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New Directions in the Study of Scientology – A View from the Academy

Each of the scholars involved on this panel has raised some of the historical and contemporary challenges associated with studying Scientology (or, as they suggest, “Scientologies”) and their thoughts about potential directions forward in circumstances which can sometimes feel like a frustrating research impasse. To my mind, what has stood out most clearly across the entire discussion is just how politicised and contested the study of Scientology has become – or, I would suggest, has always been – and the myriad of challenges scholars face in positioning themselves to pursue their research in light of this polarized scholarly context. While advances have been made in some areas of the wider study of New Religions toward less polarization, the topic of Scientology in many ways continues to appear intractable and resistant to scholarly analysis, though things appear to be slowly changing.

The panelists have surveyed extremely well some of the outside conditions which need to be in place for scholarship on Scientology, in its various garbs, to move forward and I concur with many of their observations here, particularly regarding their desire for the leadership institutional Church of Scientology to become more open to research and the need for greater emphasis on the lived/vernacular religion of everyday Scientologists. I’m also pleased to be able to write that since this panel was recorded Donald Westbrook’s Among the Scientologists has become available in e-Book form, a publication which I hope will start some new conversations about ways forward in this field of research. However, for this to happen, scholars of religion need to first think seriously about whether how can realistically respond to these external factors and to acknowledge what factors fall well outside of our capacity to change.

Without belabouring the point in this informal response I think we need to recognise and reflect at much greater length on the fact that the peculiarly historically-conditioned nature of this contested topic which we might, somewhat grandiosely, call “Scientology studies” places quite severe limits on scholars in what they can do to move discussions forward in terms of media depictions; the approach of the institutional Church of Scientology to research and dialogue; and the attitudes former members. All our panelists have recognised and given voice to some of the reasons for this and listeners should be attentive to their collective wisdom here. I have much more to say about these three aspects, but suffice to say here that I am less than sanguine about the prospects for change in these areas, though not entirely unhopeful. Within academia, however, I’m slightly more hopeful and in this response I turn my attention to this question: What might those in the academy change in how we approach researching Scientology and how might we move toward a depolarization in terms of scholarly paradigms?

For scholarly research on Scientology to move forward I humbly suggest that at least four interrelated proposals should be considered here; none of which is original or unknown in the wider study of New Religions. Firstly, scholarly discussion must take place without fear or favour between scholars according to scholarly conventions and unimpeded, so far is realistically possible, by unreasonable attempts at moral suasion regarding publication and research by outside stakeholders from the Church or from ex-members and critics. Second, a generational transition and willingness to work to put to rest past conflicts between scholars and scholarly paradigms in a spirit of mutual academic endeavour. Third, a more coherent and organised research program which draws on multiple fields of expertise and recognises the contribution of all serious and rigorous research. Fourth, increased reflexivity and moral accountability amongst scholars whereby we acknowledge our individual blind-spots and embrace some kind of scholarly common good model. To be emphatic, none of these are novel proposals, but I believe they bear repeating.  

I am under no illusions that what I envision below is a very likely outcome, but idealism and aspiration are not in themselves necessarily bad things and if we can name some of the problems and start a conversation in a respectful tone here that is a first step.

 

 

  • Scholarly Dialogue

Hitherto, as our panelists have each noted, public discussion of Scientology, arguably more than any other New Religious Movement (NRM), has lent itself to an immense degree of rancour and acrimony and too often scholarship is used or abused here to support or attack various positions – often quite apart from scholars’ intentions and sometimes with collateral damage to academics and their personal and professional reputations.

For scholarship on Scientology to move forward scholars need to be confident when writing and publishing that their work will be judged on its academic merit alone and not on whether or not their conclusions are of utility in the mobilization and counter-mobilization between various parties involved in the “cult scene.” Scholarly contributions of the discussion of Scientology need to be scholarly and stand up to rigorous peer-review which stands as far as possible above overt partisanship or virtue signalling. Scholarship, however, also needs to be made a safe-space for genuine and probing inquiry, ideally not a site of fear, self-censorship, or activism (which it has sadly often become).

For this to happen both the Church of Scientology and its critics, as well as scholars with differing opinions on Scientology, need to respect a rigorously neutral scholarly sphere where the kinds of moral suasion often applied to scholars at present are minimised and the position of the scholar qua scholar is respected. In such a situation we need to maintain a space for conversation which recognises differences of perspective, but holds each contributor whether they be serious insider; an academically serious critic; or any other scholar to the same rigours of peer-review and scholarly role neutrality.

The contested nature of Scientology will continued to mean that the politicisation of scholarship here is inevitable, but petty point-scoring exercises and untamed abuse are not, and we need to be able to recognise good scholarship and research for what it is, regardless of who has done it, their past publications or affiliations, or indeed whether or not we agree with them. We need to be willing to give “voice” to different perspectives and not to allow academic processes to be subtly hijacked to silence “dissent.” This might seem like the current status quo, but sadly it often isn’t, and we need to work to de-politicise as far as possible and realistic the academy and work toward an ideal of role neutrality as a scholarly norm.  

Current often heavy-handed attempts at moral suasion by various parties against those they alternatively label “cult critics,” “apostates,” or “cult apologists,” serves little scholarly end other than to entrench an “epistemological Manicheanism” (to borrow a phrase from the late Thomas Robbins); to silo scholars into sometimes monologic paradigms; and ultimately to impede research moving forward in different and fruitful directions. As Eileen Barker, a scholar who has worked exceedingly hard toward dialogue and methodological rigour and paid the price by being the frequent target of unfair abuse, has reminded us for decades now, different social constructions of reality are operating between (sometimes) mutually exclusive parties, scholarship will only move forward if we can recognise this and acknowledge its operation in our own work (a point taken up further below). Scholars can only work toward overcoming this impediment by open and respectful dialogue across what have become somewhat “party lines,” but for it to proceed further, more good will is needed. This brings me to my next suggestion.

 

  • Generational Change

I am hesitant to raise this, but I feel it must be articulated, even at the risk of dredging up ancient history. As our panelists clearly allude to, a clear deficit of trust and good will exists between some scholars who have written on Scientology. The often-combative nature of discussion between the “New Religions Studies” and “Cultic Studies” paradigms, as outlined by W. Michael Ashcraft in A Historical Introduction to the Study of New Religious Movements (2018), has meant that old grudges have died hard. Anyone doubting this should spend the time reading the thoughtful debates in Sociological Analysis (1983) on “sponsorship”; the Nova Religio (1998) debate on “academic integrity”; and the edited volume of Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins Misunderstanding Cults (2001) and various reviews. The reasons for these disputes are well known (and often justifiable) to the parties involved and without apportioning blame or pointing fingers it must be said that mistakes have been made on both sides of the scholarly fence. Rather than extending such conflicts into the future, however, I believe a younger generation of scholars who have not been directly party to these controversies need to open doors for dialogue here and take up the baton of scholarship rather than crying foul over perceived past injustices or perpetuating mistrust.   

This will be a significant challenge for many of us, from both paradigms, but I suggest probably less for scholarly than personal reasons. Most of us studying NRMs, whether we follow a “New Religions Studies” paradigm or a “Cultic Studies” paradigm (and I do not believe the two are necessarily mutually exclusive and that no middle ground exists), have in one way or other been supervised or mentored by an older generation of scholars and feel obliged to defend their legacy. However, the last few years have witnessed a series of important volumes on Scientology featuring a multi-generational cast of contributors, bringing a combination of new and entrenched perspectives on the issues at hand. There is much to learn from these works, but for us to do so we have to actually read one-another’s contributions seriously, and I suggest with a hermeneutic of charity.  

War-weary veterans of the “cult wars” might be hesitant to do this for many the wounds received are still raw but younger scholars should consider this. The up-and-coming generation of scholars here need to have the courage to cite and quote work from different perspectives, and more importantly, to engage in respectful scholarly discussion and rigorous debate with different perspectives without resorting to ad hominem attacks or a self-righteous party spirit. If the serious study of NRMs is to continue as a subfield in religious studies, and not fade away into a rancorous oblivion of competing but not conversing paradigms, younger scholars need to work harder to publish together in the same journals, collaborate where necessary, and divide labour where appropriate. We do not need to carry on personal disputes between our forebears into the next generation.  

As a starting point, we might consider, as far as possible, refraining from acrimonious reviews of work from another paradigm which fail to appreciate good scholarship for what it is, but instead focus on critical points of pedantry which fail to see the forest for the trees. This brings me to my third point.

 

  • A Realistic and Collaborative Research Program

If a serious and academically enriching dialogue can be seriously broached we will also have to recognise that by virtue of the highly politicised and polarised nature of the study of Scientology, divisions of labour in the kinds of research we do exist and are often necessary. However, by speaking openly about the challenges of our different kinds of research, rather than operating in isolation, we can enrich rather than denude or undermine each other’s work.

