John Gordon Melton (born September 19, 1942) is an American religious
scholar who was the founding director of the Institute for the Study
Religion and is currently the Distinguished Professor of
American Religious History with the Institute for Studies of Religion
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. He has been an advocate of religious
freedom and was involved in the scholarly debates on the legitimacy of
some NRMs and in establishing the field of new religion studies in
1 Early life
2 Methodology and writing
3 Main areas of research
3.1 Phenomenology of Religion
3.2 Christian countercult and secular anti-cult
3.3 New Age
3.4 Vampirism research
4 Amicus curiae
Aum Shinrikyo investigation
7.2 Scholarly assessments
8 See also
10 External links
10.1 Related sites
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
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
United Methodist church in
Wyanet, Illinois (1974–75), and then
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
New Age Almanac, and Prime-time
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. Several of these reference
works provide significant information for the study of American
religious history and church history.
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. Melton is the second most
prolific contributor to the Encyclopædia Britannica, after Christine
Sutton. 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
Phenomenology of Religion
Melton's major emphasis has been on collating primary source data on
religious groups and movements. His approach to research is shaped by
his training both in church and religious history and in the
phenomenology of religion. His methodology has followed that of a
historian seeking primary source literature, and so he has generally
made direct, personal contact with the leaders or official
representatives of a church or religious group. The purpose of such
contact has been to obtain the group's main religious literature to
ascertain their principal teachings and practices. His inquiries also
comprise, gathering membership statistics, details of the group's
history and so forth. He then incorporates these details profiles that
form the basis for reference texts like the Encyclopedia of American
Melton uses a group's religious texts as the essential mainstay for
reporting about a group before then proceeding to scholarly questions
and analysis about wider social, religious and historical contexts.
Christian countercult and secular anti-cult
Melton is one of the first scholars to draw 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
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
Melton is a prominent critic of both the anti-cult movement and some
Christian countercult organizations. Some of Melton's criticisms
concerning the secular anti-cult movement revolve around his rejection
of the concept of brainwashing as an explanation of religious
conversion and indoctrination. During the 1970s and 1980s he was a
prominent opponent of the controversial methods of deprogramming. He
argued that deprogramming violated civil liberties and the religious
freedom principles guaranteed in the
US Constitution and that the
efficacy of deprogramming or counter-brainwashing stratagems was
Melton has argued that countercult apologists frequently misrepresent
the teachings of those they critique:
My encounter with many Evangelical Christians who write about other
religions has, to some extent, helped shape my life's work. However,
over the years I have been mostly disappointed with the Christian
writing in this area. Instead of attempting to understand the
teachings of a group, too frequently writers only compared quotes from
the group's literature with biblical passages, both often out of
context. Then, as I began to visit the groups, I often encountered the
anger at the church many members had because of Christian writers who
had written supposedly authoritative books but who had distorted
members' positions and had condemned them for believing things they
had never taught ... I have always thought the church deserved better,
and many years ago I committed myself to providing it with the
information it needed both to live at peace with its new neighbors and
to carry on its missional life with a high level of integrity.
Melton challenges the validity of many anti-NRM sources and
testimonies of former members (which he refers to as apostates)
critical of their previous groups. While testifying as an expert
witness in a lawsuit, Melton asserted that when investigating groups,
one should not rely solely upon the unverified testimony of
ex-members, and that hostile ex-members would invariably shade the
truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents turning them into
major incidents. Melton also follows the argumentation of Lewis
Carter and David Bromley and claims that as a result of their study,
the treatment (coerced or voluntary) of former members as people in
need of psychological assistance largely ceased and that an (alleged)
lack of widespread need for psychological help by former members of
new religions would in itself be the strongest evidence refuting early
sweeping condemnations of new religions as causes of psychological
trauma. This view is shared by several religious scholars, and
contested by others (see also “Criticism”).
In a paper presented at the conference on "
New Age in the Old World"
held at the Institut Oecumenique de Bossey, Céligny, Switzerland,
Melton presented his views on the
New Age movement, stating that it
led to a dramatic growth of the older occult/metaphysical community,
and created a much more positive image for occultism in Western
culture. He stated that the
New Age movement itself had died after its
promises of a new age of enlightenment failed to materialize but that
the community of people it brought together has grown to be "one of
the most important minority faith communities in the West."
From his college days, Melton developed an interest in the subject of
vampires, which he has since pursued in his leisure time. Melton
has researched the history of vampires, as well as the study of
contemporary vampiric groups and rites. In 1983 he served as editor
for Vampires Unearthed by Martin Riccardo, the first comprehensive
bibliography of English-language vampire literature. In 1994 he
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." In the TSD annual colloquium,
“Therapy and Magic in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and beyond”
held in Romania in 2004, it was announced that Melton and Introvigne
would be participating in the TSD conference "Buffy, the vampire
Nashville, TN in 2004. Melton was identified as the "Count
Dracula Ambassador to the U.S". Melton was the president of the
American chapter (now defunct) The Transylvanian Society of Dracula
(TSD), an international organization of Dracula and vampire studies
scholars and researchers, (which disbanded in 2016).
Melton, together with a group of scholars and the American
Psychological Association, submitted on February 10, 1987 an amicus
curiæ brief in a pending case before the California Supreme Court
related to the Unification Church. The brief stated that hypotheses of
brainwashing and coercive persuasion were uninformed speculations
based on skewed data. The brief characterized the theory of
brainwashing as not scientifically proven and advanced the position
that "commitment to advancing the appropriate use of psychological
testimony in the courts carries with it the concomitant duty to be
vigilant against those who would use purportedly expert testimony
lacking scientific and methodological rigor."
