Expertise on Confidential Religious Writings

by Jeffrey K. Hadden
Professor of Sociology
University of Virginia

Jeffrey K. Hadden hereby declares, under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America, that the following is true:

     1. I am presently Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, a position I have held since 1972. I have served as Chair of the Department of Sociology as well as other administration assignments. Prior to my appointment at the University of Virginia, I was Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at Tulane University, Associate Professor of Sociology at Case Western Reserve University and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue University. In 1980 I was Visiting Professor in the Department of Cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine.

     2. I have served as President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and the Southern Sociological Society. Other professional duties include Member of Council, American Association for the Advancement of Science and Chair of the Publications Committee of the American Sociological Association. I am a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

     3. I am author and editor of over twenty books and numerous articles including twelve books on the subject of religion. I have conducted research and writing on various topics in the sociology of religion for thirty years. Recently, I co-edited (with David Bromley) a two volume work entitled The Handbook of Cults and Sects in America.

     4. I am preparing this declaration in support of an amicus curiae brief filed by Dr. J. Gordon Melton in the case of Church of Scientology International v. Steven Fishman and Uwe Geertz. Fishman and Geertz have introduced into the court record highly confidential ecclesiastical materials from the Church of Scientology. I understand that it is the contention of Fishman and Geertz that the claim to confidentiality of sacred texts is incompatible with the free expression of religion.

     5. The core of the argument presented in this declaration is that (a) esoteric knowledge exists, in varying degrees, in all human groups and functions to create and sustain cohesiveness and social solidarity, (b) the maintenance of secrecy and the assiduous guarding of sacred texts is, thus, an integral part of scores of faith traditions dating as far back as we have historical knowledge, and (c) failure to respect and honor this nearly ageless tradition is to deny the faith tradition in question (Church of Scientology) protection under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

     6. Esoteric knowledge, that is, knowledge intended for or understood by only a small proportion of a group is present in all human groups. High levels of esoteric knowledge results in secret societies or organizations which are necessarily hierarchically organized. But no organization exists without some degree of esoteric (secret) knowledge. Even the most democratic of societies are organized such that much information is not readily available. Corporations protect vast quantities of information under legal statutes and rules of regulatory agencies. Government agencies create rules and regulations that render certain types of information virtually inaccessible to the public, sometimes even from legislative bodies to whom they owe their very existence.

     7. Secrecy functions to protect the internal integrity of a group. The secret knowledge serves to define insiders, i.e. members of the group, and outsiders. The gradual initiation of members to progressively higher levels of secret knowledge serves to create an inner quality of reciprocal confidence between members which creates group cohesiveness and solidarity. The secrets constitute the very core meaning of the group. Approached gradually, with procedures for socialization regarding the importance of protecting the knowledge, and explicit initiation rituals along the way, the novice gradually comes to mold his or her identity with the identity of the group. To take away the secret inner core of a group is to destroy its very essence and meaning for its members.

     8. The degree of esoteric knowledge and secrecy varies across faith traditions. It is clear that religious groups have possessed and persistently guarded selected esoteric meanings of sacred texts for as long as we have knowledge of religious groups. Moses learned the secret name of God on Mount Sinai and that knowledge has been shouldered orally through the ages by a few Jewish mystics who are able faithfully to discern the Kabbalah. Christ preached to the masses, but it was to a select group of disciples that he disclosed secrets of the kingdom. The Hellenistic Period, roughly from Alexander the Great through the fall of the Roman Empire, is replete with sectarian movements, each with its own esoteric knowledge. Before this, Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations were carriers of esoteric spiritual knowledge, often in the form of magic.

     9. Since the Renaissance and Reformation, the emergence of rationalism, solence and a democratic ethos has created a cultural milieu in which esoteric religious groups have occupied what might be characterized as a permanent counterculture. In contemporary social science scholarship, we refer to these groups as “new religions,” although most of them have and claim roots that are hardly new.

     10. While it is axiomatic that all religions were at one time new, this fact fails to grasp the importance of religious innovation in the modern world. R. Laurence Moore’s book Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans brilliantly documents the role of new religions in shaping American history. Oscar Handlin, the historian-biographer began his classic work, The Uprooted , with these words: “Once I thought to write a history of the Immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.” Moore, in a similar vein, has revealed how profoundly new religions have leavened and thus shaped culture, politics and the arts in American history.

     11. The notion that religious knowledge in the modern world is democratic knowledge and, therefore open to all, decries the experience of new religious movements in the North America and Europe. Almost without exception, the new religions of North America from the eighteenth through the late twentieth centuries, both imports and innovations, have possessed a significant amount of esoteric knowledge.

     12. To deny a religious group the right to protect its esoteric knowledge, indeed its most sacred texts, runs contrary to history and the American experience. It constitutes a denial of that group the protection of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Dated: November 27, 1994
Jeffrey K. Hadden

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