Scholars in the “New Religions Studies” paradigm have often established relationships with various kinds of Scientologists and are often privy to information which may not be accessible by those studying other stakeholders. Similarly, scholars in a “Cultic Studies” paradigm often have greater cache with former members than is often the case for those who are in conversation with the institutional Church or, as our panelists remind us, have been labelled as “cult apologists.” Both groups of scholars have built relationships with informants which operate on mutual trust and respect and bring with them both written and unwritten obligations. Both groups of scholars also risk, however, the “contagion of stigma” which can easily operate to discredit them with other stakeholders by virtue of their positionality and lead to concerns being raised by stakeholders about real or perceived duplicity (what we might call – mimicking pagan studies – the “Wallis Effect”).

While I don’t prima facie disagree with the idea that a scholar can both specialise in research on current and former members of the Church of Scientology, the opportunities for moral suasion multiply in situations of conflict and a more collaborative and cooperative division of labour across paradigmatic lines might provide a pragmatic rather than an ideal way forward which recognises the highly charged field in which “Scientology studies” operates. Some pressure to “take sides” will be applied no matter what we do, all we can do as scholars, however, is work to be role neutral and peer-review and respect each other’s work in scholarly spirit rather than operate with a bunker mentality.  

A present we lack a truly synoptic account of Scientology and in the contemporary academy such an account is unnecessary and arguably undesirable. What we have instead is a growing number of single-subject studies which cumulatively add to our understanding of Scientology in a more holistic sense, as a religion functioning within a wider social sphere and in interaction with mutual conversation partners. A piecemeal and respectful development of such studies is a goal we should pursue in unison, but as scholars, not as partisans.

 

  • Increased Reflexivity and Moral Accountability

Part of any dialogue is a recognition of past faults and a willingness by scholars to own our mistakes. Reflexivity in scholarship is important, but difficult, and publicly owning up to our shortcomings is often unbefitting with the tone of our times, which I suggest favours a dangerous trend toward “epistemological Manicheanism” and feigned moral righteousness. Nowadays it is often more convenient to retreat into a sense of righteousness and close our ears to uncomfortable truths; especially when we may have felt compromised, co-opted, or deceived by our informants or misunderstood by our critics and colleagues. Some will always resort to self-justification here and that is unavoidable. Scholars, from both camps, however, need to be more discerning before following this path.

While none of us can easily overcome various personal biases or lenses which impact on our work, we can acknowledge them and I suggest we need to do this far more readily. Instead of assuming a panoptic scholarly lens we must acknowledge the limitations of our viewpoint at the outset and make our own positionality more explicit. Are we focusing on written documents, ex-member informants, current member informants, or both? What is our analytic lens and our methodology? While these seem very standard questions for any good research, they are often missing in popular, but sadly also “scholarly,” discussions of Scientology. But as scholars when our knowledge is piecemeal we are obliged to acknowledge it.

The politicised nature of Scientology research has meant that when scholars are asked about Scientology by various parties (usually by the media or other outside stakeholders) they often default to a position of “expert knowledge,” similarly when former members are asked they default to a position of “privileged knowledge,” rarely do either resort to careful qualification and epistemological humility. There is no shame to not knowing everything and we must be more ready to admit this – and to point to it in others in a spirit of inquiry. Piecemeal knowledge is worthwhile because it highlights certain gaps which require further analysis, assuming that our piecemeal knowledge is all encompassing just opens us to methodological critique. Each serious scholar brings pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, but our individual pieces cannot make a complete picture (though some might be more revealing than others).

Those of us studying Scientology need to continually take stock about the impact of our scholarship beyond the yellowing-pages (or broken URLs) where our research appears. What we publish will influence how different parties relate to us and we need to be aware of this. However, our first, though not only, obligation needs to be to the academy and while we might have strong feelings about matters like religious freedom and social justice, we can only go so far as our research permits and acknowledge more readily when we simply don’t know!

 

Is this possible?

What I suggest above probably will likely seem radical to many, methodologically naïve, and perhaps even utopian or foolhardy to others. As a historian, however, I suggest that to dismiss the potential for a shift in how we approach “Scientology studies” is short-sighted. Not so long ago the “World Religions” were only studied internally by practitioners or by hostile outsiders and missionaries. Today we have experts in various religious traditions who have no personal affiliation to these groups, but by virtue of scholarly inquiry have attained a vast knowledge of these traditions, sometimes superior in certain senses to lived practitioners. Similarly we have experts who belong to these traditions, who can speak accurately and illuminatingly, if not always authoritatively, on their own beliefs. There is no unamendable reason why this can’t be the same for Scientology. As J. Gordon Melton has been reminding us for decades, it is possible to study Scientology!

On this note, I, for one, would welcome Scientologists and former members seriously contributing to academia, but like our panelists I believe such prospective contributors must realise that academic knowledge and apologetic intent are usually mutually exclusive. However, I would welcome the emergence of serious Scientology theologians, who can critically reflect upon the Tech and dialogue constructively on its application in scholarly fora.

For non-Scientologists studying the group, I suggest, that we have a choice: we can either learn to live and speak with and about Scientology in an academically constructive and productive way, in a spirit of dialogue, or we can decry it and seek to marginalise it. There will always be those who will favour denunciation over dialogue and who will remain unwilling or unable to listen to the other side. The weight of history suggests, however, that at the end of the day decrying Scientology will make little difference to all but a few, and dialogue will probably make small, incremental, and perhaps for a time imperceptible shifts. Eureka moments in understanding and knowledge are few and far between, but building a piecemeal understanding through mutual labour and cooperation seems a better way to me than a studied and intransigent resistance which seeks to maintain a polarized status quo situation.

Scientology is a reality in the contemporary religious landscape and, historically naïve predictions of its demise notwithstanding, it seems certain it will survive long after many of its critics. From a historical perspective the Church is far healthier demographically, institutionally and financially than it has probably ever been and while I respectfully doubt its own numeric claims to growth or optimistic predictions of future expansion, I am equally sceptical of claims about its impending collapse. Moreover, Scientology is a fascinating religious movement, and whether one approves of it or not – or, indeed, whether one is undecided or merely ambivalent – it is worthy of the effort of further serious scholarship. I see numerous avenues of inquiry which I believe different scholars publishing today, both in the “New Religions Studies” and “Cultic Studies” paradigms, could pursue fruitfully and to the wider benefit of academic knowledge. The panellists here have highlighted some of the external challenges far better than I could hope to do, but I hope that what I have written offers some humble suggestions for how scholars can overcome some of our internal challenges.

“Insider Knowledge”: Seeing the Bigger Picture with New Religious Movements

A Response to George Chryssides on “Changing Your Story: Assessing Ex-Member Narratives”

By Aled Thomas

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Music, Marketing and Megachurches

During the 20th century, the media has exploded to include radio, television and most recently and perhaps influentially, the Internet. Music has been a big part of this new emerging “mediapolois”, moving from a mostly stand-alone medium, to part of a marketing matrix of  people, places and industries. Today, music’s meaning is more often part of a branded ecosystem, not limited to entertainment, but part of the experience of everyday life, including religion. Evangelical churches and, increasingly, New Religious Movements use music as part of a branding exercise that helps to transform them from local congregations into a transnational enterprise.

To discuss music, marketing and contemporary religion, David Robertson sat down with Dr. Tom Wagner, an ethnomusicologist, percussionist and lecturer at the Reid School of Music in Edinburgh. They discuss the long history of the use of music in promoting evangelical congregations, and the transformation that came with the development of recording and broadcast technologies. Tom describes his research and fieldwork with Hillsong, an evangelical church movement with an international reach who use music both in their worship and their branding. Later, they discuss the use of music in Scientology, to create and maintain a particular aesthetic, and how Tom sees this research developing in the future.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, scuba gear, garden gnomes, and more.

Minority Religions and the Law

cult” and “sect” uncritically. Nevertheless, outside of academia, the language of “cults” continues to be used, and particularly through the law, has an affect on the lives of real people. Susan J. Palmer joins David G. Robertson to discuss the intersection between new or minority religions and the law. Professor Palmer describes how she came to study these minority groups, and to realise that they were often being misrepresented, or at least unduly targeted. Discussion ranges from Scientology in France to the Branch Davidians and the Nuwaubians in the US, with issues of secularity, race and “brainwashing” come to the fore. A fascinating overview for anyone interested in how the discourse on “religion” operates in the contemporary world.

Religion and the Law (Winnifred F. Sullivan), Studying “Cults” (Eileen Barker), and Is Britain still a Christian country? (Linda Woodhead), and feature essays by Daniel SillimanEssi Mäkelä, and Kevin Whitesides. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, fake fir trees, playing cards, and more!

