Saturday, 10 March 2012

Religion and Identity: Scientology

The web page I have decided to focus on and analyse is This is the official site to the notorious Religious group that is Scientology. There is a great deal we can learn about the ways in which American identity is defined and shaped by Religion and religious values by looking at the way in which religious organisations present themselves. The way in which Scientology does this is no exception. This group is obviously quite small and many people would think that it is insignificant, but it is growing very quickly and has the support of public figures such as Tom Cruise. Despite this, the ideas surrounding Scientology generally reflect many of the traditional ideas that define America today, and are less radical and "out there" than we might think.

The website is vast and is broken down into sub-sections which help guide you through Scientology. The section that I found most informative and relevant to the question at hand was 'Beliefs and Practices'. It gives you an insight into how Scientological beliefs relate to American identity today. What's interesting is that Scientologists claim that they 'actively use the insights and knowledge that Scientology gives them to make a real, positive difference in the lives of others.' This aim is very identifiable for an American. Self-improvement and making a consistently positive difference to your situation is an extremely popular and apparent element of American tradition. This shows that American identity is influenced by Religion, and Religion is influenced by American identity. we can contrast this however with the statement that 'Scientology has been the development of exact, precise methods to increase Man’s spiritual awareness and capabilities'. This idea contrasts the typical American idea that the positive difference is aimed, generally, at material wealth, not the spiritual wealth that Scientology preaches.

A general overview of the site suggests there is a distinct sense of selfishness apparent in Scientology. Scientology infers that the ideas of self-help and an awareness of yourself above everyone else should be part of American identity, but this isn't identifiable in American Religion. The ideas of family, community and caring for others are more prevalent, and they are certainly involved in American identity as a whole. This suggests that Scientology doesn't encapsulate all of the dimensions of American identity. The quote "What is true for you is what you have observed yourself. And when you lose that, you have lost everything" spoken by the creator of Scientology L Ron Hubbard tells us more about how far Scientology ties in with American identity. The quote strongly contrasts the insecurity which can be associated with much of American identity. When we think of a typical American, we think of either the sports/cheerleading star or the nerdy, vulnerable kid. This is very evident in American identity and represents how a hierarchy exists in American life and still dominates and shapes surface identity. This shows us how in many ways Scientology doesn't represent American identity and tells us little about it.

It is clear that arguments can be made for and against the relevance of this page to American identity. The traditional American views which contribute so much to American identity are both reflected and contradicted on this site, showing how Scientology only somewhat represents American identity. The turning factor, however, is the fact that although many of the ideas and beliefs on display relate to American identity, it is after all a very small religious group; one that is growing but still doesn't reach the kind of numbers that more mainstream religious groups and denominations do. For this reason, what we learn about identity and beliefs from Scientology cannot be associated with the whole of America.

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