As a result of the analysis undertaken here, we can conclude that Scientology is a religion from all perspectives which exist in the current discussion of the definition of this term in the social sciences and which we have reviewed in the present work.
Like most religions which internationally constitute the “religious ferment” of the last several decades (the religions of Eastern origin, Pentecostalism, and the Afro-American religions among others) religious experiences which are not ordinary and not quotidian have a central place in Scientology. Just as with the other religions such experiences occur in part motivated, regulated and interpreted by doctrine and in part taken as proof of the correctness of the cosmic vision held by the group. Consequently, Scientology fits the substantive definitions of religion currently in use in the social sciences.
[W]e can conclude that Scientology is a religion from all perspectives which exist in the current discussion of the definition of this term.
Scientology also fits the concept of religions as it is currently defined from the functionalist perspective, constituting a body of beliefs through which a group of people give meaning to fundamental problems such as injustice, suffering and the search for the meaning of life and together with practices through which they face these problems and intend to surmount them.
Like most religions, Scientology claims to have revealed the mystery of life. It does not propound an avowedly arbitrary meaning for the life of man; it claims to have discovered the true meaning. In doing so, it differentiates itself from the humanist perspectives: It does not propose or suggest values and ethical norms to give meaning to human life; on the contrary it claims to know what man truly is and what is the meaning of his life. At the same time, and because of using a similar vocabulary to the sciences, it is clearly different from them, given that it does not intend exclusively to describe how things happen, does not formulate questions nor present hypotheses for their opposition and eventual modification but asserts to have discovered the true causes and offers to share its knowledge. Therefore, Scientology fits the comparative definitions which characterize religion, distinguishing it from the humanist perspectives.
The Church of Scientology expects that its adherents become religious persons, in the sense which the analytical definitions of religion give to this term. In effect: It provides an interrelated system of beliefs so that its adherents may share its principal doctrines and expects that they will participate in ritual activities, achieving a direct experience of ultimate reality, acquire information about the principles of their faith and experience results in their everyday lives. Therefore per the analytical definitions of religion, the Church of Scientology constitutes a religious institution, since its expectations with respect to its adherents correspond to what such institutions expect of religious people.
Finally, adopting an emic point of view, it is observed that Scientology is considered a religion in most of the cultural contexts where it has carried out its activities, including the pronouncements of governmental institutions, of the members of the Church and of social scientists who have studied new religious movements.
In this paper we have considered the correspondence between Scientology and the modern definitions of religion employed in the field of the social sciences. However, Scientology also seems to fit the definitions of religion considered “classical” in both anthropology and sociology.
In the field of sociology, Max Weber, considered the “father” of the sociology of religion, preferred not to define the term (Weber 1964:1). Rather, he minutely classified the known religions into a large number of different types divided according to a large number of criteria. Scientology seems to correspond to a certain type of the “salvation religions” which are presented as a path to the freedom of the spirit from reincarnation or the cycle of birth and death (Weber 1964:146). Among salvation religions Scientology would be classified according to Weberian criteria among those which:
- have been founded by a prophet who instituted a doctrine directed to making possible the salvation of mankind (Weber 1964:46)
- possess systemized rituals in a body of comprehensive laws the knowledge of which requires special training (Weber 1964:154)
- affirm that salvation can be reached through a religious endeavor directed at self-perfection (Weber 1964:156)
- have developed a procedure intended to reach the religious consecration of the personality (Weber 1964:156) and
- assert that the consecration of the personality implies the acquisition of superhuman powers and the possibility of accomplishing superhuman actions (Weber 1964:157).
The correspondence between Scientology and this type of salvation religion specified in accordance with the categories of Weber is clearly expressed in the following paragraph of the What Is Scientology?:
“Contrary to those who teach that man cannot improve and that some seventy years in a body are all one can expect, there are states higher than that of mortal man. The state of OT does exist and people do attain it. Like any other gain in Scientology it is attained gradiently. …”
“Some of the miracles of life have been exposed to full view for the first time ever on the OT levels. Not the least of these miracles is knowing immortality and freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
“The way is true and plainly marked. All one needs to do is to place his feet upon the first rung of the ladder and ascend to Clear and then walk upward to the level of Operating Thetan.
“Auditing enables the individual to span the distance from Homo sapiens, with his drugs, his pains, his problems, upsets and fears, to higher states and freedom as a spiritual being. Such states are obtainable only through auditing. But they do exist and they are attainable and they fully restore a being to his native potential.” (What Is Scientology? 1992:222–223)
In relation to this definition and as already stated, the central belief of Scientology is that man is a thetan, that is to say, a spiritual being.
In the field of anthropology the definition of religion considered most classical is that of Sir Edward Tylor who characterizes it as “the belief in spiritual beings” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 14–15). In relation to this definition and as already stated, the central belief of Scientology is that man is a thetan, that is to say, a spiritual being. In this respect the Manual of Scientology says to its readers:
“You are a thetan, a spiritual being. Not your eyes, not your brain, but you. You do not have a thetan, something you keep apart from yourself; you are a thetan. You would not speak of my thetan; you would speak of me.
“Although much of what Scientology holds true may be echoed in many great philosophic teachings, what it offers is entirely new: An exact route through which anyone can regain the truth and simplicity of his spiritual self. …” (The Scientology Handbook 1994:iii)
Alejandro Frigerio, Ph.D.