Auditing in Contemporary Scientologies: The Self, Authenticity, and Material Culture

Thomas, Aled (2019). Auditing in Contemporary Scientologies: The Self, Authenticity, and Material Culture. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f0fb

Abstract

This thesis is about a Scientologist practice called ‘auditing’. Auditing is a hybrid practice that combines psychology with religious and mystical notions of esoteric knowledge and experience, and it is a technique that enables Scientologists to make progress through pre-specified levels of achievement. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the nuanced nature of auditing practice in a variety of Scientologies, ranging from the Church of Scientology (CoS) to the ‘Free Zone’, an umbrella term for groups and individuals that practise Scientology away from the institutionalized CoS, whether this is independently or part of an organized group.

That auditing draws both from discourses of psychology and religious sources is a mark of contemporary Western cultures. Notionally impervious boundaries between religion and the secular-scientific have broken down, giving way to hybrid formations such as Scientology whose practices constitute negotiations of competing forces in Western societies. This research aims to assist scholarly understanding of Scientology as a varied belief system, featuring many practitioners with different understandings of what it means to be a Scientologist, and how the auditing process is practised accordingly. Additionally, this thesis aims to act as a framework for the study of similar movements formed in recent decades, allowing scholars of New Religious Movements (NRMs) and Scientology in particular to contrast highly institutionalized and hierarchical environments of practice on the one hand (such as the CoS) with unregulated and fluid ones (such as the Free Zone) on the other.

This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge both empirically and conceptually. Firstly, although previous studies of auditing and more widely of Scientology exist, this study has enjoyed access to a range of auditing practitioners in types of Scientology beyond the CoS. This thesis will therefore provide an original account of auditing as it is practised in both the CoS and Free Zone spheres, examining the diverse nature of the auditing technique as a process that combines different series of procedures, material culture, and both religious and secular elements pertinent to particular ideas about the mind, body, and the self. Secondly, previous research on NRMs and Scientology in particular have tended to focus either on NRMs as indices of broad social processes such as secularization or globalization or (in earlier research) as exemplars of exotic processes such as charismatic authority and brainwashing. This research takes a completely different approach, seeking to use the auditing practice as a method of providing an in-depth case study of an NRM in transition and transformation in the 21st century.

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