Scientology: A Religion in South Africa

David Chidester

University of Cape Town

South Africa



     According to historian of religions Mircea Eliade, the most ancient form of religious experience is found in the practices of Shamanism. Employing what Eliade called “archaic techniques of ecstasy,” shamans enter into trance states, claim to travel out of their bodies, and exercise the power gained by their extraordinary experiences to heal the body, mind, and spirit.27 In local, small-scale indigenous religions all over the world, the shaman has represented the standard for defining the nature of religious experience.

     As anthropologist Felicitas Goodman has argued, however, shamanic techniques produced not only the most ancient, but also the most persistent and enduring type of religious experience, the trance. Through a variety of techniques – mediation, prayer, chanting, singing, dancing, and so on – religions have induced and cultivated the experience of trance. According to Goodman, trance states represent the common denominator underlying all religious experience. In Goodman’s terms, all religions, whether they know it or not, induce experiences of trance.

     Although the Church of Scientology employs specific “techniques of ecstasy,” those procedures and processes that are referred to as its “religious technology,” the church has consistently insisted that the religious experience supported by these practices should not be misconstrued as trance. Furthermore, contrary to the discredited claims of anti-cult propaganda, these techniques bear no relation to processes of hypnosis or “brainwashing.”29 Instead, the religious techniques used in the Church of Scientology are directed towards experiencing a greater clarity of spiritual awareness.


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