Scientology and Its Discontents
Seth Perry - October 2, 2011
This past spring, in a course I called “American Scriptures,” my students and I listened to excerpts of a recording of L. Ron Hubbard lecturing on a boat in 1968. I had obtained the recording—which the Church of Scientology, the religious organization Hubbard founded, considers not for public circulation—from WikiLeaks, along with a transcript. I photocopied the relevant portions of the transcript and handed them out in class as aids to listening. The transcripts helped enable discussion of particular passages and allowed students to follow Scientology’s famously idiosyncratic lingo—”squirreling,” “ARC break,” “F/N.”
We did something similar with media productions of various other American religious movements, but what inevitably set Scientology’s apart was that as I handed out the transcripts, I told the students that I would have to ask for them back at the end of class. I explained that I did not want to be accused of having reproduced Scientology materials for circulation, thereby risking a lawsuit. My students, with some mirth, thought I was being a little dramatic, and maybe they were right—but I took the transcripts back all the same.
This classroom moment exemplifies the tensions inherent in studying and teaching Scientology. Hubbard’s teachings contain fascinating religious content that demands serious study—by those interested in religion writ large, and by those, like me, who study its American iterations. The organization that Hubbard created, however, frustrates that study.