The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena. J. Gordon Melton. Visible Ink. $25. 380 pp.
J. Gordon Melton is a renowned authority on what academics call “New Religious Movements.”
He takes on a broad range of topics: ectoplasm, the tomb of Christ, the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, Ouija boards and the Kumbh Mela festival in India.
Melton’s introduction takes a swing at a definition but misses. When describing each phenomenon, his tone whipsaws between critical and credulous, often without obvious justification.
And sometimes he doesn’t provide enough context. For instance, if you don’t know what the Western Esoteric tradition is, you’ll be wondering. He mentions it a lot.
And he does an entire entry about the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem without ever citing the cryptic Quran verse that is the root of the tradition — and never mentions Jerusalem.
But this is an entertaining and fascinating look at a variety of ways that people experience belief.