a result, he is granted exceptional access to Scientologists and their detractors, and builds from the often barmy material a compelling picture of the birth of a new religion. For this is the book's central thesis: that by analysing how new religions emerge and flourish, we may better understand those whose origins are lost in the haze of time. . . . Urban's portrayal of the birth and boom of Scientology is absorbing and impressive.
— Alex Preston
Chronicle Review
Essential. . . . Urban [has] brought the study of Scientology to a crucial, long-delayed point—[his] work will allow for more critical reflection on an important part of 20th-century American religion. With this history available as a resource, scholarship on Scientology will be able to move away from obsession with the checkered history of a single institution and encompass the variety of ways in which individual Scientologists have lived their faith both within that institution and outside of it.
— Seth Perry
Irish Times
[A] refreshingly even-handed treatment.
— Joe Humphreys
Times Higher Education
Judiciously balanced, with a myriad of footnotes . . . mercifully free of the jargon to be found within both Scientology and all too many academic volumes.
— Eileen Barker
Newark Star-Ledger
Provide[s] valuable and balanced accounts of Scientology. [E]minently readable.
Choice
Urban addresses his subject as a historian of religion and objectively traces the complex history of a movement that is now recognized as a religion in the U.S. . . . With his fair, scholarly approach, Urban has written what is probably the best history available of this terribly tangled story.
Newark Star Ledger

Provide[s] valuable and balanced accounts of Scientology. [E]minently readable.
London Review of Books - Rachel Aviv
In The Church of Scientology, one of only a handful of academic treatments of the subject, Hugh Urban is less interested in the experiences of Scientologists than in the legal processes and semantic twists through which a set of beliefs becomes a religion. A professor of religious studies at Ohio State, Urban is interested in secrecy in religion, and in this book he chronicles the way Hubbard reacted to legal and political challenges to his authority by attempting (largely successfully) to conceal his theories from the public.
The Nation - Mark Oppenheimer
[A] slim, thoughtful investigation of Scientology as a uniquely American religious phenomenon, one whose history has a great deal to teach us. . . . He is more interested in how the church has reflected and influenced currents in American history. . . . Most fascinating is Urban's argument that Scientology has been instrumental in shaping how the US government defines religion.
Scientific American - Michael Shermer
The most scholarly treatment of the organization to date.
The Guardian - Alex Preston
The Church of Scientology is a fascinating book. . . . [A] deep and often brilliant anthropological dissection. . . . Where more populist authors might find it difficult, for instance, to take seriously a religion that makes its most devoted followers sign a 'billion-year contract', Urban is po-faced throughout. As a result, he is granted exceptional access to Scientologists and their detractors, and builds from the often barmy material a compelling picture of the birth of a new religion. For this is the book's central thesis: that by analysing how new religions emerge and flourish, we may better understand those whose origins are lost in the haze of time. . . . Urban's portrayal of the birth and boom of Scientology is absorbing and impressive.
Times Higher Education - Eileen Barker
Judiciously balanced, with a myriad of footnotes . . . mercifully free of the jargon to be found within both Scientology and all too many academic volumes.
Village Voice - Tony Ortega
Urban's book is valuable for how well he organizes a massive amount of information in a well-paced, enjoyable read. . . . [A] fascinating book.
Boston Globe - Glen Altschuler
A fascinating account of how a healing practice called Dianetics came to define itself—and become officially recognized—as a religion in the United States. Urban strains to strike a balance between what he calls 'a hermeneutics of respect and a hermeneutics of suspicion,' grounded in a firm belief in freedom of worship and an obligation to ask tough questions about alleged misbehavior by Scientologists.
Chronicle Review - Seth Perry
Essential. . . . Urban [has] brought the study of Scientology to a crucial, long-delayed point—[his] work will allow for more critical reflection on an important part of 20th-century American religion. With this history available as a resource, scholarship on Scientology will be able to move away from obsession with the checkered history of a single institution and encompass the variety of ways in which individual Scientologists have lived their faith both within that institution and outside of it.
Irish Times - Joe Humphreys
[A] refreshingly even-handed treatment.
Bioethical Inquiry - Leigh E. Rich
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.
Reviews in Religion & Theology - Armand J. Boehme
This is a book not only for studying Scientology, but also for wrestling with questions about the definition of religion, First Amendment and church/state issues, and religious freedom post 9/11.
From the Publisher

