In this article, originally published in 1995, Professor Bryan Ronald Wilson surveys social challenges facing new religious movements, in particular the problem of intolerance. As a new religion becomes older, it tends to attain a greater degree of acceptance within society because it is considered less different or deviant. In the case of the Church of Scientology, Dr. Wilson contends that it “may arouse suspicion” because its theology, practices and culture are sometimes at odds with forms of religion (typically Judeo-Christian) in Western societies. Numerous examples are outlined, including the affirmation in the Creed of the Church of Scientology that humanity is inherently good, rather than sinful or depraved. “In a rapidly changing world, in which social institutions are all in flux, to religion alone is ascribed a continuing and theoretically unchanging role, function, and form,” Dr. Wilson writes. “Yet the evidence is that considerable numbers of people are seeking, and finding, new patterns of religious practice and new conceptions of religious truth, engaging in new spiritual quests, and participating in new types of religious organizations.” The Church of Scientology, certainly, is one such new religion, based on its unparalleled expansion and testimonies from its parishioners on the benefits of Dianetics and Scientology experienced on a daily basis.
Bryan Ronald Wilson, Ph.D., (1926–2004) was reader emeritus in sociology at the University of Oxford. From 1963 to 1993 he was also a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and in 1993 was elected an emeritus fellow. For more than fifty years he conducted research into minority religious movements in Britain, the United States, Ghana, Kenya, Belgium, Japan and other countries. Dr. Wilson earned his doctorate in sociology from the London School of Economics in 1955, authored dozens of articles, and wrote or edited dozens of books, including: Sects and Society: The Sociology of Three Religious Groups in Britain (1961); Patterns of Sectarianism (edited, 1967); Religious Sects (1970, also published in translation in French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Japanese); Magic and the Millennium (1973); Contemporary Transformations of Religion (1976, also published in translation in Italian and Japanese); The Social Impact of the New Religious Movements (edited, 1981); Religion in Sociological Perspective (1982); The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism (1990); and A Time to Chant: the Soka Gakki Buddhists in Britain (1994). In 1984, the University of Oxford recognized the value of his published work by conferring upon him the degree of D.Litt. In 1992, the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, awarded him the degree of doctor honoris causa. In 1994, he was elected a fellow of the British Academy.