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.[1] He is also an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.

J. Gordon Melton
John Gordon Melton

(1942-09-19) September 19, 1942 (age 81)
Academic background
Alma materBirmingham Southern College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Northwestern University
Academic work
DisciplineMethodist, Religion, New religious movements, American religious history
InstitutionsBaylor University
Notable works

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.

Early life Edit

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.[2]

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, who had one daughter, Melanie. The marriage ended in divorce in 1979. His second wife is named Suzie.[1]

Main areas of research Edit

Christian countercult and secular anti-cult Edit

In his Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, Melton drew a distinction between the Christian countercult and the secular anti-cult movements. He articulated the distinction on the grounds that the two movements operate with very different epistemologies, motives and methods.[3] This distinction has been subsequently acknowledged by sociologists such as Douglas E. Cowan and Eileen Barker.[4][5]

Vampirism research Edit

From his college days, Melton developed an interest in the subject of vampires, which he has since pursued in his leisure time.[6]

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."[7]

Aum Shinrikyo investigation Edit

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.[8] 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.[9]

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 with their technical expert, Lewis said, based on photos and documents provided by the group.[10]

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"[8] In fact, the Washington Post account of the final press conference mentioned Lewis and Fisher but not Melton.[10]

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."[11]

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.[8] 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.[12]

Criticism Edit

Melton's scholarly works concentrates 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.[13] Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs, for example, characterized Gordon Melton, James R. Lewis, and Anson Shupe as biased towards the groups they study.[14][15]

Publications Edit

Books Edit

  • Log Cabins to Steeples: The United Methodist Way in Illinois (Nashville, Tenn: Parthenon Press, 1974).
  • A Directory of Religious Bodies in the United States. Garland reference library of social science, 91 (co-authored with James V. Geisendorfer). (New York; London: Garland Publishing, 1977). ISBN 082409882X
  • An Old Catholic Sourcebook (co-authored with Karl Pruter), (New York; London: Garland Publ., 1982).
  • An Open Letter Concerning the Local Church, Witness Lee and The God-Men Controversy (Santa Barbara, Ca: 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 Publ.,1982), ISBN 0-8240-9377-1. Revised edition co-authored with Isotta Poggi, Garland Publ., 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. Religious Information Series, 7 (Rev. and updated ed.). New York; London: Garland Publ. 1992 [1986]. ISBN 0-8153-0502-8.
  • Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders (New York; London: Garland Publ., 1986). Second edition: Religious Leaders of America: A Biographical Guide to Founders and Leaders of Religious Bodies, Churches, and Spiritual Groups in North America (2nd ed.). Detroit, Mi: Gale Group. 1999. ISBN 0-8103-8878-2.
  • The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds: A Compilation of More Than 450 Creeds, Confessions, Statements of Faith, and Summaries of Doctrine of Religious and Spiritual Groups in the United States and Canada. Vol. 1–2. (Detroit, Mi: Gale Research, 1988; republished in three volumes, New York: Triumph Books, 1991).
  • New Age Almanac, (co-edited with Jerome Clark and Aidan Kelly) (Detroit, Mi: Visible Ink, 1991).
  • Perspectives on the New Age (co-edited with James R. Lewis), (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992).
  • Religious Bodies in the U.S.: A Dictionary. Religious Information Systems, 1. New York; London: Garland Publ. 1992. ISBN 978-0-8153-0806-5. (Reprint as e-Book: New York; London: Routledge, 2018).
  • Islam in North America: A Sourcebook (co-edited with Michael A. Koszegi). (New York; London: Garland Publ., 1992).
  • Encyclopedia of African American Religions. Religious Information Systems, 9 (Reprint ed.). New York; London: Routledge. 2011 [1993]. ISBN 978-0-8153-0500-2. (co-edited with Larry G. Murphy and Gary L. Ward).
  • 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 (Detroit, Mi: Gale, 1996) ISBN 978-0-8103-5487-6; 5th ed. (Gale, 2001). ISBN 978-0-8103-9489-6
  • Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting (co-authored with Phillip Charles Lucas & Jon R. Stone). Oryx, 1997.
  • Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's School of Ancient Wisdom, (Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. Hillsboro, Oregon, 1988). ISBN 1-885223-61-7
  • American Religions: An Illustrated History (Santa Barbara, Ca: ABC-Clio, 2000).
  • The Church of Scientology. Studies in Contemporary Religions, 1. Signature Books (August 1, 2000), ISBN 1-56085-139-2, 80 pp.
  • The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, ISBN 978-1-57859-281-4
  • Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions (8th ed.). Detroit, Mi: Gale Cengage Learning. 2009 [1978]. ISBN 978-0-787-69696-2. (archived, 1416 pp., [editor-in-chief])
  • Cults, Religion, and Violence, David Bromley and Gordon Melton, eds., Cambridge University Press (May 13, 2002), 272 pp, ISBN 0-521-66898-0
  • Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices. Vol. 1–6. Santa Barbara, Ca: ABC-Clio. 2002. ISBN 1-57607-223-1. (co-edited with Martin Baumann) 1200 pp. Second edition, ABC-Clio, 2010, ISBN 978-1-59884-203-6, archived.
  • "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; New York: Routledge, 2003), 102–113.
  • Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Encyclopedia of World Religions. New York: Facts On File. 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5456-8. (editor)
  • A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2007. ISBN 978-0-7425-5264-7.
  • Protestant Faith in America. Faith in America (2nd ed.). New York: Chelsea House/Infobase Learning. 2012 [2003]. ISBN 978-1-4381-4039-1. (author and series editor)
  • The Vampire Almanac: The Complete History, Visible Ink Press (October 5, 2021), 736 pp. ISBN 978-1-57859-719-2

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ a b Baylor University, "J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History Archived 2017-12-22 at the Wayback Machine". Retrieved 12 April 2016
  2. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (1998). Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's School of Ancient Wisdom. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. p. 163.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Cowan, Douglas (2003). Bearing False Witness: An Introduction to the Christian Countercult. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Mardas, John (Summer 2000). "Interview with J. Gordon Melton". Speak Magazine. 2.
  7. ^ Bidwell, Carol (July 23, 1997). "Coffin Break to Vampires Everywhere, Fangs for the Memories". The Los Angeles Daily News.
  8. ^ a b c Reader, Ian (April 2000). "Scholarship, Aum Shinrikyô, and Academic Integrity". Nova Religio. 3 (2): 368–382. doi:10.1525/nr.2000.3.2.368.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b Reid, T.R. (May 6, 1995). "Tokyo Cult Find an Unlikely Supporter". Washington Post. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Kent, Stephen A.; Krebs, Theresa (1999). "CLarifying Contentious Issues: A Rejoinder to Melton, Shupe, and Lewis" (PDF). Skeptic. 7: 52–58.
  13. ^ Lattin, Don (1 May 2000). "Combatants in Cult War Attempt Reconciliation / Peacemaking conference is held near Seattle". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  14. ^ Kent, Stephen A.; Krebs, Theresa (1998). "When Scholars Know Sin". Skeptic Magazine. 6 (3).
  15. ^ Kent, Stephen; Krebs, Theresa (1998). "When Scholars Know Sin: Alternative religions and their academic supporters" (PDF). Skeptic. Retrieved 17 October 2020.