J. Gordon Melton
J. Gordon Melton
John Gordon Melton
September 19, 1942
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
|Alma mater||Birmingham Southern College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Northwestern University|
|Fields||Religion, American religious history, new religious movements|
John Gordon Melton (born September 19, 1942) is an American religious scholar who was the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and is currently the Distinguished Professor of American Religious History with the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he resides. He is also an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.
Melton is the author of more than forty-five books, including several encyclopedias, handbooks, and scholarly textbooks on American religious history, Methodism, world religions, and new religious movements (NRMs). His areas of research include major religious traditions, American Methodism, new and alternative religions, Western Esotericism (popularly called occultism) and parapsychology, New Age, and Dracula and vampire studies.
Melton was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the son of Burnum Edgar Melton and Inez Parker. During his senior year in high school he came across The Small Sects in America by Elmer T. Clark and became interested in reading as much as possible on alternative religions.
In 1964 he graduated from Birmingham Southern College with the B.A. degree and then proceeded to theological studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, from which he received an M.Div. with a concentration in church history in 1968. He married Dorothea Dudley in 1966, with one daughter, Melanie. The marriage ended in divorce in 1979. His second wife is named Suzie.
In 1968, Melton was ordained as an elder in the United Methodist church, an appointment he retains to this day. He was the pastor of the United Methodist church in Wyanet, Illinois (1974–75), and then at Evanston, Illinois (1975–80). He was also a member of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship.
Melton pursued further graduate studies at Northwestern University where he received his Ph.D. in 1975 in the History and Literature of Religions with a specialty in American history. His doctoral dissertation surveyed some 800 religious groups known to exist in the United States at the time and led to the development of a classification system that has come to be widely used.
Methodology and writing
Much of Melton's professional career has involved literary and field research into alternative and minority religious bodies. In taking his cue from the writings of Elmer Clark, Melton has spent much of his career identifying, counting and classifying the many different churches, major religious traditions, and new and alternative religions found in North America. His Encyclopedia of American Religions, which was originally published in 1978 (ninth ed. 2016), has become the standard reference work in the field.
Other noteworthy reference works include his Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders, Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, New Age Almanac, and Prime-time Religion (co-authored with Phillip Charles Lucas and Jon R. Stone). He has also acted as the series editor for six multi-volume series of reference books: American Religious Creeds, Religions of the World, The Churches Speak, Cults and New Religions, Sects and Cults in America Bibliographical Guides, and Religious Information Systems Series.
He is a contributor to academic journals such as Syzygy, and Nova Religio. He has also contributed chapters to various multi-authored books on new religions, and articles in many other reference works, handbooks and encyclopedias of religion. He has contributed 15 Micropædia articles, generally on religious organizations or movements: Aum Shinrikyo, Branch Davidian, Christian Science, Church Universal, Eckankar, Evangelical Church, The Family, Hare Krishna, Heaven's Gate, Jehovah's Witnesses, New Age Movement, Pentecostalism, People's Temple, Scientology, and Wicca.
Main areas of research
Christian countercult and secular anti-cult
Melton drew a distinction between the Christian countercult and the secular anti-cult movements. In his Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America he articulated the distinction on the grounds that the two movements operate with very different epistemologies, motives and methods. He was urged to make this distinction in the course of a formal dialogue with evangelical sociologist Ronald Enroth and after conversations with Eric Pement of Cornerstone magazine (Chicago). This distinction has been subsequently acknowledged by sociologists such as Douglas E. Cowan and Eileen Barker.
From his college days, Melton developed an interest in the subject of vampires, which he has since pursued in his leisure time. In 1983 he served as editor for Vampires Unearthed by Martin Riccardo, a bibliography of English-language vampire literature. In 1994 he completed The Vampire Book: An Encyclopedia of the Undead. He has also written The Vampire Gallery: A Who's Who of the Undead and most recently The Vampire in Folklore, History, Literature, Film and Television: A Comprehensive Bibliography (2016).
In 1997, Melton, Massimo Introvigne and Elizabeth Miller organized an event at the Westin Hotel in Los Angeles where 1,500 attendees (some dressed as vampires) came for a "creative writing contest, Gothic rock music and theatrical performances."