Studying “Cults”

Although “cult” and “sect” are used as technical terms in religious studies, in their popular usage, “cult” tends to refer to a New Religious Movement [NRM] or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered reprehensible. Since such pejorative attitudes are generally considered inappropriate for the academic study of religion, scholars have tended to adopt the nomenclature of NRMs to refer to “a wide range of groups and movements of alternative spirituality, the emergence of which is generally associated with the aftermath of the 1960s counter-culture” (Arweck 2002:269). In this interview with Chris, Emeritus Professor Eileen Barker (LSE) takes us through the academic study of NRMs from the 1960s onwards, engaging with the particular challenges and successes which have been encountered by academics in the field, and reflecting on some of the more colourful aspects of this area of research.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Eileen Barker OBE, FBA, is Emeritus Professor of Sociology with special reference to the study of Religion at the London School of Economics. She has been researching minority religions and the responses to which they give rise since the early 1970s. Her study of conversion to the Unification Church for her PhD, led to an interest in a wide variety of movements, and she has personally studied, to greater or lesser degree, over 150 different groups. She has over 300 publications, translated into 27 languages. She travels extensively for research purposes, particularly in North America, Europe and Japan, and, since collapse of the Berlin Wall, in Eastern Europe and, more recently, China. She was the first non-American to be elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

She is also the founder of INFORM (Information Network, Focus on Religious Movements), an independent charity that was founded in 1988 with the support of the British Home Office and the mainstream Churches. It is based at the London School of Economics. According to Inform’s website, “the primary aim of Inform is to help people by providing them with information that is as accurate, balanced, and up-to-date as possible about alternative religious, spiritual and esoteric movements.”

Among Professor Barker’s publications, the following may be of interest (those which are open-access are indicated with an asterisk):

Reference:
Arweck, Elizabeth 2002. “New Religious Movements” in Religions in the Modern World, edited by Linda Woodhead, Paul Fletcher, Hiroko Kawanami and David Smith. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 264-288.

Invented Religions

What is an “Invented Religion”? Why should scholars take these religions seriously? What makes these “inventions” different from the revelations in other religions? What happens when an author does not want their story to become a religious text?

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

In this interview with David, Carole M. Cusack (Associate Professor in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney) answers these questions and more, exploring her notion of “Invented Religions” and introducing the listener to a wide variety of contemporary and unusual forms of religion. Discussion flows through a range of topics – from Discordianism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to Scientology, Jediism and the New Atheism – and demonstrates how the works of authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Robert A. Heinlein can be transformed by others and take on a life of their own. In her own words, “This is a fiction so good it should be true…”

[N.B., Carole asked us to let you know that when she said that George Adamski founded the Aetherius Society, she meant George King. Both Georges encountered Venusians in 1954, but Adamski was in the US and King in the UK. A forgivable error, we’re sure.]

A transcription of this interview is also available as a PDF, and has been pasted below. All transcriptions are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

Of particular relevance to the topic of this interview is Carole’s article

Science Fiction as Scripture: Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and the Church of All Worlds in Christopher Hartney, Alex Norman, and Carole M. Cusack (eds), Creative Fantasy and the Religious Imagination, special issue of Literature & Aesthetics, Vol. 19, No. 2, SSLA, 2009, pp. 72-91. The full text is available here. If you have  access to the International Journal for the Study of New Religions, you may also find the following article of interest: Discordian Magic: Paganism, the Chaos Paradigm and the Power of Parody, International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Vol. 2, No. 1, May 2011.

Podcast Transcript

Podcast with Carole M. Cusack on Invented Religions (30 January 2012). PDF.

Interviewed by David G. Robertson (with Chris Cotter). Transcribed by Martin Lepage.

 

David Robertson (DR): What if you choose to believe in a faith that you knew had been made up? And what if it worked all the same? That’s what Carole Cusack, Associate Professor of Studies in Religions at the University of Sydney, asks in her recent book Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith, and she’s with us today. Hi Carole!

Carole Cusack (CC): Hi David!

DR: So? Why should scholars take invented religions seriously?

CC: I think the best way into that query is to understand that human beings create, to some extent, their reality in the sense that they, as individuals and then in communities, tell narratives that make meaning, and they externalise those narratives, those narratives gain an objective status, and then, they’re re-internalised by individualized and communities as something that has facticity outside of simply being a human cultural production. That is a kind of summary of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s social-constructionist model of reality-building, and religion is a kind of worldview and people do precisely the same thing with religions when they join a religion, when they take on a religion: they learn new vocabulary, they tell new stories to each other, new converts or people who are drifting close to joining are told those stories and rehearsed in actions, and language, so that they come to be part of the community. Where I’m going with this is that even though the phenomenon of religion sort of based explicitly on narratives that are known to be fictional seem to date only from the 1950s, there is a sense in which every religion has been invented in some sense, even those religions that claim revelation from an external deity. What happens is a person, a prophetic or charismatic leader, has an experience and communicates that experience as narrative to a group of people who haven’t had that experience, and they story-build, and talk about it, and externalize it, and objectivise it and then re-internalise it, and it becomes true… for them. And this is one of the issues with invented religions, as I term them in my book that came out in 2010. They are cases where the narrative actually predates the religion. The person who founds the religion already has in their possession a narrative that has been written by somebody else, and they think that this fictional narrative more accurately represents spiritual realities, values, meaning-conveying issues in life, than existent scriptures, and determine that they will make from a fiction a document that becomes a scripture, or a myth, or a program for human spiritual development.

DR: It begins with Discordianism, really, doesn’t it, that’s the first of these invented religions?

CC: Well, Discordianism is an interesting case because it’s not actually based on a pre-existent fiction, but it does, I think, kick off the phenomenon. It’s technically founded in 1957, and consequently, it’s the earliest of the religions that I study. There are other examples that fit almost exactly into that same milieu. For example, the quite highbrow American novelist, Thomas Pynchon, in 1958, founded what he calls a ‘micro-cult’, with Richard Fariña, the late folksinger, that was based on a novel, Oakley Hall’s Warlock, and this was a very specific campus-based thing. One thing fascinating about invented religion is the extent to which students, university and college students, are the people who create these stories, create these faiths from pre-existent stories. Discordianism is Greg Hill, later known as Malaclypse the Younger, and Kerry Thornley, later known as Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, sitting in a bowling alley with some of their friends, over a few nights, and coming up with the idea that the world as they understood it, which was very much a Cold War view, is just completely chaotic, and that if there is a deity, the deity is the deity of chaos, Eris, the great goddess of discord, called Discordia in Latin, and deliberately inventing a kind of farcical burlesque of religion based on this goddess. What’s most interesting about them is that even though they didn’t work from a pre-existing fictional narrative, they both went and some of the other very important contributors to the religion, like Robert Anton Wilson or Camden Benares, went through the same sort of processes. They both went through a process where they began knowing that they had made it up. But by the time they were speaking with Margot Adler in the middle 70’s, when she was writing Drawing Down the Moon, her pioneering study of alternative religionists in America, they both had come to the position that they realized that something that they thought was a fiction, that they had spun, was in fact a reality that was true. And this seems to me to be related, though not identical, to the process of picking up a pre-existent fictional text and attempting to instantiate it. To an extent, they are the authors of the fictional text. You could argue Principia Discordia was a piece of fiction they produced, and rather than waiting for someone else to pick it up and decide that it should be made into a religion, they gradually became auto-converted.

DR : And the other major invented religion that you are concerned with,the Church of All Worlds, they didn’t create the texts themselves, rather they appropriated some else’s text, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. How are they different?

CC: Well, firstly, Discordianism begins as spirit of parody, as spirit of really kicking out against the culture of the 1950’s. It begins in rebellion. It begins in the desire to mock and to even vilify religion as hypocrisy, as ridiculous. And it becomes, to some extent, serious though there is still a strong element of parody, and Discordians tend to be chameleonic, irreverent, very difficult to pin down. The Church of all Worlds, which began at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, in 1962, on the 7th of April, precisely, if you want. That was founded by two college students, Tim Zell and Richard Lance Christie, and in a lot of ways, they’re a brilliant contrast, to Hill and Thornley, because Hill and Thornley’s friendship broke apart over the years. They came to understand Discordianism very differently and to, in many ways, become bitter, and to become essentially broken through their experience of it. It’s significant, I think, that Zell and Christie were both psychology majors, and in fact, Zell went on to graduate work in psychology, which he didn’t finish. They formed a friendship that Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, as Tim Zell in now known, he says: ‘He was Spock to my Kirk.’ They speak when… Christie was still alive, he died in 2010… they spoke of each other in terms that were familial, almost lover-like, the idea that when they met each other as friends, as undergraduates, it was the true recognition of the other person in the universe that they’d been missing up to that point. And consequently, they had a very strong shared program for what this religion was going to look like. They both read Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which was released in 1961. They both fell in love with the book as they had with each other, and with psychology, and with certain ideas about world transformation. In 1962, what was formed was two branches. The Church of All Worlds, which was the religious arm, with Zell in charge. He was the early developer of liturgy and of praxis, mostly derived from Heinlein. And the waterbrotherhood called Atl, which Christie was in charge of, which became essentially an environmentalist project, an ecological project. And they kept those roles throughout the whole of the next forty-odd years, where Zell is the flamboyant religious leader, the Pagan, the magician, the trickster, the person who garnered public opinion and worked tirelessly as a promoter of the worship of Gaia as a religion, whereas Christie worked as almost entirely as a secular environmental activist, having done graduate work in environment science. So their religion doesn’t have a parodic element. It’s serious. It’s devotional. There’s playfulness there, but that comes largely, I think, from the sense that Heinlein’s own novel is full of playfulness, and the wholehearted rejection, especially of mainstream sexual morays, and wage slavery, and other kinds of ideas that were considered to be the successful life in the 1960’s, places CAW in that hippie drop-out rebellious camp, but it’s a rebellion that is not characterised by parody or by savage satire of religion. It’s rather a religion characterized by rejection of mainstream standards, and a religious vision, which actually is entirely serious.

