The prestigious Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) held its 2017 annual conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute of the historic city of Jerusalem, Israel, 2—6 July. It was attended by 100 of the world’s leading religious academics.
More than 20 CESNUR plenary and other sessions covered subjects as diverse as religious pluralism in Israel, Asian religious movements, holy lands and the religious milieu, holy places and the contested spaces in Israel, the holy lands of Scientology and much more. Each subject was presented by a scholar or other religious expert.
In addition to presentation sessions, groups of scholars participated in visits to houses of worship to observe and absorb the rich diversity of religious history and culture in Jerusalem and its surrounds.
More than two dozen academics visited the Tel Aviv Scientology Center as part of the conference.
Located on Jerusalem Boulevard in Tel Aviv’s ancient port city of Jaffa, the Center’s home is the historic Alhambra Theater, acquired and meticulously restored to both preserve a site of cultural significance and create a center for the entire community.
Hosting the visitors was Sefi Fischler, Public Affairs Director of the Tel Aviv Center, an energetic representative of the Church. He delivered a basic introduction to the tenets of Scientology, its main beliefs and practices and history of the religion. The reception was followed by a tour of the Public Information Center, which contains more than 500 short films, available at the touch of a button, detailing the many Church supported humanitarian programs. These include a worldwide human rights education initiative, a far-reaching drug education, prevention and rehabilitation program, a global network of literacy and learning centers, and the Scientology Volunteer Minister program. All materials are available in Hebrew and Arabic.
Attendees were introduced to the Hubbard E-Meter, or electropsychometer, a religious artifact used as a spiritual guide in Scientology auditing (spiritual counseling). This proved a fascinating and absorbing inclusion to the tour with some attendees asking for and receiving personal E-Meter tests. Here they saw the E-Meter “read a thought.”
After a buffet lunch in the Center’s café, prepared by Scientology staff and volunteers, guests were provided with a tour inside the auditorium and a slide show covering in detail the many community betterment endeavors the Center and its volunteers conduct. Community endeavor, attendees were informed, is a significant and integral part of a Scientologist’s path to personal betterment.
Scholars who visited observed the unique spiritual and religious quality of Scientology and how it complements the spiritual traditions of the world and expressed interest in further study.