Melton, J(ohn) Gordon (1942-)

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Melton, J(ohn) Gordon (1942-)

Religious studies scholar and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, California. Born September 19, 1942, in Birmingham, Alabama, he attended Birmingham Southern College (A.B. in geology, 1964), Garrett Theological Seminary (M. Div. with distinction, 1968), and Northwestern University (Ph.D. in history and literature of religion, 1975).

Melton was ordained a United Methodist minister in 1968. In 1969, while in graduate school, he founded the Institute for the Study of American Religion to focus research on the many new and small religious groups that were emerging in late twentieth-century America. Melton served as the national field director of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (1971-74), and was one of the founders of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research. In 1975 he transferred from the North Alabama Conference to the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church and was appointed pastor of the Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois. In 1980 he left the pastorate and was appointed director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, a post he has retained to the present. In 1985 the institute relocated to Santa Barbara, California. Melton is also a research specialist with the department of religious studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara. In 1990 he co-founded the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion and sits on its board.

Melton achieved prominence after publishing his Encyclopedia of American Religions (1979; 6th ed., 1999), tracking the many different religions as well as the small religious and psychic/occult organizations in the United States and Canada. The encyclopedia documents their origins, interrelationships, and beliefs. He has taken a special interest in the problems of religious pluralism and the growth of many divergent religions in the Christian West. Melton ardently supports religious freedom and actively opposes the efforts of the anticult movement to stigmatize new religions as "destructive cults."

The Institute for the Study of American Religion maintains a unique and comprehensive collection of research materials on religious groups and organizations in North America. The collection is located at the Davidson Library of the University of California-Santa Barbara. For information, address correspondence to the American Religions Collection, c/o Special Collections Department, Davidson Library, University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106.

Melton has authored or co-authored more than 25 books since his first in 1967, The History of the Bowling Green Yoked Charge (1967). He was an associate editor and contributor to the Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1968) and senior editor of several book series, including "The Garland Bibliographies on Sects and Cults" (1982-present); "The Churches Speak" (1989-90); "Cults and New Religions" (1990-91); "Cults and Noncoventional Religious Groups: A Collection of Outstanding Dissertations and Monographs" (1992-94); and "Religious Information Systems" (1992-94). He also works on the editorial board of Theosophical History. In 1996 he became the senior editor of the multi-volume International Directory of the World's Religions.

Melton's avocational study of vampires manifested in 1983 when he served as editor for Vampires Unearthed by Martin Riccardo, the first comprehensive bibliography of English-language vampire literature. In 1994 he authored The Vampire Book: An Encyclopedia of the Undead (2nd edition, 1999), Video Hound's Vampires on Video (1996), and The Vampire Gallery (1998).


Melton, J. Gordon. A Directory of Religious Bodies in the United States. New York: Garland Publishing, 1977.

. Directory of Religious Organizations. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.

. Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986. Rev. ed. 1992.

. "A History of the New Age Movement." In Not Necessarily the New Age. Edited by Robert Basil. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1988.

. Paganism, Magic, and Witchcraft. New York: Garland Publishing, 1982.

. "Paschal Beverly Randolph: America's Pioneer Occultist." In Le Défi Magique. Edited by Jean-Baptiste Martin and Franciose LaPlantine. Lyon, France: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1994.

. "The Revival of Astrology in the United States." In Religious Movements: Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. Edited by Rodney Stark. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1985.

. "Toward a History of Magical Religion in the United States." Listening 9, no. 3 (autumn 1974): 112-33.

Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan Kelly. New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.

Melton, J. Gordon, and James R. Lewis, eds. Perspectives on the New Age. Albany, N.Y.: State Unversity of New York Press, 1992.

Murphy, Larry, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary L. Ward, eds. Encyclopedia of African American Religion. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.