The “emic” point of view in anthropology is that which gives attention to the classification of ideas of those who participate in a given culture. This is opposed to the “etic” point of view which is that derived from the conceptual classifications of one of the theories of the social sciences. Until this point we have employed definitions of religion taken from the theoretical viewpoint, which is to say from the viewpoint of social scientists who participate in current discussion regarding what constitutes a religion and what are its characteristics. In this section we will consider the emic point of view of the participants in society.
To ask if Scientology is a religion from the emic point of view is to ask if it is considered as such in the specific cultural contexts in which it conducts its activities. As the Church of Scientology is an international institution, these contexts are found in many countries. Because these are complex societies this includes numerous subgroups: The Scientologists themselves, governmental institutions and students of religious subjects are included among those who have made public pronouncements on this subject.
In the first place it is possible to observe that Scientologists themselves present Scientology as a religion in their writing and public documents. (See for example, The What Is Scientology? 1993:1, 7, 141, 147; LRH Book Compilations of What Is Scientology? 1994:iii).
With regard to governmental institutions, Scientology has been found to be, for legal purposes and tax exemption, a religion in the countries in which it has carried out its activities. The governmental organizations which have explicitly declared that Scientology is a religion include:
Organizations of the Executive Branch:
Ministry of Education and Culture of Bavaria, 1973; Department of State of the United States, 1974; Social Security Agency of Angers, France, 1985; National Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, United States, 1986; District of Schöneberg, Berlin, Germany, 1989
Department of Administration and Finance of Zürich, Switzerland, 1974; Tax Department of Florida, United States, 1974; Australian Tax Office, 1978; California Franchise Tax Board, 1981; Department of Taxes and Customs of Canada, 1982; Tax Service of Pau, France, 1987; Corporate Tax Inspector of Amsterdam, Holland, 1988; Utah Tax Commission, United States, 1988; New York City Tax Commission, United States, 1988; Federal Office of Finances, Germany, 1990; Tax Commission of Monza, Italy, 1990; Tax Commission of Lecco, Italy, 1991; Internal Revenue Service of the United States, 1993; California Employment Development Department, United States, 1994.
Appeals Court of Washington, D.C., United States, 1969; Court of the District of Columbia, United States, 1971; Court of St. Louis, Missouri, United States, 1972; Australian Court of Perth, Australia, 1970; Court of District of Stuttgart, 1976; Court of Munich, Germany, 1979; Appeals Court of Paris, 1980; Appeals Court of the State of Oregon, 1982; District Court of the United States in Washington, 1983; Superior Court of Massachusetts, 1983; Attorney General’s Office of Australia, 1973; High Court of Australia, 1983; District Court of Central California, United States, 1984; Appeals Court of Vancouver, 1984; Court of the District of Stuttgart, Germany, 1985; Appeals Court of Munich, Germany, 1985; Court of Padua, Italy, 1985; Court of Bologna, Italy, 1986; Regional Court of Hamburg, Germany, 1988; Court of Berlin, Germany, 1988; Court of Frankfurt, Germany, 1989; Court of Munich, Germany, 1989; Court of Hannover, Germany, 1990; Court of Milan, Italy, 1991; Administrative Court of Hamburg, Germany, 1992; Superior Court of Germany, 1992; Court of New York, 1994; Tax Court of Italy, 1994; District Court of Zürich, Switzerland, 1994; Supreme Court of Italy, 1995.
Finally, studies carried out by social scientists usually refer to Scientology as a religion, considering it part of the growing group of new religious movements.
One of the first studies on Scientology, an article by Harriet Whitehead in the book Religious Movements in Contemporary America, places it within the “growing collection of religious movements totally outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition.” (1974:547)
In a similar manner, the monograph by Roy Wallis, “The Road to Total Freedom: a Sociological Analysis of Scientology” (1977) which analyzes the historical development and doctrinal and organizational transformations which occurred during the transition from Dianetics into Scientology, clearly places the object of the study within the new religious groups. Wallis considers Scientology to be a religion particularly adapted for the religious market of contemporary Western society—as Wilson would state years later. The emphasis on the benefits which the members will receive from their religious practice in this world, the utilization of distinctive rhetoric and a bureaucratic and rationally constructed organization reflect contemporary Western values, since “the rationalization of life in the world has brought the institutions through which salvation is obtained to rationalism.” (1976:246)
Frank Flinn, in his paper “Scientology as Technological Buddhism” included in the volume Alternatives to American Mainline Churches, affirms that Scientology is “the most interesting of the new religious movements” (1983:89) and because it “bears many close resemblances to Buddhism” (93).
In a chapter of his 1990 book The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Bryan Wilson affirms that Scientology would be a “secularized religion” and then shows that it fits a list of 20 items usually characteristic of religions, suggesting that “Scientology must indeed be regarded as a religion, and this in respect of the metaphysical teachings it canvasses (and not because it describes its organization as a church), but it is a religion which mirrors many of the preoccupations of contemporary society.” (1990:288) He completes his analysis asking: “If one had to propose what would be a modern religion, perhaps Scientology would not appear as fitting in the secularized world in which it operates, and from which it takes the greater part of its organized structure and therapeutic preoccupations.” (1990:288)
Scientology is included as one of the groups reviewed in some of the most important books studying new religious movements: New Religious Movements: a Practical Introduction by Professor Eileen Barker (1992) as well as in both the Encyclopedia of American Religions and Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America by J. Gordon Melton (1992). It is also discussed, together with other new religious groups, in Cult Controversies: Societal Responses to the New Religious Movements by James Beckford (1985); in Cults, Converts and Charisma: the Sociology of New Religious Movements by Thomas Robbins (1991) and in L’Europe delle Nuove Religioni by Massimo Introvigne and Jean-Francois Mayer (1993).
In summary, adopting an experiential point of view, we can observe that Scientology has been considered a religion in the cultural contexts in which it has carried out its activities, including the pronouncements of government agencies, by members of the Church and by social scientists conducting studies of new religious movements.