A Contemporary Ordered Religious Community: The Sea Organization

Dr. J. Gordon Melton, Director, The Institute for the Study of American Religion


The Sea Organization (also known as the Sea Org) is a voluntary and fraternal order of the Church of Scientology. Originally founded in 1967 by L. Ron Hubbard to assist with advanced research operations and supervise Church organizations around the world, its members dedicate their lives in the service of the Church of Scientology and its parishioners. In this piece, originally delivered in 2001 in London at an international conference on the study of new religions, Professor J. Gordon Melton examines the nature of the Sea Org as a fraternal religious order, or what he terms a “contemporary ordered religious community” comparable to similar groups that exist, for instance, in Buddhist, Christian, and Western esoteric traditions. Like other fraternal orders, both ancient and contemporary, the Sea Org has its own practices, codes, mores, and rehabilitation program that naturally arise out of the theology of Scientology itself. According to Professor Melton: “Most major religious traditions have made room for and encouraged the development of organizations and associations which provide a structure in which its most committed members may give their full-time effort to the deepening of their commitment through purely religious activities and offer their life in service to humanity, the larger religious community of which they are a part, and the divine as they conceive it…. As an ordered community, the Sea Organization is another doorway offering scholars of New Religions some further understanding of the manner in which innovative religious organizations fit into the broader picture of the religious life of the culture. The more that we know about them, the less distinct they appear relative to larger more-familiar groups. New Religions, with a few unique innovations, tend to rediscover successful modes of operation that have been utilized by the older groups through the centuries and to learn anew some of the same insights as these older groups.”

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