DR: The element of satire comes back strongly with what you described as the Third Millennium and invented religions with… and they’re going further into things like Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster being outright attacks on religion, not just playful satires. Is there anything behind that change?

CC: That’s an interesting one and actually I think it’s important at this point to just refer for one minute to what Robert A. Heinlein said himself. He actually, even though he shares some values with CAW, i.e. he was into nudism, and polyamory, and he was politically very radical, sometimes very right wing, sometimes very left wing. He is absolutely non-religious, and he did not want his novel to be read as a religious tract. That’s quite interesting because it’s a novel that largely about religion, in various forms. But there is a notion that wants that once an author releases a story into the world… I started with storytelling in the way that humans use stories to world-build and to create identities. Heinlein released this story into the world and it was enthusiastically taken up by enormous numbers of mostly young people in the 60s. And in the early 1970s, Tim Zell began corresponding with Heinlein, and Heinlein subscribed to Green Egg, the newsletter that CAW published, and he always maintained, in fact, there’s passages in his published letters, that he doesn’t believe any of it, and he doesn’t really think that it was a great idea to turn his novel into a religion. But nevertheless, he came to like Zell and to find value in the way that he was appropriating this story and making the story live in a different way.

The Third Millennium new religion you just mentioned, the Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster, of course, it doesn’t start as a religion at all. It starts as a narrative that is a mockery, a very funny, and very clever mockery of intelligent design, the latest largely Christian repackaging of Creationism, which is very important in America, where issues about religion are so much more debated than they are in Europe or Australia, where I’m from. And of course, Bobby Henderson released that story into the world. He wrote The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an enormously funny book, and he created a mythology, he gave the FSM a noodle-y mess with meatballs for eyes as the creator of the universe. If you’re going to have to specify an intelligent designer, why shouldn’t it be the FSM? He created also a religion that would appeal to college students. Heaven has strippers and a beer volcano. So what happened of course was that people who read this and first thought what a hilarious piss-take it was, started saying exactly what Zell and Christie said about Stranger in a Strange Land: ‘This a is fiction so good, it should be true.’ So you have people starting sectarian branches of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the spirit of parodic religion, and Henderson has declined ever to be considered a prophet. But he’s also said he doesn’t really care what people do with it. He released it onto the market, people can pick it up and they can do with it what they want. And so you have the guy who publishes ‘Spaghetti-grams’, which are anagrams done on the computer, using the words ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ and say, for example, whatever issue that you want advice on… so ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster sexual morality’, and you get Spaghetti-grams, which are four line quatrains, arranged of anagrams from the letters that are available. This is a kind of divinatory advice. People who wear colanders, pasta strainers, on their heads as religious headgear, as a recent case in Austria where a young man requested that he’d be allowed to wear such headgear in the photograph featured on his driver’s license, was tried in the courts and found to be a valid religious headgear. And so the story is what’s important, and how people build that story into an identity formation, whether as an individual, or whether as a group who want to create a cell, a church, for the FSM in real life. And that’s very amusing and very good fun. And it does critique religion, but it critiques religion in an interesting way because, I think that scholars who, for a long time, have been comfortable with the idea that there could be religions that don’t have any gods, that in fact aren’t supra-empirical or supernaturally oriented, there are just really about what people do in their lives… this is not generally a view that the person in the street finds easy to accept. Usually, if you vox-pop, one of the first things you get, if you say ‘what do you think there has to be as a vital element to make something a religion?’, most people will say God or gods. But scholarship is very comfortable with the idea that religions are really about people, this is because scholarship is a secular activity. It’s not theology. It’s not confessional. We understand that human beings are makers of their own worlds. And so, those people who are making their religious world out of the Star Wars trilogy or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they’re doing something that scholars are very comfortable with.

Chris Cotter: You’re raising very valid points which gel with my own work into the atheists, etc., and one of the big critiques that contemporary atheism or non-religion has of religion is that it is invented, and they spend an awful lot of time demonstrating that the Bible was written by people or this religion was just founded by some guys who wrote a novel or whatever, and they seem to think that this will make a difference. Does it?

CC: No… look, I think this is one of the great problems with atheism in the 21th century. I’m very sympathetic to atheist discourses and I think it is correct that they’re included among other religious discourses. But for me, the main problem is that atheists seem to think that if you can mount and knock down arguments that are based on either rationality or empiricism, the twin poles of the Enlightenment, that you won’t be able to make people realized that their beliefs or their practices are erroneous and should be abandoned, and it seems to me that this is entirely counter-intuitive. Human beings are capable of rationality, but very very few, even educated Westerners, operate consistently on principles of rationality, and you only have to look at statistics from the US, which often talk about the fact that people who have science degrees are very likely to be Creationists. Human beings have compartmentalised knowledges, issues of identity formation, and things that they considered precious and important, and these don’t often bleed into each other. So I’m afraid I think the atheist argument that you can demonstrate that religious texts were written by humans, or that you can demonstrate that the founder of a particular religion, like Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard, was in some sense a huckster or a fraud, I don’t see that these are important because they don’t take into account that the lived experience of people is more powerful to them than any kind of argument drawn from rational principles. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but it seems to me that it is how it is.

DR: Scientology is a white elephant in your book, isn’t? Is that a deliberate decision so as to not get sued or… I can’t imagine that’s the case, knowing you… or was it rather that you considered them or don’t consider them to be in the same class as the other invented religions?

CC: Scientology is really difficult. It comes out of exactly the same milieu. The Church of Scientology is founded in the 1950s, 1954 to be precise, on the back on Dianetics, and yes, it contained science fiction tropes, and in the 21th century, what we know about it looks a lot like an invented religion. I am ambivalent about Scientology, because I don’t think it begins as an invented religion. It begins as a critique of psychiatry. It begins as a therapy. It begins as a… an answer to the problems of modern life, and it’s not surprising that when Dianetics was released, major psychologists like Erich Fromm actually reviewed it, and it was treated as a work of amateur psychology. What’s interesting about it is that it goes along exactly the same track as the theosophical legacy, because L. Ron Hubbard begins with clearing engrams that are experiences that ones has had in the past in one’s life. They the engrams go back to in utero, then they go back to past lives, and before you know what happened, these past lives may be on other planets involving extraterrestrials. This is in fact exactly what happens with theosophical ascended masters. Madame Blavatsky’s masters where real Tibetans living in Tibet, who were alive in her life. After she died, mediumship contacted people who were dead, people who lived in Ancient Egypt, mythical figures like the Comte de Saint Germain for people like Guy Ballard and before you know it, it’s people from other planets, Venusians like Orthon who speak to George King. These sorts of things are a logical extension. So in some senses, I would place Scientology in a post-theosophical therapeutic milieu. And I think, as we came to know as scholars, a lot more about the Operating Thetan levels, the Xenu mythology in particular made it look a lot more like an invented religion, but at the moment, I’m just not 100% sure that I would put it in the same category.

DR: Well, this is absolutely cutting-edge research. Has anybody taken up your research and challenged it or taken it further?

CC: The interesting thing is that it’s evolving so fast, I’m not quite sure. I came up with the term ‘invented religions’, but I really wanted emphasis to be placed on the subtitle, which was Imagination, Fiction and Faith, ‘cause I think the human imagination creates the stories, the stories are fictions, people come to have faith in them, I think that’s really important. But very, very shortly before I completed the book, I met Markus Davidsen, who’s doing his PhD at the University of Leiden and the University of Aarhus, and he is working on what he calls ‘fiction-based religions’, because he’s working on Jediism and spirituality and religious groups that have grown out of the Tolkien mythos. I thought in some sense that was a better title. We discussed this privately and he went for ‘fiction-based religions’ because he thought that all religions are invented, which was where I started today. And I could see the sense of that, but then we linked up with Danielle Kirby, who’s at Monash University and who did her PhD on the Otherkin, and she argues that ‘fiction-based religions’ is no good because it’s too passive a term, and what we’re really looking at is a kind of actively constructed type of new spirituality, that… you need the dynamism of invention and you need the content of fiction, but what we’re still looking for now is a better term to characterize these groups. That being said, I’ve had very favourable email contacts from mostly Discordians and members of the Church of All Worlds, including Oberon Zell-Ravenheart who actually helped me a lot with the research that I did in that book, and they are very comfortable with my term ‘invented religions’. But these, of course, are not people within the academy and I think it’s within the academy, that the category, that area, whatever you want to call it, is going to be developed and refined, and that’s happening, it’s just not quite clear where it’s going to go yet.

DR: Professor Cusack, thank you.

CC: It’s been a pleasure.

