Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Deborah Whitehead

Second Advisor

Greg Johnson

Third Advisor

Stewart Hoover


The Church of Scientology is one of the most controversial new religious movements of our contemporary time. As an esoteric organization the church has struggled to attain legal recognition as a religion while maintaining the secrecy of its core materials and has utilized a unique combination of religious freedoms, copyright, and trademark law in order to do so. I argue that the relationships between money, secrecy, and religion within the Church of Scientology are interpreted by many through the lens of censorship and fraud, but that the politics of religious pluralism in the U.S. ensured the overall protection of the church structure through religious rights legislation. When the Church of Scientology continued to receive legal support in their efforts to slow the widespread dissemination of church materials online, the hacktivist collective Anonymous responded with the launch of Project Chanology in order to restore a perceived loss of social justice. I argue that when a religious movement is understood to betray two of the cardinal principles of religious toleration (freedom of choice and freedom of non-belief), lay citizen activism can successfully challenge traditional cultural authority governing how we think about religion, religious rights, and religious pluralism.