When pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard first introduced the world to his “modern science of mental health,” Dianetics in 1950, he was highly critical of the concept of “religion” as a whole. It was only later, and during periods of intense scrutiny from governmental agencies such as the IRS to the FDA, that what Hubbard called “the religion angle” was fully embraced by his fledgling movement. The resulting argument continues to this day, in the the courts, the colleges and the public-opinion hothouse of the internet. Is Scientology a “religion?” A “cult?” Or is it something else entirely, something our old terms and definitions are ill-suited to address? This talk, by religious studies scholar Don Jolly, will trace the history of Scientology through the movement’s efforts to self-identify as a “world religion” in a variety of arenas, concluding with an examination of the works of a practicing, independent Scientologist — whose view of the “religion debate” might surprise you.
Don Jolly is a Texan visual artist, writer, and academic. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in religion at NYU, with a focus on esotericism, fringe movements, and the occult. His comic strip, The Weird Observer, runs weekly in the Ampersand Review. He is also a staff writer for Obscure Sound, where he reviews pop records. Don lives alone with the Great Fear, in New York City.