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

"In The Church of Scientology, one of only a handful of academic treatments of the subject, Hugh Urban is less interested in the experiences of Scientologists than in the legal processes and semantic twists through which a set of beliefs becomes a religion. A professor of religious studies at Ohio State, Urban is interested in secrecy in religion, and in this book he chronicles the way Hubbard reacted to legal and political challenges to his authority by attempting (largely successfully) to conceal his theories from the public."--Rachel Aviv, London Review of Books

"[A] slim, thoughtful investigation of Scientology as a uniquely American religious phenomenon, one whose history has a great deal to teach us. . . . He is more interested in how the church has reflected and influenced currents in American history. . . . Most fascinating is Urban's argument that Scientology has been instrumental in shaping how the US government defines religion."--Mark Oppenheimer, The Nation

"The most scholarly treatment of the organization to date."--Michael Shermer, Scientific American

"The Church of Scientology is a fascinating book. . . . [A] deep and often brilliant anthropological dissection. . . . Where more populist authors might find it difficult, for instance, to take seriously a religion that makes its most devoted followers sign a 'billion-year contract', Urban is po-faced throughout. As a result, he is granted exceptional access to Scientologists and their detractors, and builds from the often barmy material a compelling picture of the birth of a new religion. For this is the book's central thesis: that by analysing how new religions emerge and flourish, we may better understand those whose origins are lost in the haze of time. . . . Urban's portrayal of the birth and boom of Scientology is absorbing and impressive."--Alex Preston, The Guardian

"Judiciously balanced, with a myriad of footnotes . . . mercifully free of the jargon to be found within both Scientology and all too many academic volumes."--Eileen Barker, Times Higher Education

"Urban's book is valuable for how well he organizes a massive amount of information in a well-paced, enjoyable read. . . . [A] fascinating book."--Tony Ortega, Village Voice

"A fascinating and oftentimes mind-bending account of how penny-a-word sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard doggedly pursued the 'religion angle' in his quest to create the worldwide Church of Scientology. Urban makes it clear from the outset that he could have written a lot more about Scientology than he has here--perhaps even a few volumes more. Settling on a narrower scope, however, hasn't precluded the author from presenting a thoroughly absorbing chronicle of Scientology's 60-year history in America. . . . An intriguing introduction into the labyrinthine world of Scientology and its meaning in American society."--Kirkus Reviews

"Urban describes concisely the development of the Church of Scientology from a pseudopsychological self-help business venture to a self-proclaimed 'religion' fighting vigorously for government recognition. . . . Highly recommended, this is a valuable, evenhanded, academic but engaging introduction to the controversial church, both for those interested in the topic of religious studies and for general readers."--Library Journal

"A fascinating account of how a healing practice called Dianetics came to define itself--and become officially recognized--as a religion in the United States. Urban strains to strike a balance between what he calls 'a hermeneutics of respect and a hermeneutics of suspicion,' grounded in a firm belief in freedom of worship and an obligation to ask tough questions about alleged misbehavior by Scientologists."--Glen Altschuler, Boston Globe

"Essential. . . . Urban [has] brought the study of Scientology to a crucial, long-delayed point--[his] work will allow for more critical reflection on an important part of 20th-century American religion. With this history available as a resource, scholarship on Scientology will be able to move away from obsession with the checkered history of a single institution and encompass the variety of ways in which individual Scientologists have lived their faith both within that institution and outside of it."--Seth Perry, Chronicle Review

"[A] refreshingly even-handed treatment."--Joe Humphreys, Irish Times

"Provide[s] valuable and balanced accounts of Scientology. [E]minently readable."--Newark Star Ledger

"Urban addresses his subject as a historian of religion and objectively traces the complex history of a movement that is now recognized as a religion in the U.S. . . . With his fair, scholarly approach, Urban has written what is probably the best history available of this terribly tangled story."--Choice

"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. . . . It is clear that Urban is a strong supporter of religious freedom and a great enthusiast of the world's diverse religions. In the midst of many conversations about religion today that sometimes are superficial or narrow-minded, Urban's scholarly respect for religion and the book's delicately balanced examination of Scientology are refreshing."--Leigh E. Rich, Bioethical Inquiry

"This is a book not only for studying Scientology, but also for wrestling with questions about the definition of religion, First Amendment and church/state issues, and religious freedom post 9/11."--Armand J. Boehme, Reviews in Religion & Theology

"This book offers fresh perspectives on Scientology and Urban's balanced approach makes it a must-read for scholars of new religious movements and also motivated general readers."--Marion Goldman, International Journal for the Study of New Religions

