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Book: The Insider/Outsider Debate

Chapter: Chapter 18: Scientology Inside Out: Complex Religious Belonging in the Church of Scientology and the Free Zone

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27463


Despite the intention of L. Ron Hubbard to initially establish Scientology as a practice conducted within his institution of the Church of Scientology (CoS), the past thirty years have demonstrated an increasing number of individuals, many of whom identify themselves as Scientologists, practicing Hubbard’s technology away from the church. Those that identify themselves as Scientologists with no involvement with the Church of Scientology, whether they practice Hubbard’s teachings as a part of a community or individually, are collectively known as the Free Zone.

This divide has prompted heated disagreement within the Scientologist community with regard to conceptions of inside/outside and religious identity and belonging. The CoS does not consider those that practice Scientology away from the church to be Scientologists, while many Free Zone groups argue that their vision of Scientology possesses a greater relation to Hubbard’s original purpose for his technology. Yet, despite this contrast between the CoS and Free Zone, the distinction between those that practice Scientology in the Free Zone is more nuanced than it appears on face value. Individual Free Zone groups have emerged in recent years, creating clear distinctions between different types of Free Zone Scientologists. Similarly, clear identity markers between Dianetical practice and Scientology practice within the CoS, in addition to the hierarchical nature of Scientology teaching systems and membership, means that conceptions of religious belonging are contested and complicated not only between the Freezone/CoS but also within these identity labels.

This chapter explores the tensions between the Church of Scientology and independent Scientologists, whilst considering how Scientology can be practiced in the ‘unregulated’ environment of the Free Zone. This will then be contextualised within Chryssides and Gregg’s ‘relational continuum of identity’ approach to the insider/outsider issue to produce a nuanced understanding of religious belonging and identity within Scientology/Scientologies.

Chapter Contributors

  • Stephen Gregg ( - sgregg) 'University of Wolverhampton'
  • Aled Thomas ( - athomas) 'PhD student, Open University'