Citation Info: Cusack, Carole M. and David G. Robertson, with Christopher R. Cotter. 2012. “Invented Religions.” The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 30 January 2012. Transcribed by Martin Lepage. Version 1.1, 25 September 2015. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/podcast-carole-cusack-on-invented-religions/

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New Directions in the Study of Scientology – A View from the Academy

Each of the scholars involved on this panel has raised some of the historical and contemporary challenges associated with studying Scientology (or, as they suggest, “Scientologies”) and their thoughts about potential directions forward in circumstances which can sometimes feel like a frustrating research impasse. To my mind, what has stood out most clearly across the entire discussion is just how politicised and contested the study of Scientology has become – or, I would suggest, has always been – and the myriad of challenges scholars face in positioning themselves to pursue their research in light of this polarized scholarly context. While advances have been made in some areas of the wider study of New Religions toward less polarization, the topic of Scientology in many ways continues to appear intractable and resistant to scholarly analysis, though things appear to be slowly changing.

The panelists have surveyed extremely well some of the outside conditions which need to be in place for scholarship on Scientology, in its various garbs, to move forward and I concur with many of their observations here, particularly regarding their desire for the leadership institutional Church of Scientology to become more open to research and the need for greater emphasis on the lived/vernacular religion of everyday Scientologists. I’m also pleased to be able to write that since this panel was recorded Donald Westbrook’s Among the Scientologists has become available in e-Book form, a publication which I hope will start some new conversations about ways forward in this field of research. However, for this to happen, scholars of religion need to first think seriously about whether how can realistically respond to these external factors and to acknowledge what factors fall well outside of our capacity to change.

Without belabouring the point in this informal response I think we need to recognise and reflect at much greater length on the fact that the peculiarly historically-conditioned nature of this contested topic which we might, somewhat grandiosely, call “Scientology studies” places quite severe limits on scholars in what they can do to move discussions forward in terms of media depictions; the approach of the institutional Church of Scientology to research and dialogue; and the attitudes former members. All our panelists have recognised and given voice to some of the reasons for this and listeners should be attentive to their collective wisdom here. I have much more to say about these three aspects, but suffice to say here that I am less than sanguine about the prospects for change in these areas, though not entirely unhopeful. Within academia, however, I’m slightly more hopeful and in this response I turn my attention to this question: What might those in the academy change in how we approach researching Scientology and how might we move toward a depolarization in terms of scholarly paradigms?

For scholarly research on Scientology to move forward I humbly suggest that at least four interrelated proposals should be considered here; none of which is original or unknown in the wider study of New Religions. Firstly, scholarly discussion must take place without fear or favour between scholars according to scholarly conventions and unimpeded, so far is realistically possible, by unreasonable attempts at moral suasion regarding publication and research by outside stakeholders from the Church or from ex-members and critics. Second, a generational transition and willingness to work to put to rest past conflicts between scholars and scholarly paradigms in a spirit of mutual academic endeavour. Third, a more coherent and organised research program which draws on multiple fields of expertise and recognises the contribution of all serious and rigorous research. Fourth, increased reflexivity and moral accountability amongst scholars whereby we acknowledge our individual blind-spots and embrace some kind of scholarly common good model. To be emphatic, none of these are novel proposals, but I believe they bear repeating.  

I am under no illusions that what I envision below is a very likely outcome, but idealism and aspiration are not in themselves necessarily bad things and if we can name some of the problems and start a conversation in a respectful tone here that is a first step.

 

 

  • Scholarly Dialogue

Hitherto, as our panelists have each noted, public discussion of Scientology, arguably more than any other New Religious Movement (NRM), has lent itself to an immense degree of rancour and acrimony and too often scholarship is used or abused here to support or attack various positions – often quite apart from scholars’ intentions and sometimes with collateral damage to academics and their personal and professional reputations.

For scholarship on Scientology to move forward scholars need to be confident when writing and publishing that their work will be judged on its academic merit alone and not on whether or not their conclusions are of utility in the mobilization and counter-mobilization between various parties involved in the “cult scene.” Scholarly contributions of the discussion of Scientology need to be scholarly and stand up to rigorous peer-review which stands as far as possible above overt partisanship or virtue signalling. Scholarship, however, also needs to be made a safe-space for genuine and probing inquiry, ideally not a site of fear, self-censorship, or activism (which it has sadly often become).

For this to happen both the Church of Scientology and its critics, as well as scholars with differing opinions on Scientology, need to respect a rigorously neutral scholarly sphere where the kinds of moral suasion often applied to scholars at present are minimised and the position of the scholar qua scholar is respected. In such a situation we need to maintain a space for conversation which recognises differences of perspective, but holds each contributor whether they be serious insider; an academically serious critic; or any other scholar to the same rigours of peer-review and scholarly role neutrality.

The contested nature of Scientology will continued to mean that the politicisation of scholarship here is inevitable, but petty point-scoring exercises and untamed abuse are not, and we need to be able to recognise good scholarship and research for what it is, regardless of who has done it, their past publications or affiliations, or indeed whether or not we agree with them. We need to be willing to give “voice” to different perspectives and not to allow academic processes to be subtly hijacked to silence “dissent.” This might seem like the current status quo, but sadly it often isn’t, and we need to work to de-politicise as far as possible and realistic the academy and work toward an ideal of role neutrality as a scholarly norm.  

Current often heavy-handed attempts at moral suasion by various parties against those they alternatively label “cult critics,” “apostates,” or “cult apologists,” serves little scholarly end other than to entrench an “epistemological Manicheanism” (to borrow a phrase from the late Thomas Robbins); to silo scholars into sometimes monologic paradigms; and ultimately to impede research moving forward in different and fruitful directions. As Eileen Barker, a scholar who has worked exceedingly hard toward dialogue and methodological rigour and paid the price by being the frequent target of unfair abuse, has reminded us for decades now, different social constructions of reality are operating between (sometimes) mutually exclusive parties, scholarship will only move forward if we can recognise this and acknowledge its operation in our own work (a point taken up further below). Scholars can only work toward overcoming this impediment by open and respectful dialogue across what have become somewhat “party lines,” but for it to proceed further, more good will is needed. This brings me to my next suggestion.

 

  • Generational Change

I am hesitant to raise this, but I feel it must be articulated, even at the risk of dredging up ancient history. As our panelists clearly allude to, a clear deficit of trust and good will exists between some scholars who have written on Scientology. The often-combative nature of discussion between the “New Religions Studies” and “Cultic Studies” paradigms, as outlined by W. Michael Ashcraft in A Historical Introduction to the Study of New Religious Movements (2018), has meant that old grudges have died hard. Anyone doubting this should spend the time reading the thoughtful debates in Sociological Analysis (1983) on “sponsorship”; the Nova Religio (1998) debate on “academic integrity”; and the edited volume of Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins Misunderstanding Cults (2001) and various reviews. The reasons for these disputes are well known (and often justifiable) to the parties involved and without apportioning blame or pointing fingers it must be said that mistakes have been made on both sides of the scholarly fence. Rather than extending such conflicts into the future, however, I believe a younger generation of scholars who have not been directly party to these controversies need to open doors for dialogue here and take up the baton of scholarship rather than crying foul over perceived past injustices or perpetuating mistrust.   

This will be a significant challenge for many of us, from both paradigms, but I suggest probably less for scholarly than personal reasons. Most of us studying NRMs, whether we follow a “New Religions Studies” paradigm or a “Cultic Studies” paradigm (and I do not believe the two are necessarily mutually exclusive and that no middle ground exists), have in one way or other been supervised or mentored by an older generation of scholars and feel obliged to defend their legacy. However, the last few years have witnessed a series of important volumes on Scientology featuring a multi-generational cast of contributors, bringing a combination of new and entrenched perspectives on the issues at hand. There is much to learn from these works, but for us to do so we have to actually read one-another’s contributions seriously, and I suggest with a hermeneutic of charity.  

War-weary veterans of the “cult wars” might be hesitant to do this for many the wounds received are still raw but younger scholars should consider this. The up-and-coming generation of scholars here need to have the courage to cite and quote work from different perspectives, and more importantly, to engage in respectful scholarly discussion and rigorous debate with different perspectives without resorting to ad hominem attacks or a self-righteous party spirit. If the serious study of NRMs is to continue as a subfield in religious studies, and not fade away into a rancorous oblivion of competing but not conversing paradigms, younger scholars need to work harder to publish together in the same journals, collaborate where necessary, and divide labour where appropriate. We do not need to carry on personal disputes between our forebears into the next generation.  

As a starting point, we might consider, as far as possible, refraining from acrimonious reviews of work from another paradigm which fail to appreciate good scholarship for what it is, but instead focus on critical points of pedantry which fail to see the forest for the trees. This brings me to my third point.

 

  • A Realistic and Collaborative Research Program

If a serious and academically enriching dialogue can be seriously broached we will also have to recognise that by virtue of the highly politicised and polarised nature of the study of Scientology, divisions of labour in the kinds of research we do exist and are often necessary. However, by speaking openly about the challenges of our different kinds of research, rather than operating in isolation, we can enrich rather than denude or undermine each other’s work.

