Scientology is a body of beliefs and related practices created by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 as a successor to his earlier self-help system, Dianetics. Hubbard characterized Scientology as a religion, and in 1953 incorporated the Church of Scientology in New Jersey. Scientology teaches that people are immortal spiritual beings who have forgotten their true nature.Scientology promotes spiritual rehabilitation through a type of counseling referred to as "auditing". Study materials and auditing courses are made available to members in return for specified donations.
A large number of organizations overseeing the application of Scientology have been established,the most notable of these being the Church of Scientology. Scientology sponsors social service programs, some of which have been described as Scientology promotional campaigns. Such programs include a set of moral guidelines expressed in a brochure called The Way to Happiness, the Narconon anti-drug program, the Criminon prison rehabilitation program, the Study Tech education methodology, a volunteer organization, and a business management method.
Scientology includes the belief that souls ("thetans") reincarnate and have lived on other planets before living on Earth. Former members say that portions of Hubbard's writings on this remote extraterrestrial past are included in confidential Upper Levels and are not revealed until thousands of dollars have been paid to the Church of Scientology. Another controversial belief held among Scientologists is that the practice of psychiatry is destructive and abusive, and must be abolished
Scientology is legally recognized as a tax-exempt religion in the United States and other countries, and the Church of Scientology emphasizes this as proof that it is a "bona fide religion." Even so, Scientology has been widely criticized as a cult that financially defrauds and abuses its members. The Church of Scientology has also been accused of harassing its critics,and has consistently used litigation against them.