The Encyclopedia of Protestantism

The Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Ed. by Hans J. Hillerbrand. New York: Routledge, 2004. 4 vols, acid free $495 (ISBN 0-415-92472- 3).

One unique hallmark of Protestantism, clearly evident in this new reference work, is the wide variety and diversity of this major (40 percent of world Christianity) sect. From the snake-handlers of Appalachia to the high-church rituals of the Anglicans, Protestantism is living up to its name. In describing religious groups that have neither a common source and identity nor a common central authoritative entity, this encyclopedia attempts historic and theological comprehensiveness under the premise that anything not Catholic and not Orthodox is, by default, Protestant. Theologically the Protestant basic tenet highlights the authority of Scripture over the Roman Catholic emphasis on the authority of the church. This work also covers the other basic theological contrasts, such as faith versus works, the meaning of the sacraments, and church as community versus church as hierarchy.

The work’s guiding principle of comprehensive coverage places its emphasis on the historical dimensions of the Protestant churches as they grew from the sixteenth century and developed in rich and varied ways. As stated by the editor in the preface, The Encyclopedia of Protestantism reflects the best in modern scholarship (approximately five hundred contributors for one thousand entries) and attempts neutrality in reporting contrasting viewpoints. In both accessing scholarship and offering balance, the work succeeds.

As aids to students of religion and theology, most entries include references and further reading. The table of contents gives both an alphabetical list of entries and a thematic list of entries (including “Biographical,” “Creeds, Confessions, and Religious Works,” “Cultural and Social Issues”), and the index volume includes statistical appendixes.

The Encyclopedia of Protestantism is a solid reference tool that fills a gap in recent theological reference works. Other reference books do not have as broad a scope. For example, Paul A. Djupe’s Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts On File, 2003) is limited to American religious groups and their interaction with the political system. Routledge has also published a series of encyclopedias of religion and society that covers some of the same material as The Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Encyclopedia of Religious Freedom, edited by Catharine Cookson (Routledge, 2003) and Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism, edited by Brenda E. Brasher (Routledge, 2001) are both fine volumes within their particular emphases, and they provide good supplementary material for the far more comprehensive Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Another updated work, J. Gordon Melton‘s Encyclopedia of American Religions (Gale, 2003), covers only religious groups in America without much of the interesting supplementary material contained in The Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Finally, Wade Clark Roof’s two-volume Contemporary American Religion (Macmillan Reference USA, 2000) covers only the time period from 1965 to the present and is valuable for the topics it covers, but it does not provide the historical view of Hillerbrand’s work.

The Encyclopedia of Protestantism is valuable in its in-depth introduction to many topics related to theology and religion. It covers details and insights not easily accessible in other reference works, and will be well-used in most academic library reference collections.-Betty Porter, Assistant Director for Education Services, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio

Copyright American Library Association Fall 2004


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Reference Quarterly, USA
Oct. 1, 2004
Betty Porter, Assistant Director for Education Services, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 1, 2004.
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