Scientology's science fictional origins: thesis from 1981



The recent New Yorker feature on Scientology has focused interest in the religion, but it has been a source of fascination to many for decades. Here is SF writer and museum designer Hugh AD Spencer's Master's Thesis on the role of science fiction in germinating Hubbard's strange faith, entitled "The Transcendental Engineers: The Fictional Origins of a Modern Religion. Hugh says,

From 1979 to 1981 I had a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to research the cultural impacts of science fiction on real-world society. This was a part of my graduate studies at McMaster University's Anthropology programme. What I ended up with was a survey of some SF fan groups that had the potential to emerge as religious or political movements and a history of the early years of what would become the Church of Scientology - from the announcement of Dianetics in a 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine through to the mid-1970s. A lot of the recent discussion about billion-year contracts and accounts of abuse onboard the sea org sounds very familiar to me.

I didn't take on the project because I wanted to "debunk" anybody's beliefs. What I wanted to know was how some ideas take on religious significance - even when they come from seemingly strange places like science fiction magazines, comic books and even TV shows. It doesn't necessarily mean that these ideas and symbols are necessarily "wrong" but it does mean that they have the power to exert tremendous influence on their followers and even on wider society.

Recently McMaster University's Digital Commons posted my thesis The Transcendental Engineers: The Fictional Origins of a Modern Religion online for public viewing. I think this work is useful to people who may be interested in the forces and events that gave us Scientology. Looking back on it, I'm amazed that SSHRC had the foresight to fund research like this back then. I'm also amazed that, while some of this work has dated, most of it is still relevant today.

Update: This post was attacked by an anonymous commenter who sought to discredit Hugh with vicious and ham-fisted lies. See this post for more.

The Transcendental Engineers: The Fictional Origins of a Modern Religion

(Thanks, Hugh!)

(Image: Scientology Protest, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from manc's photostream)

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