Scholars in the “New Religions Studies” paradigm have often established relationships with various kinds of Scientologists and are often privy to information which may not be accessible by those studying other stakeholders. Similarly, scholars in a “Cultic Studies” paradigm often have greater cache with former members than is often the case for those who are in conversation with the institutional Church or, as our panelists remind us, have been labelled as “cult apologists.” Both groups of scholars have built relationships with informants which operate on mutual trust and respect and bring with them both written and unwritten obligations. Both groups of scholars also risk, however, the “contagion of stigma” which can easily operate to discredit them with other stakeholders by virtue of their positionality and lead to concerns being raised by stakeholders about real or perceived duplicity (what we might call – mimicking pagan studies – the “Wallis Effect”).

While I don’t prima facie disagree with the idea that a scholar can both specialise in research on current and former members of the Church of Scientology, the opportunities for moral suasion multiply in situations of conflict and a more collaborative and cooperative division of labour across paradigmatic lines might provide a pragmatic rather than an ideal way forward which recognises the highly charged field in which “Scientology studies” operates. Some pressure to “take sides” will be applied no matter what we do, all we can do as scholars, however, is work to be role neutral and peer-review and respect each other’s work in scholarly spirit rather than operate with a bunker mentality.  

A present we lack a truly synoptic account of Scientology and in the contemporary academy such an account is unnecessary and arguably undesirable. What we have instead is a growing number of single-subject studies which cumulatively add to our understanding of Scientology in a more holistic sense, as a religion functioning within a wider social sphere and in interaction with mutual conversation partners. A piecemeal and respectful development of such studies is a goal we should pursue in unison, but as scholars, not as partisans.

 

  • Increased Reflexivity and Moral Accountability

Part of any dialogue is a recognition of past faults and a willingness by scholars to own our mistakes. Reflexivity in scholarship is important, but difficult, and publicly owning up to our shortcomings is often unbefitting with the tone of our times, which I suggest favours a dangerous trend toward “epistemological Manicheanism” and feigned moral righteousness. Nowadays it is often more convenient to retreat into a sense of righteousness and close our ears to uncomfortable truths; especially when we may have felt compromised, co-opted, or deceived by our informants or misunderstood by our critics and colleagues. Some will always resort to self-justification here and that is unavoidable. Scholars, from both camps, however, need to be more discerning before following this path.

While none of us can easily overcome various personal biases or lenses which impact on our work, we can acknowledge them and I suggest we need to do this far more readily. Instead of assuming a panoptic scholarly lens we must acknowledge the limitations of our viewpoint at the outset and make our own positionality more explicit. Are we focusing on written documents, ex-member informants, current member informants, or both? What is our analytic lens and our methodology? While these seem very standard questions for any good research, they are often missing in popular, but sadly also “scholarly,” discussions of Scientology. But as scholars when our knowledge is piecemeal we are obliged to acknowledge it.

The politicised nature of Scientology research has meant that when scholars are asked about Scientology by various parties (usually by the media or other outside stakeholders) they often default to a position of “expert knowledge,” similarly when former members are asked they default to a position of “privileged knowledge,” rarely do either resort to careful qualification and epistemological humility. There is no shame to not knowing everything and we must be more ready to admit this – and to point to it in others in a spirit of inquiry. Piecemeal knowledge is worthwhile because it highlights certain gaps which require further analysis, assuming that our piecemeal knowledge is all encompassing just opens us to methodological critique. Each serious scholar brings pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, but our individual pieces cannot make a complete picture (though some might be more revealing than others).

Those of us studying Scientology need to continually take stock about the impact of our scholarship beyond the yellowing-pages (or broken URLs) where our research appears. What we publish will influence how different parties relate to us and we need to be aware of this. However, our first, though not only, obligation needs to be to the academy and while we might have strong feelings about matters like religious freedom and social justice, we can only go so far as our research permits and acknowledge more readily when we simply don’t know!

 

Is this possible?

What I suggest above probably will likely seem radical to many, methodologically naïve, and perhaps even utopian or foolhardy to others. As a historian, however, I suggest that to dismiss the potential for a shift in how we approach “Scientology studies” is short-sighted. Not so long ago the “World Religions” were only studied internally by practitioners or by hostile outsiders and missionaries. Today we have experts in various religious traditions who have no personal affiliation to these groups, but by virtue of scholarly inquiry have attained a vast knowledge of these traditions, sometimes superior in certain senses to lived practitioners. Similarly we have experts who belong to these traditions, who can speak accurately and illuminatingly, if not always authoritatively, on their own beliefs. There is no unamendable reason why this can’t be the same for Scientology. As J. Gordon Melton has been reminding us for decades, it is possible to study Scientology!

On this note, I, for one, would welcome Scientologists and former members seriously contributing to academia, but like our panelists I believe such prospective contributors must realise that academic knowledge and apologetic intent are usually mutually exclusive. However, I would welcome the emergence of serious Scientology theologians, who can critically reflect upon the Tech and dialogue constructively on its application in scholarly fora.

For non-Scientologists studying the group, I suggest, that we have a choice: we can either learn to live and speak with and about Scientology in an academically constructive and productive way, in a spirit of dialogue, or we can decry it and seek to marginalise it. There will always be those who will favour denunciation over dialogue and who will remain unwilling or unable to listen to the other side. The weight of history suggests, however, that at the end of the day decrying Scientology will make little difference to all but a few, and dialogue will probably make small, incremental, and perhaps for a time imperceptible shifts. Eureka moments in understanding and knowledge are few and far between, but building a piecemeal understanding through mutual labour and cooperation seems a better way to me than a studied and intransigent resistance which seeks to maintain a polarized status quo situation.

Scientology is a reality in the contemporary religious landscape and, historically naïve predictions of its demise notwithstanding, it seems certain it will survive long after many of its critics. From a historical perspective the Church is far healthier demographically, institutionally and financially than it has probably ever been and while I respectfully doubt its own numeric claims to growth or optimistic predictions of future expansion, I am equally sceptical of claims about its impending collapse. Moreover, Scientology is a fascinating religious movement, and whether one approves of it or not – or, indeed, whether one is undecided or merely ambivalent – it is worthy of the effort of further serious scholarship. I see numerous avenues of inquiry which I believe different scholars publishing today, both in the “New Religions Studies” and “Cultic Studies” paradigms, could pursue fruitfully and to the wider benefit of academic knowledge. The panellists here have highlighted some of the external challenges far better than I could hope to do, but I hope that what I have written offers some humble suggestions for how scholars can overcome some of our internal challenges.

“Insider Knowledge”: Seeing the Bigger Picture with New Religious Movements

A Response to George Chryssides on “Changing Your Story: Assessing Ex-Member Narratives”

By Aled Thomas

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Music, Marketing and Megachurches

During the 20th century, the media has exploded to include radio, television and most recently and perhaps influentially, the Internet. Music has been a big part of this new emerging “mediapolois”, moving from a mostly stand-alone medium, to part of a marketing matrix of  people, places and industries. Today, music’s meaning is more often part of a branded ecosystem, not limited to entertainment, but part of the experience of everyday life, including religion. Evangelical churches and, increasingly, New Religious Movements use music as part of a branding exercise that helps to transform them from local congregations into a transnational enterprise.

To discuss music, marketing and contemporary religion, David Robertson sat down with Dr. Tom Wagner, an ethnomusicologist, percussionist and lecturer at the Reid School of Music in Edinburgh. They discuss the long history of the use of music in promoting evangelical congregations, and the transformation that came with the development of recording and broadcast technologies. Tom describes his research and fieldwork with Hillsong, an evangelical church movement with an international reach who use music both in their worship and their branding. Later, they discuss the use of music in Scientology, to create and maintain a particular aesthetic, and how Tom sees this research developing in the future.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, scuba gear, garden gnomes, and more.

Minority Religions and the Law

cult” and “sect” uncritically. Nevertheless, outside of academia, the language of “cults” continues to be used, and particularly through the law, has an affect on the lives of real people. Susan J. Palmer joins David G. Robertson to discuss the intersection between new or minority religions and the law. Professor Palmer describes how she came to study these minority groups, and to realise that they were often being misrepresented, or at least unduly targeted. Discussion ranges from Scientology in France to the Branch Davidians and the Nuwaubians in the US, with issues of secularity, race and “brainwashing” come to the fore. A fascinating overview for anyone interested in how the discourse on “religion” operates in the contemporary world.

Religion and the Law (Winnifred F. Sullivan), Studying “Cults” (Eileen Barker), and Is Britain still a Christian country? (Linda Woodhead), and feature essays by Daniel SillimanEssi Mäkelä, and Kevin Whitesides. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, fake fir trees, playing cards, and more!