"[Readers] will be most interested in Urban's thoughts on who gets to decide what qualifies as religion. . . . [A] readable book that provides a model of how to discuss a religious group while addressing theoretical questions of substance."--Mark D. Chapman, Review of Religious Research

"I highly recommend the book to not only scholars of new religious movements and American religions, but to all scholars of religion. . . . This book is a must read for anyone interested in the Scientology or the construction of the category of religion in public life."--Kelly J. Baker, Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions

"Urban's book is a unique addition to the scholarly literature on the CoS, both for its historical contributions and for his examination of the CoS as a heuristic case for understanding the struggles NRMs endure toward gaining legitimate recognition as religions."--Sean E. Currie, Review of Religious Research

"Urban has succeeded admirably in The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. This is thus a book that is of interest not only to specialists in New Religious Movements, but to all readers with an interest in the study of contemporary religion."--Henrik Bogdan, Numen

"Urban's history is clear, concise, and evenhanded--no small achievement given the complexity of the story, the secrecy surrounding Scientology, and the wealth of sensational materials from apologists and opponents."--Erin A. Smith, Journal of American History

Library Journal
Urban (religious studies, Ohio State Univ.; Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism) describes concisely the development of the Church of Scientology from a pseudopsychological self-help business venture to a self-proclaimed "religion" fighting vigorously for government recognition. Urban argues that Scientology is a kind of carnival funhouse-mirror reflection of broader American cultural fixations, phobias, and fascinations from the 1950s through the 1990s—from Cold War secrecy and a love of all things scientific to the contemporary cultural enthrallment with celebrity. Scientology, he notes, has a lot to teach us about society's complex and freighted contest to define just what is and is not "religion." VERDICT Highly recommended, this is a valuable, evenhanded, academic but engaging introduction to the controversial church, both for those interested in the topic of religious studies and for general readers. Reitman's journalistic Inside Scientology (see above) pays less attention to the church's many legal battles. These two books offer much needed impartial perspectives on their subject.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL
Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating and oftentimes mind-bending account of how penny-a-word sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard doggedly pursued the "religion angle" in his quest to create the worldwide Church of Scientology.

Urban (Religious Studies/Ohio State Univ.) makes it clear from the outset that he could have written a lot more about Scientology than he has here—perhaps even a few volumes more. Settling on a narrower scope, however, hasn't precluded the author from presenting a thoroughly absorbing chronicle of Scientology's 60-year history in America. Beginning in the 1950s with the creation of the self-help system Hubbard dubbedDianetics,the narrative quickly moves on tothe founder's audacious attempts to turn Scientology into a bona-fide tax-exempt religion, the incredible covert operations Scientologists launched against snooping federal authorities and the relentless war Scientologists still wage against unflinching critics today. Despite its conservative reputation, Urban believes that '50s America offered Hubbard a "spiritual marketplace" teeming with new possibilities. It was a time of UFO sightings, the Red Menace and the growing influence of Eastern thought on American culture. Suddenly, there was also room for a man with a trunk full of intergalactic space operas, an abiding fascination in the occult and a talent for synthesizing already popular religious beliefs. All of which compels the author to pose the question: Just what, exactly, is religion and who gets to make the determination? Readers are ultimately left to ponder that question on their own, just as they're left to wonder what Urban has left out. Esoteric knowledge, meanwhile, has always been Scientology's stock and trade, but the Internet has largely taken that veil of secrecy and shredded it. That leaves another question to be answered: Does Scientology have a future?

An intriguing introduction into the labyrinthine world of Scientology and its meaning in American society. For a more entertaining, behind-the-scenes look, check out Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology (2011).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400839438
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
08/02/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
280
File size:
2 MB

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Meet the Author

Hugh B. Urban is professor of religious studies at Ohio State University. His books include Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism and Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion.

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Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very balanced if somewhat short account of S ientology. The study of what constitutes a religion and who get to decide. Fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for a religions class. I got drawn into the book. I really enjoyed rrading it, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the religion or who needs something forna course.
ALNY More than 1 year ago
After reading numerous books about scientology; including the wonderful Janet Reitman's recent book; I must say that this professors insightful and studious observations are extremely educational to anyone interested in this topic. Or any cults, for that matter. Highly recommended!!!!
Magnolia1 More than 1 year ago
This is probably the driest, most boring book I have ever purchased. Would love to get my money back.