Scientology is a set of beliefs and practices invented by American author L. Ron Hubbard, and an associated movement. It has been variously defined as a cult, a business or a new religious movement. The most recent published census data indicate that in the United States there were about 25,000 followers (in 2008), around 2,300 followers in England (2011), and about 1,700 each in both Canada (2011) and Australia (2016). Hubbard initially developed a set of ideas that he called Dianetics, which he represented as a form of therapy. This he promoted through various publications, as well as through the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation that he established in 1950. The foundation soon entered bankruptcy, and Hubbard lost the rights to his book Dianetics in 1952. He then recharacterized the subject as a religion and renamed it Scientology, retaining the terminology, doctrines, and the practice of “auditing“. By 1954, he had regained the rights to Dianetics and retained both subjects under the umbrella of the Church of Scientology.
Scientology followers believe that a human is an immortal, spiritual being (Thetan) that is resident in a physical body. The Thetan has had innumerable past lives and it is observed in advanced (and – within the movement – secret) Scientology texts that lives preceding the Thetan’s arrival on Earth were lived in extraterrestrial cultures. Scientology doctrine states that any Scientologist undergoing “auditing” will eventually come across and recount a common series of events. Part of these events include reference to an extraterrestrial life-form called Xenu. The secret Scientology texts say this was a ruler of a confederation of planets 70 million years ago, who brought billions of alien beings to Earth and then killed them with thermonuclear weapons. Despite being kept secret from most followers, this forms the central mythological framework of Scientology’s ostensible soteriology – attainment of a status referred to by Scientologists as “clear“. These aspects have become the subject of popular ridicule.