Studying “Cults”

Although “cult” and “sect” are used as technical terms in religious studies, in their popular usage, “cult” tends to refer to a New Religious Movement [NRM] or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered reprehensible. Since such pejorative attitudes are generally considered inappropriate for the academic study of religion, scholars have tended to adopt the nomenclature of NRMs to refer to “a wide range of groups and movements of alternative spirituality, the emergence of which is generally associated with the aftermath of the 1960s counter-culture” (Arweck 2002:269). In this interview with Chris, Emeritus Professor Eileen Barker (LSE) takes us through the academic study of NRMs from the 1960s onwards, engaging with the particular challenges and successes which have been encountered by academics in the field, and reflecting on some of the more colourful aspects of this area of research.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Eileen Barker OBE, FBA, is Emeritus Professor of Sociology with special reference to the study of Religion at the London School of Economics. She has been researching minority religions and the responses to which they give rise since the early 1970s. Her study of conversion to the Unification Church for her PhD, led to an interest in a wide variety of movements, and she has personally studied, to greater or lesser degree, over 150 different groups. She has over 300 publications, translated into 27 languages. She travels extensively for research purposes, particularly in North America, Europe and Japan, and, since collapse of the Berlin Wall, in Eastern Europe and, more recently, China. She was the first non-American to be elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

She is also the founder of INFORM (Information Network, Focus on Religious Movements), an independent charity that was founded in 1988 with the support of the British Home Office and the mainstream Churches. It is based at the London School of Economics. According to Inform’s website, “the primary aim of Inform is to help people by providing them with information that is as accurate, balanced, and up-to-date as possible about alternative religious, spiritual and esoteric movements.”

Among Professor Barker’s publications, the following may be of interest (those which are open-access are indicated with an asterisk):

Reference:
Arweck, Elizabeth 2002. “New Religious Movements” in Religions in the Modern World, edited by Linda Woodhead, Paul Fletcher, Hiroko Kawanami and David Smith. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 264-288.

Invented Religions

What is an “Invented Religion”? Why should scholars take these religions seriously? What makes these “inventions” different from the revelations in other religions? What happens when an author does not want their story to become a religious text?

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

In this interview with David, Carole M. Cusack (Associate Professor in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney) answers these questions and more, exploring her notion of “Invented Religions” and introducing the listener to a wide variety of contemporary and unusual forms of religion. Discussion flows through a range of topics – from Discordianism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to Scientology, Jediism and the New Atheism – and demonstrates how the works of authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Robert A. Heinlein can be transformed by others and take on a life of their own. In her own words, “This is a fiction so good it should be true…”

[N.B., Carole asked us to let you know that when she said that George Adamski founded the Aetherius Society, she meant George King. Both Georges encountered Venusians in 1954, but Adamski was in the US and King in the UK. A forgivable error, we’re sure.]

A transcription of this interview is also available as a PDF, and has been pasted below. All transcriptions are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

Of particular relevance to the topic of this interview is Carole’s article

Science Fiction as Scripture: Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and the Church of All Worlds in Christopher Hartney, Alex Norman, and Carole M. Cusack (eds), Creative Fantasy and the Religious Imagination, special issue of Literature & Aesthetics, Vol. 19, No. 2, SSLA, 2009, pp. 72-91. The full text is available here. If you have  access to the International Journal for the Study of New Religions, you may also find the following article of interest: Discordian Magic: Paganism, the Chaos Paradigm and the Power of Parody, International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Vol. 2, No. 1, May 2011.

Podcast Transcript

Podcast with Carole M. Cusack on Invented Religions (30 January 2012). PDF.

Interviewed by David G. Robertson (with Chris Cotter). Transcribed by Martin Lepage.

 

David Robertson (DR): What if you choose to believe in a faith that you knew had been made up? And what if it worked all the same? That’s what Carole Cusack, Associate Professor of Studies in Religions at the University of Sydney, asks in her recent book Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith, and she’s with us today. Hi Carole!

Carole Cusack (CC): Hi David!

DR: So? Why should scholars take invented religions seriously?

CC: I think the best way into that query is to understand that human beings create, to some extent, their reality in the sense that they, as individuals and then in communities, tell narratives that make meaning, and they externalise those narratives, those narratives gain an objective status, and then, they’re re-internalised by individualized and communities as something that has facticity outside of simply being a human cultural production. That is a kind of summary of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s social-constructionist model of reality-building, and religion is a kind of worldview and people do precisely the same thing with religions when they join a religion, when they take on a religion: they learn new vocabulary, they tell new stories to each other, new converts or people who are drifting close to joining are told those stories and rehearsed in actions, and language, so that they come to be part of the community. Where I’m going with this is that even though the phenomenon of religion sort of based explicitly on narratives that are known to be fictional seem to date only from the 1950s, there is a sense in which every religion has been invented in some sense, even those religions that claim revelation from an external deity. What happens is a person, a prophetic or charismatic leader, has an experience and communicates that experience as narrative to a group of people who haven’t had that experience, and they story-build, and talk about it, and externalize it, and objectivise it and then re-internalise it, and it becomes true… for them. And this is one of the issues with invented religions, as I term them in my book that came out in 2010. They are cases where the narrative actually predates the religion. The person who founds the religion already has in their possession a narrative that has been written by somebody else, and they think that this fictional narrative more accurately represents spiritual realities, values, meaning-conveying issues in life, than existent scriptures, and determine that they will make from a fiction a document that becomes a scripture, or a myth, or a program for human spiritual development.

DR: It begins with Discordianism, really, doesn’t it, that’s the first of these invented religions?

CC: Well, Discordianism is an interesting case because it’s not actually based on a pre-existent fiction, but it does, I think, kick off the phenomenon. It’s technically founded in 1957, and consequently, it’s the earliest of the religions that I study. There are other examples that fit almost exactly into that same milieu. For example, the quite highbrow American novelist, Thomas Pynchon, in 1958, founded what he calls a ‘micro-cult’, with Richard Fariña, the late folksinger, that was based on a novel, Oakley Hall’s Warlock, and this was a very specific campus-based thing. One thing fascinating about invented religion is the extent to which students, university and college students, are the people who create these stories, create these faiths from pre-existent stories. Discordianism is Greg Hill, later known as Malaclypse the Younger, and Kerry Thornley, later known as Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, sitting in a bowling alley with some of their friends, over a few nights, and coming up with the idea that the world as they understood it, which was very much a Cold War view, is just completely chaotic, and that if there is a deity, the deity is the deity of chaos, Eris, the great goddess of discord, called Discordia in Latin, and deliberately inventing a kind of farcical burlesque of religion based on this goddess. What’s most interesting about them is that even though they didn’t work from a pre-existing fictional narrative, they both went and some of the other very important contributors to the religion, like Robert Anton Wilson or Camden Benares, went through the same sort of processes. They both went through a process where they began knowing that they had made it up. But by the time they were speaking with Margot Adler in the middle 70’s, when she was writing Drawing Down the Moon, her pioneering study of alternative religionists in America, they both had come to the position that they realized that something that they thought was a fiction, that they had spun, was in fact a reality that was true. And this seems to me to be related, though not identical, to the process of picking up a pre-existent fictional text and attempting to instantiate it. To an extent, they are the authors of the fictional text. You could argue Principia Discordia was a piece of fiction they produced, and rather than waiting for someone else to pick it up and decide that it should be made into a religion, they gradually became auto-converted.

DR : And the other major invented religion that you are concerned with,the Church of All Worlds, they didn’t create the texts themselves, rather they appropriated some else’s text, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. How are they different?

CC: Well, firstly, Discordianism begins as spirit of parody, as spirit of really kicking out against the culture of the 1950’s. It begins in rebellion. It begins in the desire to mock and to even vilify religion as hypocrisy, as ridiculous. And it becomes, to some extent, serious though there is still a strong element of parody, and Discordians tend to be chameleonic, irreverent, very difficult to pin down. The Church of all Worlds, which began at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, in 1962, on the 7th of April, precisely, if you want. That was founded by two college students, Tim Zell and Richard Lance Christie, and in a lot of ways, they’re a brilliant contrast, to Hill and Thornley, because Hill and Thornley’s friendship broke apart over the years. They came to understand Discordianism very differently and to, in many ways, become bitter, and to become essentially broken through their experience of it. It’s significant, I think, that Zell and Christie were both psychology majors, and in fact, Zell went on to graduate work in psychology, which he didn’t finish. They formed a friendship that Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, as Tim Zell in now known, he says: ‘He was Spock to my Kirk.’ They speak when… Christie was still alive, he died in 2010… they spoke of each other in terms that were familial, almost lover-like, the idea that when they met each other as friends, as undergraduates, it was the true recognition of the other person in the universe that they’d been missing up to that point. And consequently, they had a very strong shared program for what this religion was going to look like. They both read Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which was released in 1961. They both fell in love with the book as they had with each other, and with psychology, and with certain ideas about world transformation. In 1962, what was formed was two branches. The Church of All Worlds, which was the religious arm, with Zell in charge. He was the early developer of liturgy and of praxis, mostly derived from Heinlein. And the waterbrotherhood called Atl, which Christie was in charge of, which became essentially an environmentalist project, an ecological project. And they kept those roles throughout the whole of the next forty-odd years, where Zell is the flamboyant religious leader, the Pagan, the magician, the trickster, the person who garnered public opinion and worked tirelessly as a promoter of the worship of Gaia as a religion, whereas Christie worked as almost entirely as a secular environmental activist, having done graduate work in environment science. So their religion doesn’t have a parodic element. It’s serious. It’s devotional. There’s playfulness there, but that comes largely, I think, from the sense that Heinlein’s own novel is full of playfulness, and the wholehearted rejection, especially of mainstream sexual morays, and wage slavery, and other kinds of ideas that were considered to be the successful life in the 1960’s, places CAW in that hippie drop-out rebellious camp, but it’s a rebellion that is not characterised by parody or by savage satire of religion. It’s rather a religion characterized by rejection of mainstream standards, and a religious vision, which actually is entirely serious.

