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Dr Aled Thomas

Profile summary

Web links

Professional biography

I have recently completed my doctorate at the Open University on the topic of Auditing in contemporary and Free Zone Scientologies. My research interests include fluid forms of contemporary religion, material culture, and lived religion. I have presented papers on my research at conferences in the UK, Europe, and USA. I am also the author of the forthcoming Free Zone Scientology: Contesting the Boundaries of a New Religion.

Research interests

My research concerns new, minority, and fluid religions in contemporary society. I am particularly interested in nuanced forms of Scientology, or more specifically - Free Zone 'Scientologies'. My research explores the horizontal and improvised forms of Free Zone Scientology in sharp distinction to the vertical-hierarchical relations favoured by the Church of Scientology. This approach raises new questions and a new emphasis on lived Scientologies outside the Church, complicating questions of power and authority and re-framing them in terms of authenticity, innovation and materiality. This emphasis on the lived reality of Scientologist practice has allowed my research to break away from previous research on new religions, which was conducted in terms of typologies (such as charismatic leaders, brainwashing, and secularization). Instead, my research explores hybrid religions (sacred and secular), in addition to vertical and horizontal forms of religiosity. This has broader societal implications in relation to understanding how institutions try to control and protect knowledge and methods, and the ways in which people attempt to sidestep and subvert this, particularly in the era of social media.

Impact and engagement

Publications

Forthcoming: 2021 Free Zone Scientology: Contesting the Boundaries of a New Religion, Bloomsbury.

2019 ‘Scientology Inside Out: Complex Religious Belonging in the Church of Scientology and the Free Zone’ (co-authored with Gregg, S. E.), in Chryssides, G. and Gregg, S. E. (eds), The Insider/Outsider Debate: New Perspectives in the Study of Religion, Equinox, pp. 350-370. Available at https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/the-insideroutsider-debate-new-perspectives-in-the-study-of-religion-george-d-chryssides-and-stephen-e-gregg/.

2019 ‘Research Notes: A Case Study of Religious Experience in the Adventures of Tintin’, The Theology, Religion and Popular Culture Review, Vol. 1, pp. 5-8. Available at https://www.religionpopculture.com/trpc-review#/no-1-october-2019.

Podcasts and Online Media

2019 ‘Death of a Founder: Louis Theroux and “America’s Most Hated Family”‘, Open University: Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective, 17 December [Blog]. Available at http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/religious-studies/?p=985.

2019 ‘The Science of Scientology’, Religion and Popular Culture Podcast, 27 November [Podcast]. Available at http://god-mode.org/religion-and-popular-culture-podcast/2019/11/27/the-science-of-scientology-aled-thomas.

2019 ‘Follow What’s Weird’, Religion and Popular Culture Podcast, 17 April [Podcast]. Available at http://god-mode.org/religion-and-popular-culture-podcast/2019/4/17/follow-whats-weird-fieldwork-roundtable-with-aled-thomas-allison-robertson-and-theo-wildcroft.

2018 ‘New Directions in the Study of Scientology’, The Religious Studies Project, 19 November [Podcast]. Available at https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/new-directions-in-the-study-of-scientology/.

2017 ‘”Insider Knowledge”: Seeing the Bigger Picture with New Religious Movements’, The Religious Studies Project, 23 November. Available at https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2017/11/23/insider-knowledge-seeing-the-bigger-picture-with-new-religious-movements/.

2017 ‘Taking a “STAND”: Scientology’s Latest Campaign for Religious Legitimacy’, Open University: Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective, 27 March [Blog]. Available at http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/religious-studies/?p=377.

Conference Papers and Roundtables

‘”I Know I’m Immortal … I Don’t Fear Death”: Approaching Notions of Immortality in Free Zone Scientologist Spheres’ – INFORM Seminar (Immortality: Beliefs and Practices), King’s College London, UK (01/02/2020).

‘Taking a STAND: The Church of Scientology, Media Exposés, and Religious Legitimacy’ – British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, Leeds Trinity University, UK (02/09/2019).

‘“Clear Body, Clear Mind”: An Analysis of the Church of Scientology’s Purification Rundown’ – British Association for the Study of Religions / Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (Joint Conference), University of Belfast, UK (03/09/2018).

‘The Challenges for Scholarly Engagement with the Church of Scientology and Free Zone in the Field’ – Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective: Publics and Performances, The Open University, UK (21/02/2018).

‘Making Connections’ (Roundtable) – Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective: Publics and Performances, The Open University, UK (20/02/2018).

‘The Material Culture of Scientology: The Evolution of Hubbard’s Auditing “Tech” and E-Meters’ – American Academy of Religions Annual Meetings, Boston, USA (20/11/2017).

‘A Weekend at Hubbard’s: The Conflicting Narratives of the Life and Death of L. Ron Hubbard in Various Scientologies’ – British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, University of Chester, UK (06/09/2017).

‘Developing the Theory and Physical Technology of Scientology: Approaching the Study of Hubbard’s Auditing “Tech”’ – British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, University of Wolverhampton, UK (06/09/2016).

‘Scientology Beyond the Church: The Practice of Auditing in the Free Zone’ – British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, University of Kent, UK (08/09/2015). ‘

“The End of the World is at Hand!” – Religious Experience and Mental Illness in The Adventures of Tintin’ – British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK (04/09/2014).

‘Outsider Perspectives of the Auditing Process within Scientology: An Examination of the Influence of the Media’ – Scientology in Scholarly Perspective, Faculty for Comparative Studies of Religions, Antwerp, Belgium (25/01/2014).

Scholarships and Awards

CHASE Student Placement Award (2017)

CHASE (Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South East England) PhD Scholarship (2016). Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Publications

Toward a Study of ‘Scientologies’ (2021-03-05)
Thomas, Aled J. Ll
Implicit Religion, 23(2) (pp. 140-147)


Auditing in Contemporary Scientologies: The Self, Authenticity, and Material Culture (2019-06-05)
Thomas, Aled
PhD thesis The Open University