Engaging with the Church of Scientology and the Free Zone in the Field
Challenges, Barriers, and Methods
Keywords:Scientology, Free Zone, fieldwork, methods, online
An increasing number of scholars are turning their attention towards the study of Scientology, the New Religious Movement founded by L. Ron Hubbard. Such studies tend to focus on the institutionalized Church of Scientology (CoS). However, of increasing importance to the study of Scientology is the rise of the Free Zone—a category for groups of individuals who identify as Scientologists but practise outside the CoS. The CoS and Free Zone have experienced a turbulent history. Both groups often view one another with suspicion, raising debates concerning legitimacy and Scientological heresy. Successfully navigating between both the CoS and Free Zone in the field requires a careful approach on behalf of the scholar. Furthermore, working with both the CoS and Free Zone individually also presents specific challenges, particularly in terms of gaining the trust of fieldwork participants. This article draws from the author’s fieldwork with both the CoS and the Free Zone as a case study of the challenges faced when conducting fieldwork with minority groups in direct opposition to one another, and explores ethnographic issues that have arisen in the contemporary study of Scientology.
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