Scientology's Anti-Commie, Space Opera Beginnings, and Other Nuggets From New Academic Book

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There's a new academic treatise on Scientology coming out this September, and it's a very welcome addition to the literature surrounding L. Ron Hubbard's odd organization.

Hugh B. Urban, Ohio State University religious studies professor, has given us, in his Princeton University Press tome, a history that does its best to keep above the fray between claims and counterclaims about Scientology, and, for the most part, he succeeds.

But along the way, if Urban is somewhat charitable to Hubbard at times, The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion also holds very little back about the controversies that Scientology has found itself in, and that are largely of its own making.

For this longtime Scientology watcher, much of the material in the book was familiar, but Urban's book is valuable for how well he organizes a massive amount of information in a well-paced, enjoyable read, and in only 216 pages.

Throughout that journey, what Urban does better than most is continually put Scientology's bumpy beginnings and notorious scandals in a larger context of American history and the development of American culture and ideas about religion.

Urban, from his OSU page
From the start, for example, Urban skillfully portrays L. Ron Hubbard and his early ideas about a "science of the mind" as utterly and completely a product of his time. Describing Hubbard as a "bricoleur" -- someone who cobbles together whatever ideas are within his grasp into a kind of pastiche -- Urban shows that the pulp science fiction writer was a man of the moment, debuting his Dianetics in 1950, right when a postwar America was hungry for new ideas and new religions.

As Hubbard then develops his "science" into a religion in fits and starts over the next two decades, and plunges it into paranoid secrecy and top-down control, Urban shows how much that was also a product of its time, with Hubbard and Scientology developing against a paranoid Cold War that gripped the American mind.

Repeatedly, Urban gives Hubbard and Scientology credit for reflecting what was going on in society as a whole, and there is no shortage of the church's point of view about its various controversies. But for the most part, those controversies are delivered in healthy portions. We get at least something -- including copious original quotations -- about many familiar Scientology waterloos:

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