The Church of Scientology, to its promoters, or cult of Scientology, to its detractors, began in the United States in the 1950s and is characterized by a notion of personal psychology that verges on the conspiratorial.

Scientology became well known in the 1980s and 1990s due to a number of controversies surrounding it and the media obsession with prominent members, in particular the actor John Travolta. Scientology originated with L. Ron Hubbard, an English science fiction writer.

His book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health outlined his theories and is the practical text of the so-called religion. Estimates vary widely on worldwide membership; cynics put numbers as low as 70,000, while Scientologists claim membership is more like 15 million.

Several conspiracy theories are connected with Scientology. First, in relation to personal psychology, Scientological theory holds that the self has been manipulated and warped by external factors.

Linked to this idea on a global scale, groups such as drug companies and financiers are manipulating the world. The Scientologist must therefore reach the state of “Clear,” in order to be free from bad memories and external, controlling influences.

Devices such as the “E-Meter” are used to determine the level of treatment needed by the individual. Overall, Scientologists hope that the world will become Clear, an idea that has provoked fears about Scientology’s plans for global transformation and domination among some critics.

Second, at a deeper level, through “Auditing” a Scientologist aims to remove the influence of “Body Thetans.” For believers these are the traces of those beings brought to earth millions of years ago by the alien Xenu due to overpopulation in the Galactic Federation.

These beings were exterminated by hydrogen bombs and their souls ended up in humans. Mental anguish and problems have resulted from this and the Scientologist must reengage with the moment of the extermination to be healed. Thus, at the heart of Scientology there is an alien conspiracy theory.

Scientology’s detractors claim that the organization is a manipulative, brainwashing cult dedicated to gaining members’ money and encouraging bankruptcy and suicide; for many of its critics, Scientology is seen as a major world evil.

The core conflict has taken place on the Internet. Due to copyright laws, much of Scientology’s material is unavailable to the public, yet its detractors, frequently disgruntled ex-members, have published this material on the Internet.

In the 1980s eleven members were jailed for theft of material that was thought to be damaging to the organization, suggesting that the organization is aware of a conspiracy against it. Scientology has been banned from Germany and France, while Hollywood has rallied around it, with producers and directors signing a petition in support of freedom of religion.