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Seminar with Dr Aled Thomas: Scientology as a new religious movement

Thursday 30 March 2023, 11:30-13:00
Botany house 1.03

On 30th March, the Centre for Religion and Public Life is hosting a research seminar with Dr Aled Thomas who will speak about:

"Squirreling is today destructive of a workable system”: Innovative and ‘heretical’ Scientology in the Free Zone

In 1965 L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology (CoS), issued two bulletins entitled Keeping Scientology Working and Safeguarding Technology. These documents had two primary purposes: (i) to ensure a precise application of Scientologist ‘tech’ and (ii) to counter an increasing number of groups practising Scientology outside the institutional CoS – an act known as ‘squirreling’. Despite Hubbard’s attempts to contain ‘Scientology’ within his institution, the ‘Free Zone’ soon emerged – an umbrella term for a variety of Scientologies existing outside the CoS. Unbound by the institutional hierarchy (and the Weberian model of routinized charisma) of the CoS, Freezoners often adopt creative approaches to Hubbard’s tech – modifying and altering techniques to match their preferences. Accordingly, issues of authenticity and innovation create a hostile relationship between the Free Zone and CoS. This paper, drawing from my fieldwork with both the CoS and Free Zone, will explore these issues and demonstrate how they point to new issues for the wider study of religions – particularly how minority religions transition into the digital age, attempt to control esoteric knowledge, and embrace hybrids of ‘religious/secular-scientific’ practice.


Dr Aled Thomas is Teaching Fellow in Sociology of Religion at the University of Leeds, and is an expert on new religious movements, including Scientology.


You are welcome to join the seminar in person, or online via Zoom.