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New York City’s off-beat tabloid the Village Voice is running a series of what it considers to be the top 25 people behind the decline of the late L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology.

“On Friday,” writes Voice staffer Tony Orega, “we started a countdown that will give credit — or blame — to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology.

“From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world.

“Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible.”

Ortega notes:

Next month, Ohio State University religious studies professor Hugh Urban will officially release his academic history, The Church of Scientology, A History of a New Religion (Princeton University Press).

In June, we reviewed an advance copy of the book, and were impressed by how Urban brought a measured academic’s objectivity to a subject fraught with controversy: “Throughout that journey, what Urban does better than most is continually put Scientology’s bumpy beginnings and notorious scandals in a larger context of American history and the development of American culture and ideas about religion.”

Scientology’s secrecy and paranoia, for example, come right out of the Cold War environment that Hubbard was a product of, Urban explains.

The timing of Urban’s book really couldn’t be any better. It’s an academic book, but it’s very well written and makes a great companion to Janet Reitman’s popular history of the church, Inside Scientology. If Reitman focuses on the narrative stories of individuals, Urban provides key passages from numerous court cases and Scientology’s own internal documents to piece together a thorough portrait of the church that Scientology will find difficult to label as a biased work (but no doubt it will still try).

Scientology will always brand its defectors as apostates, will always say that journalists are out to smear them, but with the calm, dedicated work of academics, a library of unassailable, disinterested data is emerging that will not so easily be dismissed.

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