TIME has covered Scientologyand its high-profile adherents such as Tom Cruise and John Travoltasince the 1950s. In an extensively-reported 1991 cover story
the magazine described the Church of Scientology as "a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner." Some highlights from our stories:
A new cult is smoldering through the U.S. underbrush. Its name: dianetics.... In many ways, dianetics ('the science of mind') is the poor man's psychoanalysis.... It purports to cleanse the mind of previous harmful influences, thus vastly increasing its powers and efficiency, by making the individual relive former painful experiences to 'discharge' their evil power.
From Of Two Minds
Jul. 24, 1950
Now, the founder of still another cult, he [Hubbard] claims to have discovered the ultimate secrets of life and the universe, and to be able to cure everything, including cancer. For the cult, L. (for Lafayette) Ron (for Ronald) Hubbard has whipped up the bastard word 'Scientology,' which he defines as 'knowing about knowing' or 'the science of knowledge.' His latest ology is compounded of equal parts of science fiction, dianetics (with 'auditing,' 'preclears' and engrams), and plain jabberwocky.
From Remember Venus?
Dec. 22, 1952
Those seeking spiritual release must pass through five levels of liberation; in addition to lectures on the glories of Scientology, initiates must answer a long series of questions, often highly personal, while clutching two tin cans wired to an 'E-meter,' an electrical gadget reputed to be also capable of communicating with inanimate objects (in one such experiment Hubbard was in touch with tomatoes).
From Meddling with Minds
Aug. 23, 1968
Until the Government can refute the claim that Scientology is a religion, said the court, the E-meters and their accompanying leaflets are protected from seizure by the right of freedom of worship—which puts them beyond the reach of the FDA.
From Victory for the Scientologists
Feb. 14, 1969
A brilliant and eccentric man, who, despite disclaimers, still controls the cult, Hubbard was once a successful science-fiction writer. In 1949, he seemed to predict his own future in a jocular speech to a convention of fellow authors: 'Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.'
From A Sci-Fi Faith
Apr. 5, 1976
Scientologists have filed scores of lawsuits against skeptical journalists, dissident former members and Government agencies, which have long suspected the church of being a profit-making counseling outfit and no true religion at all.... Last week it appeared that Scientologist methods had aroused a half-sleeping giant: the U.S. Government.
From Scientology: Parry and Thrust
Jul. 25, 1977
As proclaimed by Hubbard, Scientology is a religion that sees life as a relentless struggle to erase painful mental images (called 'engrams' in the cult's jargon) that block a person from achieving his full potential and that may accumulate through his successive incarnations. Hubbard has insisted that he lived through a series of incarnations and that he was in fact 74 trillion years old.
From Mystery of the Vanished Ruler
Jan. 31, 1983
To explore Scientology's reach, TIME conducted more than 150 interviews and reviewed hundreds of court records and internal Scientology documents. Church officials refused to be interviewed. The investigation paints a picture of a depraved yet thriving enterprise. Most cults fail to outlast their founder, but Scientology has prospered since Hubbard's death in 1986.
From The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power
By Richard Behar
May. 6, 1991
For the past month, journalism students at the 237-year-old Moscow State University have been studying in the newly renovated L. Ron Hubbard Reading Room. Scientology propaganda in dozens of languages lines the walls, and video equipment is available.
From Scientology's Largesse in Russia
By Janice Castro
Apr. 13, 1992
John Travolta and Tom Cruise may be just pop-culture icons to you and me, but in Germany their faith in the preachings of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is politically taboo; Scientology is deemed not a religion but a suspect movement whose activities verge on the dangerous edges of extremism.
From Does Germany Have Something Against These Guys?
By Bruce W. Nelan
Feb. 10, 1997