James A. Beckford, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Warwick, England, and an internationally recognized sociologist who has done research on new religious movements, church-state issues, religion in prisons, and civic religion. Dr. Beckford is the author of hundreds of articles and more than a dozen books on the academic study of religion, including The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Analysis of Jehovah’s Witnesses (1975); Cult Controversies: The Societal Responses to New Religious Movements (1985); New Religious Movements and Rapid Social Change (edited, 1986); Religion in Prison (1998); Social Theory and Religion (2003); and The SAGE Handbook of the Sociology of Religion (edited, 2007). He is a fellow of the British Academy; founder of the British Sociological Association’s Study Group for the Sociology of Religion; is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion; and serves as vice chair of the Information Network on Religious Movements (INFORM), based at the London School of Economics. In 2014, Dr. Beckford received an honorary doctorate from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
Scientology, Social Science and the Definition of Religion
In this brief article from 1980, Professor James A. Beckford examines the ways in which Scientology amply satisfies traditional social-scientific definitions of religion. These include functional definitions (those that focus attention on how religions operate individually and socially) and substantive definitions (those that focus on specific properties by which a religion may be identified and differentiated from non-religion). “My conclusion,” writes Dr. Beckford,...