In this article from 1995, Professor David Chidester provides a scholarly examination of the Church of Scientology—its beliefs, rituals, ethics, experiences, organization and history—in the South African context. There are numerous Churches in South Africa, not to mention across the African continent at large. Even more, the Founder of Dianetics and Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, had a particular fondness for South Africa and its peoples, traveling to Johannesburg for an extended stay in 1960. During his time there, he drafted a “one man, one vote” constitution for a country that was still under the shackles of apartheid. His former home is now restored as an L. Ron Hubbard Landmark Site and open for tours. Dr. Chidester’s article examines aspects of this history but is mostly concerned with examining and analyzing features of the religious nature and history of Scientology, especially in the barely post-apartheid context in which his piece was originally written. “In a new South Africa,” he concludes, “the Church of Scientology has assumed its position within the country’s rich fabric of religious diversity.… As a religion that is both old and new, the Church of Scientology has continued to advance religious aspirations that have gained adherents all over the world. At the very least, the Church of Scientology merits continued recognition and attention as a religion in South Africa.”
David Chidester, Ph.D., is professor of comparative religion and director of the Institute for Comparative Religion in Southern Africa at the University of Cape Town. An internationally acclaimed scholar in the field of comparative religion he has written prolifically on his research interests, which include religion and popular culture, religion and society, religion and globalization, religion and education, and religion in North America and South Africa. Dr. Chidester is the author of hundreds of articles and more than thirty authored and co-edited books, including Religions of South Africa (1992); Nelson Mandela: From Freedom to the Future (coedited, 2004); Interfaith Solidarity: A Guide for Religious Communities (coauthored, 2004); Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture (2005); and Empire of Religion: Imperialism and Comparative Religion (2014). He has twice been honored with an Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion from the American Academy of Religion. In 2005, he received the Alan J. Pifer Award for social research from the National Research Foundation of South Africa.