Counting Scientology 1. The Official Version
A road map of the project and some opening figures
A couple of months ago, I launched an appeal for help to answer the question: How many Scientologists are there, really?
I called it the Fastest-Growing Religion project because that’s what Scientology call themselves. Here, for instance:
I’ve been tracking Scientology since the early 90s. I even wrote a blog on the movement for several years.
And one thing you learn quickly is never to take what the movement says at face value.
Try running “fastest growing religion” through a search engine, for example, and see what you get.
But maybe we, the critics, have missed something; maybe we are being unfair.
With that in mind, I thought it was worth looking at some of the available data to get an idea of whether their figures add up.
So, let’s crunch the numbers and see what comes out.
I’ve set this up as a short series, something that can be easily updated as new figures come in.
Along the way, I’ll be borrowing shamelessly from past work on this subject.
I’ll also be presenting figures compiled with the help of former members, academics and other researchers.
They have been sending me tips and leads over the past few weeks since I launched my appeal for help over at Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker, the go-to place for daily coverage of the movement.
Thanks to them, I’ve got the beginnings of a modest database, which can be developed when I receive more material.
So, let’s jump right in and have a look at the first set of figures.
Official Scientology literature
First up is a set of figures, from the 1979 edition (2nd printing) of What is Scientology?
This a coffee-table slab of a book, a compendium of information about Scientology for the uninitiated.
Early editions had an amateurish feel but in recent years they have become increasingly professional in their presentation.
Here’s what they came up with for Scientology’s growth in its first 25 years of existence.
What is interesting too, is the definition they offer:
Membership is defined as being persons with a current membership who usually, but not always, have enrolled up on a course of counseling of ministerial training. It does not for the purposes of this survey include buyers of Scientology books or postal correspondents.
If that strikes you as a perfectly reasonable way to go about compiling these figures, you’d be right. But not so fast — we’ll be revisiting this later in the series.
A 1982 German-language document from the Church of Scientology in Germany gives the same figures, but updates the series with a fresh total from 1981: 6 million.
They were still claiming six million members in 1987, when they published a 40-page document denouncing a series of three Sunday Times articles by Russell Miller on their founder, L. Ron Hubbard. (Miller went on to write the definitive biography of Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah.)
By 1993 the total was up to eight million members — at least according to a booklet published by the Church of Scientology International.
This 66-page document, Hate and Propaganda Sanctioned and Promoted by the German Media and Government, was a response to Germany’s increasingly aggressive monitoring of the movement there.
By 2008, a 32-page booklet summarising how many countries they said had acknowledged Scientology’s status as a religion, was citing a figure of 10 million members.
Scientology: Religious Recognition in Europe & Around the World, was produced by Scientology’s Brussels-based European Office for Public Affairs & Human Rights.
Add that to the mix then, and this is what we have start to with:
Spanner in the works
On the face of it, that looks reasonable.
I mean, they started small and grew steadily over the decades. Right?
But here’s a spanner in the works.
This is from the inside cover of one of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction books, The Final Blackout — 1970.
So that’s 15 million members claimed in 1970.
Now, I’m going to call this one an outlier — and not just because it would make a mess of my graph.
After all, the marketing blurb from one of Hubbard’s sci-fi stories is not quite in the same category as an official Scientology document.
But I’m putting it aside, not binning it, just in case — who knows? — I get more of the same.
Note that we don’t yet have any specific claims for membership beyond 2010. And there are plenty of gaps in the years before then.
The lines are still open: I’m still accepting contributions.
So, if you have Scientology documents tucked away somewhere that give specific numbers — from whatever date— I’d love to see them.
Here’s the spreadsheet so far. Feel free to jump in with suggestions, contributions.
Next up, we’ll be adding some figures from media reports and Scientology spokesmen over the years.
What can go wrong?