The War is Not Over

Scientology, Resilience, and the Resurgence of State-Sponsored Anti-Cultism in France


  • Donald A Westbrook San Jose State University



Dianetics, Scientology, France, laïcité, Sonia Backès, MIVILUDES, sectes, cults, new religions, new religious movements


This article offers a brief introduction to the institutional history of the Church of Scientology in France (1959–present) before turning attention to the current state of Scientology in relation to state-sponsored anti-cultism and laïcité. In France, groups regarded as “sectes” (cults) are monitored by the French government’s MIVILUDES (Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires, the Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Cultic Deviances). As of late 2022, MIVILUDES is overseen within the French government by Sonia Backès, Secretary of State (Deputy Minister) for Citizenship. Backès, a former Scientologist, was raised in the Church of Scientology, completed Scientology courses, and attended a “Study Tech” school that made use of the educational methods of L. Ron Hubbard, among other aspects of participation, before ceasing activity in the group as a teenager. Backès has become a vocal opponent of Scientology, claiming she escaped from the group in an exit narrative that is disputed by family members. Backès’s apparent transformation from an “ordinary leave-taker,” “defector,” or “invisible former member” to a highly vocal “apostate” serves as a case study of a new expression of Scientology ex-member identity that is not well examined in the NRM literature on apostasy and disaffiliation—that of a second-generation (former) member in a position of political power. In a country like France, this form of political power can be operationalized and weaponized against new or minority religions such as Scientology, all with the backing of the state.


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How to Cite

Westbrook, D. A. (2023). The War is Not Over: Scientology, Resilience, and the Resurgence of State-Sponsored Anti-Cultism in France. International Journal for the Study of New Religions, 12(1), 115–143.