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Copyright © 1999 Laura Kay Fuller. It was her Senior Thesis at University of California, Santa Cruz (CA), in 1999. Duplication is not allowed in any form without written approval from the author. Contact the author at


           About a year ago, I came upon an article about Scientology in a local newspaper1. The author had written on the topic of Scientologists and their censorship of controversial literature on the internet. The word "controversial" was applied to anything critical of the religion known as Scientology, as well as to "secret documents" copyrighted by the Church of Scientology that are published on the internet. It was a standard piece of journalism- the writer offered equal sides of opinions from Scientologists and their critics. Ultimately, the reader was left with the idea that while Scientologists may engage in censorship or other undesirable activities, the church is rather harmless overall. The article presented Scientology as existing on the "fringe" of society, that is as being secondary to the mainstream- a silly and somewhat isolated phenomenon.

           I found myself curious as to what Scientology was about and began to ask people what they knew about this group, which seemed quite mysterious to me. I heard many explanations that served to peak my interest in Scientology. Some told me, "Itís a religion- they have churches and everything" or "Movie stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta are into it." Another said, "They hook you up to machines that are supposed to measure your repressed memories." Someone else said, "Itís pure evil," while another told me, "I took their psychological test once and theyíve been sending me tons of junk mail ever since- for the last ten years! I hate those people."

           Just what exactly was Scientology? Spurred by my own curiosity and a fascination with what seemed to be an increasingly bizarre history and set of practices, I began to research Scientology more extensively. The more I found out, the more frightened I became. What I discovered was an organization that is far from harmless, as the news article had previously concluded, but rather one which is extremely dangerous. At this point, I became convinced that others should be aware of what I now consider to be a dangerous and manipulative cult. I find it disturbing that many people do not know about the "dark side" of Scientology; thus part of my motivation in writing is to reveal information and analyses that are generally not available to the public. The end result of my findings lay here in this thesis.

           It is crucial to be able to see movements such as Scientology in different perspectives than they might normally be observed or presented. For myself, this involves looking at Scientology in terms of the totalitarian ideological model. However, I continue to owe much to the theories of others who have helped inform my views on this subject. It was through reading Hannah Arendt that I eventually incorporated her theories on totalitarianism into my thesis. Although Arendt focused on two distinct totalitarian movements of her time, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, she also stressed that there are numerous ways in which totalitarian movements can appear in the future2. It is indeed a mistake to assume that Arendtís examples are somehow exact models of what totalitarianism looks like, for the nature of totalitarianism requires itself to change and mutate in order to proliferate in various societies. The defeat of the Nazis does not equal the defeat of totalitarianism. As Arendt asserts, we must be continually aware of totalitarian tendencies in our lives, lest we not recognize totalitarian ideologies as they exist around us. The remaining choice is far more frightening- the possibility of a totalitarian future. In order to resist such forces, one must actively work to stop these movements from gaining power and popularity. A significant component of this involves presenting alternative points of view, by which a movement like Scientology can be judged.

           In a way, this paper is an answer to the suggestion that Scientology is something to be casually observed, with the attitude "Iíll do my thing, they can do theirs," as the newspaper article had implied. As my thesis will demonstrate, Scientology must be taken seriously, especially if we are to look at it as demonstrating a pattern that has surfaced before, in the form of totalitarianism. This project also communicates what I have learned over the past year, both while researching Scientology and working within American Studies. My work in American Studies has particularly encouraged me to look carefully at that which might otherwise be dismissed as insignificant. Hence, part of the importance of critically looking at Scientology lies in the simple act of critically looking at a movement that very much discourages both its members and the general population from doing so.

           While my reasons for choosing this topic vary, ranging from curiosity to political convictions, they are united by my belief that there is immense value in understanding and resisting totalitarian movements. Even if totalitarianism should emerge in the unlikely form of a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard3, these movements deserve careful attention and public discussion. This is not an objective paper, nor is it a paranoid rant. It is in part a call of warning, but it is also a means for analyzing how totalitarian ideologies function in the world that I live in- late twentieth century American society. In this way, the project takes on a personal importance, for as I learn to be more aware of the social and political patterns around me, I also gain the ability to recognize that similar patterns have emerged before. Without this historical background, I would be unable to see that Scientology is, in fact, a rather fascinating version of the many ways in which totalitarianism can disguise itself.

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  1. Metro Santa Cruz, February 1998.
  2. Arendt, Hannah, Origins of Totalitarianism, (1976).
  3. L. Ron Hubbard is the founder of Scientology.

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