Aum Shinrikyo investigation
In May 1995, during the investigation into the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the group responsible for the attack, Aum Shinrikyo, contacted an American group known as AWARE (Association of World Academics for Religious Education), founded by American scholar James R. Lewis, claiming that the human rights of its members were being violated. Lewis recruited Melton, human rights lawyer Barry Fisher, and chemical expert Thomas Banigan. They flew to Japan, with their travel expenses paid by Aum, and announced that they will investigate and report through press conferences at the end of their trip.
In the press conferences, Fisher and Lewis announced that Aum could not have produced the sarin with which the attacks had been committed. They had determined this, Lewis said, with their technical expert, based on photos and documents provided by the group.
British scholar of Japanese religions Ian Reader, in a detailed account of the incident, reported that Melton "had few doubts by the end of his visit to Japan of Aum’s complicity" and eventually "concluded that Aum had in fact been involved in the attack and other crimes" In fact, the Washington Post account of the final press conference mentioned Lewis and Fisher but not Melton. A Christian anti-cult Web site called Apologetic Index quoted the Washington Post article and implied that Melton had spoken in the press conference. Melton was, however, not mentioned in the Washington Post original article.
Lewis, on the other hand, maintained his opinion that Aum had been framed, and wrote that having the trip funded by Aum had been arranged "so that financial considerations would not be attached to our final report."
Reader concluded that, "The visit was well-intentioned, and the participants were genuinely concerned about possible violations of civil rights in the wake of the extensive police investigations and detentions of followers." However, it was ill-fated and detrimental to the reputation of those involved. While distinguishing between Lewis' and Melton's attitudes, Reader observed that Melton was criticized as well by both Japanese media and some fellow scholars. Using stronger words, Canadian scholar Stephen A. Kent chastised both Lewis and Melton for having put the reputation of the whole category of scholars of new religious movements at risk.
Melton's scholarly works concentrate on the phenomenology and not the theology of NRMs. Some Christian countercultists criticize Melton for not critiquing the groups he reports on from an evangelical perspective, arguing that his failure to do so is incompatible with his statements of professed evangelicalism. Some secular anti-cultists who feel that new religious movements are dangerous and that scholars should actively work against them have likewise criticized him. Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs, for example, characterized Gordon Melton, James R. Lewis, and Anson Shupe as biased towards the groups they study. In non-scholarly writings, Melton has recommended that Christian churches should examine new religions in terms of evangelization, and he sees his work as a means to facilitate that end.
- Log Cabins to Steeples: The United Methodist Way in Illinois (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1974).
- A Directory of Religious Bodies in the United States (New York: Garland, 1977).
- An Old Catholic Sourcebook (co-authored with Karl Pruter), (New York/London: Garland, 1982).
- An Open Letter Concerning the Local Church, Witness Lee and The God-Men Controversy (Santa Barbara: The Institute for the Study of American Religion, 1985)
- Magic, witchcraft, and paganism in America: A bibliography, compiled from the files of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, (New York: Garland Publishing,1982), ISBN 0-8240-9377-1. Revised edition co-authored with Isotta Poggi, Garland, 1992.
- The Cult Experience: Responding to the New Religious Pluralism (co-authored with Robert L. Moore), (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1982).
- Why Cults Succeed Where The Church Fails (co-authored with Ronald M. Enroth), (Elgin: Brethren Press, 1985).
- Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America (New York/London: Garland, 1986; revised edition, Garland, 1992).
- Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders (New York/London: Garland, 1986).
- American Religious Creeds (Detroit: Gale, 1988; republished in three volumes, New York: Triumph Books, 1991).
- New Age Almanac, (co-edited with Jerome Clark and Aidan Kelly) (Detroit: Visible Ink, 1991).
- Perspectives on the New Age (co-edited with James R. Lewis), (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992).
- Islam in North America: A Sourcebook (co-edited with Michael A. Koszegi), (New York/London: Garland, 1992).
- Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating The Family/Children of God (co-edited with James R. Lewis), (Stanford: Center for Academic Publication, 1994).
- Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology editor, 4th ed (Gale, 1996) ISBN 978-0-8103-5487-6; 5th ed (Gale 2001) ISBN 978-0-8103-9489-6
- Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's School of Ancient Wisdom, Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. Hillsboro Oregon, ISBN 1-885223-61-7 (1998).
- American Religions: An Illustrated History (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2000).
- The Church of Scientology (Studies in Contemporary Religions, 1), Signature Books (August 1, 2000), ISBN 1-56085-139-2, 80pp.