DR: The element of satire comes back strongly with what you described as the Third Millennium and invented religions with… and they’re going further into things like Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster being outright attacks on religion, not just playful satires. Is there anything behind that change?

CC: That’s an interesting one and actually I think it’s important at this point to just refer for one minute to what Robert A. Heinlein said himself. He actually, even though he shares some values with CAW, i.e. he was into nudism, and polyamory, and he was politically very radical, sometimes very right wing, sometimes very left wing. He is absolutely non-religious, and he did not want his novel to be read as a religious tract. That’s quite interesting because it’s a novel that largely about religion, in various forms. But there is a notion that wants that once an author releases a story into the world… I started with storytelling in the way that humans use stories to world-build and to create identities. Heinlein released this story into the world and it was enthusiastically taken up by enormous numbers of mostly young people in the 60s. And in the early 1970s, Tim Zell began corresponding with Heinlein, and Heinlein subscribed to Green Egg, the newsletter that CAW published, and he always maintained, in fact, there’s passages in his published letters, that he doesn’t believe any of it, and he doesn’t really think that it was a great idea to turn his novel into a religion. But nevertheless, he came to like Zell and to find value in the way that he was appropriating this story and making the story live in a different way.

The Third Millennium new religion you just mentioned, the Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster, of course, it doesn’t start as a religion at all. It starts as a narrative that is a mockery, a very funny, and very clever mockery of intelligent design, the latest largely Christian repackaging of Creationism, which is very important in America, where issues about religion are so much more debated than they are in Europe or Australia, where I’m from. And of course, Bobby Henderson released that story into the world. He wrote The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an enormously funny book, and he created a mythology, he gave the FSM a noodle-y mess with meatballs for eyes as the creator of the universe. If you’re going to have to specify an intelligent designer, why shouldn’t it be the FSM? He created also a religion that would appeal to college students. Heaven has strippers and a beer volcano. So what happened of course was that people who read this and first thought what a hilarious piss-take it was, started saying exactly what Zell and Christie said about Stranger in a Strange Land: ‘This a is fiction so good, it should be true.’ So you have people starting sectarian branches of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the spirit of parodic religion, and Henderson has declined ever to be considered a prophet. But he’s also said he doesn’t really care what people do with it. He released it onto the market, people can pick it up and they can do with it what they want. And so you have the guy who publishes ‘Spaghetti-grams’, which are anagrams done on the computer, using the words ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ and say, for example, whatever issue that you want advice on… so ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster sexual morality’, and you get Spaghetti-grams, which are four line quatrains, arranged of anagrams from the letters that are available. This is a kind of divinatory advice. People who wear colanders, pasta strainers, on their heads as religious headgear, as a recent case in Austria where a young man requested that he’d be allowed to wear such headgear in the photograph featured on his driver’s license, was tried in the courts and found to be a valid religious headgear. And so the story is what’s important, and how people build that story into an identity formation, whether as an individual, or whether as a group who want to create a cell, a church, for the FSM in real life. And that’s very amusing and very good fun. And it does critique religion, but it critiques religion in an interesting way because, I think that scholars who, for a long time, have been comfortable with the idea that there could be religions that don’t have any gods, that in fact aren’t supra-empirical or supernaturally oriented, there are just really about what people do in their lives… this is not generally a view that the person in the street finds easy to accept. Usually, if you vox-pop, one of the first things you get, if you say ‘what do you think there has to be as a vital element to make something a religion?’, most people will say God or gods. But scholarship is very comfortable with the idea that religions are really about people, this is because scholarship is a secular activity. It’s not theology. It’s not confessional. We understand that human beings are makers of their own worlds. And so, those people who are making their religious world out of the Star Wars trilogy or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they’re doing something that scholars are very comfortable with.

Chris Cotter: You’re raising very valid points which gel with my own work into the atheists, etc., and one of the big critiques that contemporary atheism or non-religion has of religion is that it is invented, and they spend an awful lot of time demonstrating that the Bible was written by people or this religion was just founded by some guys who wrote a novel or whatever, and they seem to think that this will make a difference. Does it?

CC: No… look, I think this is one of the great problems with atheism in the 21th century. I’m very sympathetic to atheist discourses and I think it is correct that they’re included among other religious discourses. But for me, the main problem is that atheists seem to think that if you can mount and knock down arguments that are based on either rationality or empiricism, the twin poles of the Enlightenment, that you won’t be able to make people realized that their beliefs or their practices are erroneous and should be abandoned, and it seems to me that this is entirely counter-intuitive. Human beings are capable of rationality, but very very few, even educated Westerners, operate consistently on principles of rationality, and you only have to look at statistics from the US, which often talk about the fact that people who have science degrees are very likely to be Creationists. Human beings have compartmentalised knowledges, issues of identity formation, and things that they considered precious and important, and these don’t often bleed into each other. So I’m afraid I think the atheist argument that you can demonstrate that religious texts were written by humans, or that you can demonstrate that the founder of a particular religion, like Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard, was in some sense a huckster or a fraud, I don’t see that these are important because they don’t take into account that the lived experience of people is more powerful to them than any kind of argument drawn from rational principles. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but it seems to me that it is how it is.

DR: Scientology is a white elephant in your book, isn’t? Is that a deliberate decision so as to not get sued or… I can’t imagine that’s the case, knowing you… or was it rather that you considered them or don’t consider them to be in the same class as the other invented religions?

CC: Scientology is really difficult. It comes out of exactly the same milieu. The Church of Scientology is founded in the 1950s, 1954 to be precise, on the back on Dianetics, and yes, it contained science fiction tropes, and in the 21th century, what we know about it looks a lot like an invented religion. I am ambivalent about Scientology, because I don’t think it begins as an invented religion. It begins as a critique of psychiatry. It begins as a therapy. It begins as a… an answer to the problems of modern life, and it’s not surprising that when Dianetics was released, major psychologists like Erich Fromm actually reviewed it, and it was treated as a work of amateur psychology. What’s interesting about it is that it goes along exactly the same track as the theosophical legacy, because L. Ron Hubbard begins with clearing engrams that are experiences that ones has had in the past in one’s life. They the engrams go back to in utero, then they go back to past lives, and before you know what happened, these past lives may be on other planets involving extraterrestrials. This is in fact exactly what happens with theosophical ascended masters. Madame Blavatsky’s masters where real Tibetans living in Tibet, who were alive in her life. After she died, mediumship contacted people who were dead, people who lived in Ancient Egypt, mythical figures like the Comte de Saint Germain for people like Guy Ballard and before you know it, it’s people from other planets, Venusians like Orthon who speak to George King. These sorts of things are a logical extension. So in some senses, I would place Scientology in a post-theosophical therapeutic milieu. And I think, as we came to know as scholars, a lot more about the Operating Thetan levels, the Xenu mythology in particular made it look a lot more like an invented religion, but at the moment, I’m just not 100% sure that I would put it in the same category.

DR: Well, this is absolutely cutting-edge research. Has anybody taken up your research and challenged it or taken it further?

CC: The interesting thing is that it’s evolving so fast, I’m not quite sure. I came up with the term ‘invented religions’, but I really wanted emphasis to be placed on the subtitle, which was Imagination, Fiction and Faith, ‘cause I think the human imagination creates the stories, the stories are fictions, people come to have faith in them, I think that’s really important. But very, very shortly before I completed the book, I met Markus Davidsen, who’s doing his PhD at the University of Leiden and the University of Aarhus, and he is working on what he calls ‘fiction-based religions’, because he’s working on Jediism and spirituality and religious groups that have grown out of the Tolkien mythos. I thought in some sense that was a better title. We discussed this privately and he went for ‘fiction-based religions’ because he thought that all religions are invented, which was where I started today. And I could see the sense of that, but then we linked up with Danielle Kirby, who’s at Monash University and who did her PhD on the Otherkin, and she argues that ‘fiction-based religions’ is no good because it’s too passive a term, and what we’re really looking at is a kind of actively constructed type of new spirituality, that… you need the dynamism of invention and you need the content of fiction, but what we’re still looking for now is a better term to characterize these groups. That being said, I’ve had very favourable email contacts from mostly Discordians and members of the Church of All Worlds, including Oberon Zell-Ravenheart who actually helped me a lot with the research that I did in that book, and they are very comfortable with my term ‘invented religions’. But these, of course, are not people within the academy and I think it’s within the academy, that the category, that area, whatever you want to call it, is going to be developed and refined, and that’s happening, it’s just not quite clear where it’s going to go yet.

DR: Professor Cusack, thank you.

CC: It’s been a pleasure.

Citation Info: Cusack, Carole M. and David G. Robertson, with Christopher R. Cotter. 2012. “Invented Religions.” The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 30 January 2012. Transcribed by Martin Lepage. Version 1.1, 25 September 2015. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/podcast-carole-cusack-on-invented-religions/