J. Gordon Melton

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
ResidenceWaco, Texas
Alma materBirmingham Southern College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Northwestern University
Known for
Scientific career
FieldsReligion, American religious history, new religious movements
InstitutionsBaylor University

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

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

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.[3]

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.[4] 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).[5][6] This distinction has been subsequently acknowledged by sociologists such as Douglas E. Cowan and Eileen Barker.[7][8]

Vampirism research

From his college days, Melton developed an interest in the subject of vampires, which he has since pursued in his leisure time.[9] 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."[10]

Aum Shinrikyo investigation

In May 1995, in the early stages of investigations into the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Melton, fellow scholar James R. Lewis and religious freedom lawyer Barry Fisher flew to Japan to voice concern that police behaviour, including mass detentions without charge and the removal of practitioners' children from the group, might be infringing the civil rights of Aum Shinrikyo members.[11][12] They had travelled to Japan at the invitation and expense of Aum Shinrikyo after they had contacted the group to express concern over developments, and met with officials over a period of three days.[11] While not having been given access to the group's chemical laboratories, they held press conferences in Japan stating their belief, based on the documentation they had been given by the group,[13] that the group did not have the ability to produce sarin and was being scapegoated.[11][12] Melton revised his judgment shortly after, concluding that the group had in fact been responsible for the attack and other crimes.[12] Some felt that the scholars' defense of Aum Shinrikyo led to a crisis of confidence in religious scholarship when the group's culpability was proven.[12]


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.[14] Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs, for example, characterized Gordon Melton, James R. Lewis, and Anson Shupe as biased towards the groups they study.[15] In non-scholarly writings, Melton has recommended that Christian churches should examine new religions in terms of evangelization,[16] and he sees his work as a means to facilitate that end.[17]



  • 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 0-8103-2295-1
  • 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)

See also


  1. Baylor University, "J. Gordon Melton, Distinguished Professor of American Religious History". 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. Encyclopædia Britannica. Propædia, volume 30. New York: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2007. p. 589.
  4. 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 Couther-cult Monitoring Movement in Historical Perspective". Challenging Religion: Essays in Honour of Eileen Barker: 102–113.
  5. Enroth, Ronald M.; Melton, J. Gordon (1985). Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails. Elgin, IL: Brethren. pp. 25–30.
  6. 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.
  7. Cowan, Douglas (2003). Bearing False Witness: An Introduction to the Christian Countercult. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
  8. 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.
  9. Mardas, John (Summer 2000). "Interview with J. Gordon Melton". Speak Magazine. 2.
  10. Bidwell, Carol (July 23, 1997). "Coffin Break to Vampires Everywhere, Fangs for the Memories". The Los Angeles Daily News.
  11. "Tokyo Cult Finds an Unlikely Supporter", The Washington Post, T.R. Reid, May 1995.
  12. Ian Reader, "Scholarship, Aum Shinrikyo, and Academic Integrity" Archived 2011-10-05 at the Wayback Machine, Nova Religio 3, no. 2 (April 2000): 368-82.
  13. Hein, Anton (2005). "Aum Shinrikyo". Apologetics Index.
  14. Lattin, Don (1 May 2000). "Combatants in Cult War Attempt Reconciliation / Peacemaking conference is held near Seattle". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  15. Kent, Stephen A.; Krebs, Theresa (1998). "When Scholars Know Sin". Skeptic Magazine. 6 (3).
  16. Melton, J. Gordon (January 2000). "Emerging Religious Movements in North America: Some Missiological Reflections". Missiology. 28 (1): 85–98.
  17. 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.
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