Introduction to the Seventh Edition

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Introduction to the Seventh Edition

The Encyclopedia of American Religions (EAR), now in its seventh edition, provides a comprehensive survey of religious and spiritual groups in North America. The Encyclopedia continues in its role as "an indispensable guide to the confused landscape of American Religion" (Choice) by providing both an historical perspective and current information on the many groups that constitute America's religious life.

EAR covers currently functioning religious groups and groups that are no longer active. Most group covered meet the following criteria:

  • seeks the chief religious loyalty of its members
  • promotes its particular view
  • satisfies one of the following conditions of size:
  • if the group is organized into congregations, has two or more congregations, or has one congregation with more than 2,000 members who make a measurable impact on the country through mass media
  • if not organized into congregations, membership is drawn from more than one state and from beyond a single metropolitan area

Several groups not meeting the size requirements outlined above have been included. These groups, such as Satanists, espouse beliefs that are at odds with those of most people in the United States and Canada. Despite their limited numbers, these groups have been included to illustrate the religious complexity and diversity of America.

New in This Edition

The seventh edition of the Encyclopedia contains over 2,600 descriptive entries on religious bodies, including over 250 new to this edition, and represents a complete revision and expansion of the previous edition. This edition also features:

A consolidated Master Name and Keyword Index. The former Educational Institutions, Periodicals, Personal Name, and Religious Organizations and Institutions indexes have been merged to form the Master Name and Keyword Index, providing a one-stop listing of all key details mentioned in this edition.

Enhanced Subject Index citations. The full name for each organization is now listed under a given subject term with the book entry number to enable a user to quickly target a search.

Catchwords have been added to the top outer corners of each index page to enable users to quickly identify the contents of that page.

Content and Arrangement

The Encyclopedia consists of three parts, which are followed by three indexes:

  • Part I—Two Introductory Essays trace the development of religion in America and Canada.
  • Part II—24 Historical Essays discuss the growth and development of the 23 major religious families and traditions.
  • Part III—The Directory Listings are organized into 26 sections and provide contact and descriptive information on the various groups that comprise the 24 families and traditions. Two remaining directory sections—Unclassified Christian Churches and Unclassified Religious Groups—include those groups that cannot be classified within any of the distinct religious families.

The Geographic, Subject, and Master Name and Keyword Indexes facilitate access to information provided in this edition.

For additional details on the content, arrangement, and indexing of EAR, consult the User's Guide, following the introductions.

Compilation Methods

The information contained in the entries has been assembled from material obtained directly from the religious bodies listed. Each group was asked to update and return a revision form containing information on their organization, and the majority of organizations graciously complied. In some cases, follow-up telephone conversations were held. In addition, the resources of the American Religions Collection at the University of California Santa Barbara were also used. The collection contains a variety of both primary and secondary materials on the religious traditions and leaders of North America.

Author Brings Unique Perspective

Dr. J. Gordon Melton has been studying America's religious landscape for more than twenty years. A graduate of Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, with a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Dr. Melton is nationally recognized as a leading authority on religion, particularly the newer, small groups. Melton's current undertakings include teaching responsibilities at the University of California Santa Barbara, heading the Institute for the Study of American Religion, and authoring articles and reference works on American religion. Among the many Gale titles authored by Melton are the New Age Encyclopedia, Religious Leaders of America, and The Churches Speak Series.

For additional details on the author and the impetus for undertaking the Encyclopedia, see the "Selections from the Introduction to the First Edition" following this introduction.

Companion Volumes Complement EAR's Coverage of Religion in North America

The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds contains the full text of more than 450 religious creeds, confessions, statements of faith, summaries of belief, and articles of religion currently acknowledged by many of the religious groups described in this edition of the Encyclopedia. It also includes extensive notes on the history and textual variations of the creeds.

The Directory of Religious Organizations in the United States provides contact and descriptive information on some 2,500 for-profit and nonprofit organizations that provide services for, information on, or support for, the primary religious bodies described in EAR, as well as those organizations that seek to influence these bodies.

EAR Also Available in Electronic Formats

The Encyclopedia of American Religions is also available for licensing on magnetic tape or diskette in a fielded format. The database is for internal data processing and nonpublishing purposes only. Either the complete database or a custom selection of entries may be ordered. For more information, contact the Electronic Services Department at 800-877-GALE.

Comments and Suggestions Welcomed

Comments, suggestions, and information on new organizations or organizations not currently listed are welcomed. Please contact:

Dr. J. Gordon Melton
Institute for the Study of American Religion
Box 90709
Santa Barbara, CA 93190-0709


The Gale Group, Inc.
27500 Drake Rd.
Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535
Telephone (248) 699-GALE
Toll-Free (800) 347-GALE
Fax (248) 699-8062

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Introduction to the Seventh Edition

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Introduction to the Seventh Edition