Aum Shinrikyo investigation
Further information: Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway
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. 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.
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, that the group did not have the ability to produce sarin
and was being scapegoated. Melton revised his judgment shortly
after, concluding that the group had in fact been responsible for the
attack and other crimes. 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.
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
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
Wikiquote has quotations related to: J. Gordon Melton
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:
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
Parapsychology editor, 4th ed (Gale,
1996) ISBN 978-0-8103-5487-6; 5th ed (Gale 2001)
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,
The Church of
Scientology (Studies in Contemporary Religions, 1),
Signature Books (August 1, 2000), ISBN 1-56085-139-2, 80pp.
Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead,
Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting
(co-authored with Phillip Charles Lucas & Jon R. Stone). Oryx,
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,
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
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)
Derek Davis, Review of The Church of Scientology, Journal of Church
and State, 42/4 (Autumn 2000): 851-852.
P. G. Davis, Review of Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and
Sect Leaders, Religious Studies and Theology, 9 (1989): 101-103.
James L. Garrett, Review of Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America,
Southwestern Journal of Theology, 33 (1990): 69.
Jeffrey Hadden, Review of Prime-time Religion, Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion, 36 (1997): 634.
Stephen A. Kent
Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs, "When Scholars Know Sin:
Alternative Religions and Their Academic Supporters," Skeptic, 6/3
(1988): 36-44. Also see J. Gordon Melton, Anson D. Shupe and James R.
Lewis, "When Scholars Know Sin" Forum Reply to Kent and Krebs,
Skeptic, 7/1 (1999): 14-21.
Philip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in
American History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
List of new religious movement and cult researchers
^ a b  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.
^ Encyclopædia Britannica. 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
Couther-cult Monitoring Movement in Historical Perspective".
Challenging Religion: Essays in Honour of Eileen Barker:
^ 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. The 1993 Directory of Cult Research
Organizations. Trenton, NJ: American Religions Center.
^ 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.
International Perspectives on Freedom and Equality of
Waco, TX: J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.
^ Melton, J. Gordon (1999). "
Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and
Fall of a Theory".
^ Melton, J. Gordon (1998). Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's School of
Ancient Wisdom. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc.
^ a b "The Experts Speak—John Gordon Melton, Ph.D."
^ Richardson, James T.; Wright, Stuart A.; Bromley, David G.; Shupe,
Anson; Kelley, Dean M.; Robbins, Thomas; Anthony, Dick; Barker,
Eileen; et al. (1983). Bromley, David G.; Richardson, James T., eds.
Essays in The Brainwashing/
Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological,
Psychological, Legal and Historical Perspectives. New York: Edwin
Mellen Press. ISBN 0-88946-868-0. CS1 maint: Explicit use of
et al. (link)
^ Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (2001). "'O Truant Muse'". In Zablocki,
Benjamin; Robbins, Thomas. Misunderstanding Cults. Toronto: University
of Toronto Press. p. 62f. Lalich, Janja. "Pitfalls in the
Sociological Study of Cults". , ibid., p. 139f.
^ Melton, J Gordon "
New Age Transformed", a paper presented at the
conference on "
New Age in the Old World" held at the Institut
Oecumenique de Bossey, Celigny, Switzerland, July 17–21, 2000
^ Mardas, John (Summer 2000). "Interview with J. Gordon Melton". Speak
^ Melton, John Gordon (2001). Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology (5 ed.). Gale Group.
^ Melton, John Gordon (2006). Contemporary Authors Online. Thomson
^ Bidwell, Carol (July 23, 1997). "Coffin Break to Vampires
Everywhere, Fangs for the Memories". The Los Angeles Daily News.
^ Buffy, the vampire slayer, Nashville, TN, May 28–30, 2004 .
^ "APA Brief in the Molko Case." The brief stated that “the
methodology of Drs. Singer and Benson has been repudiated by the
scientific community,” APA later withdrew as a signatory because of
a pending report from the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods
of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC), chaired by Margaret Singer (Motion
of APA to withdraw as amicus curiae in the Molko case, March 27,
1987). However, when DIMPAC submitted its final report, the APA’s
Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology rejected it,
saying “the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded
critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur” (APA's Board of
Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) Memorandum of
May 11, 1987).
^ a b c "Tokyo Cult Finds an Unlikely Supporter", The Washington Post,
T.R. Reid, May 1995.
^ a b c d 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.
^ Hein, Anton (2005). "Aum Shinrikyo". Apologetics Index.
^ 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).
^ Melton, J. Gordon (January 2000). "Emerging Religious Movements in
North America: Some Missiological Reflections". Missiology. 28 (1):
^ 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.
J. Gordon Melton
J. Gordon Melton as expert witness in Lee (et al) v.
Duddy (et al)
J. Gordon Melton
J. Gordon Melton Before the Maryland Task Force to Study
the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education
Institutions, July 14, 1999
J. Gordon Melton's Interview on New Religions with "Speak Magazine",
by John Lardas - No. 2, Summer 2000
"The Rise of the Study of New Religions," a paper delivered by Melton
CESNUR 1999 conference, Cesnur.org
Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory", essay by
Melton published in Germany, Cesnur.org
"Author's Information on Religious Sects Provides Invaluable Guide"
article by evangelical journalist Richard N. Ostling, Associated
Press, January 31, 2003, Cesnur.org
ISNI: 0000 0001 1026 3734
BNF: cb12059331r (data)