- The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, ISBN 978-1-57859-281-4
- Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting (co-authored with Phillip Charles Lucas & Jon R. Stone). Oryx, 1997.
- Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions, Thomson Gale; 8th edition (February 13, 2009), 1416pp, ISBN 0-7876-9696-X
- Cults, Religion, and Violence, David Bromley and Gordon Melton, Eds., Cambridge University Press (May 13, 2002), 272pp, ISBN 0-521-66898-0
- Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, ABC-Clio (September, 2002), 1200pp, ISBN 1-57607-223-1
- J. Gordon Melton, 'The counter-cult monitoring movement in historical perspective' in Challenging Religion: Essays in Honour of Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford and James T. Richardson, eds. (London: Routledge, 2003), 102-113.
- Encyclopedia Of Protestantism, Facts on File Publishing (May 30, 2005), 628pp, ISBN 0-8160-5456-8
- A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007)
- The Vampire Almanac: The Complete History, Visible Ink Press (October 5, 2021), 736pp, ISBN 978-1-57859-719-2
- Baylor University, "J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History". Retrieved 12 April 2016
- Melton, J. Gordon (1998). Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's School of Ancient Wisdom. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. p. 163.
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. Propædia, volume 30. New York: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2007. p. 589.
- Melton, J. Gordon (1992). Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America. New York: Garland. pp. 335–358. He makes a similar distinction in Richardson, James A.; Richardson, James T. (2003). "The Counter-cult Monitoring Movement in Historical Perspective". Challenging Religion: Essays in Honour of Eileen Barker: 102–113.
- Enroth, Ronald M.; Melton, J. Gordon (1985). Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails. Elgin, IL: Brethren. pp. 25–30.
- Pement, Eric (1993). "Comments on the Directory". In Tolbert, Keith Edward; Pement, Eric (eds.). The 1993 Directory of Cult Research Organizations. Trenton, NJ: American Religions Center. p. x.
- Cowan, Douglas (2003). Bearing False Witness: An Introduction to the Christian Countercult. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
- Barker, Eileen (2002). "Cult-Watching Practices and Consequences in Europe and North America". In Davis, Derek H.; Besier, Gerhard (eds.). International Perspectives on Freedom and Equality of Religion Belief. Waco, TX: J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. pp. 1–24.
- Mardas, John (Summer 2000). "Interview with J. Gordon Melton". Speak Magazine. 2.
- Bidwell, Carol (July 23, 1997). "Coffin Break to Vampires Everywhere, Fangs for the Memories". The Los Angeles Daily News.
- Reader, Ian (April 2000). "Scholarship, Aum Shinrikyô, and Academic Integrity". Nova Religio. 3 (2): 368–382. doi:10.1525/nr.2000.3.2.368. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
- Watanabe, Teresa (May 6, 1995). "Alleged Persecution of Cult Investigated: Japan: U.S. activists visit Tokyo. They're concerned about treatment of sect suspected in subway attack". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
- Reid, T.R. (May 6, 1995). "Tokyo Cult Find an Unlikely Supporter". Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
- Hein, Anton (2005). "Aum Shinrikyo". Apologetics Index.
- Lewis, James R. (1995). "Japan's Waco: Aum Shinrikyo and the Eclipse of Freedom in the Land of the Rising Sun". Prevailing Winds. 2: 52–58.
- Kent, Stephen A.; Krebs, Theresa (1999). "CLarifying Contentious Issues: A Rejoinder to Melton, Shupe, and Lewis" (PDF). Skeptic. 7: 52–58.
- Lattin, Don (1 May 2000). "Combatants in Cult War Attempt Reconciliation / Peacemaking conference is held near Seattle". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
- Kent, Stephen A.; Krebs, Theresa (1998). "When Scholars Know Sin". Skeptic Magazine. 6 (3).
- Kent, Stephen; Krebs, Theresa (1998). "When Scholars Know Sin: Alternative religions and their academic supporters" (PDF). Skeptic. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
- Melton, J. Gordon (January 2000). "Emerging Religious Movements in North America: Some Missiological Reflections". Missiology. 28 (1): 85–98. doi:10.1177/009182960002800107. S2CID 157337106.
- Melton, J. Gordon (February 2002). "Self-consciousness in the Study of New Religions". A Talk Given to the Annual Meeting of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions.