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Book Review - Dictionary of Cults The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1994, Volume 11, Number 1, pages 123-125. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult. 

George A. Mather and Larry A. Nichols. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, 342 pages.

From A.A. (abbreviation for the occultic Argentium Astrum) to Zwinglianism (of Christian origin), the numerous listings in the Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult present an impressive, encyclopedic composite of religious and pseudoreligious groups found in America today.

The book is coauthored by the Reverends George Mather, founder and director of the New England Institute of Religious Research, and Larry Nichols, an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church and a philosophy instructor, with a Foreword by Ronald Enroth, an authority on current religious movements in America. According to Enroth, it is critical, especially for Christians, to develop discernment skills and a basic knowledge concerning the multitude of conventional and unconventional religious organizations found in a society encouraging religious pluralism.

In 1989 I was exposed to a religious group within a traditional Protestant church whose terminology and behavior were foreign to anything I had ever witnessed in my lifelong Christian experience. I became so frustrated with the buzzwords and strange nomenclature that I began compiling a list of the alien verbal expressions and "Christian" notions. Later, I determined, I would convert my list into a "religious talk" dictionary for the enlightenment of others—once I could decipher the mumbo-jumbo myself. After conducting a bit of research, I sent questionnaires composed of religious groups and terminology to several ministers as well as a group of Christian laypeople. Though my mailing list was restricted, the responses to the questionnaire indicated a definite need for a dictionary of current religious movements—one including terminology used by the groups.

I was delighted when I saw the first advertisement for the Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult, four years after wishing for one. I ordered it immediately and put my project aside. After perusing my new dictionary, I initially felt disappointed. Some major authoritarian, "shepherding" groups I am personally interested in were not included; neither was their lingo. However, the authors explain in their introduction that they were only able to select a small percentage of groups for inclusion in their first volume as there are thousands of groups in existence. The selection process was based on two criteria: the choosing of groups most accessible through availability of information and those perceived to be among the most interesting, widespread, and influential on America's religious scene today. The collection of comparisons and contrasts between the various religions and traditional Christianity is written from a Christian perspective, as candidly confessed by the authors. However, I would like to see more Christian terms and concepts included in later listings.

The book is arranged alphabetically, and each group or term is identified by its association (Christian, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Mormon, New Age, occult). Essays on various religious groups are presented as well as definitions of terms and ideology adopted by the groups chosen for inclusion in the book. Biographical sketches of certain group leaders are also included. Interspersed throughout the book are excellent photographs depicting assorted ceremonial paraphernalia, places of interest, and individuals referred to in the essays.

The Appendices contain The Ecumenical Creeds of Christendom; diagrams and charts summarizing 20 modern religious groups; a list of some of the cults, sects, and religions included in the volume; and a diagram illustrating how many of these cults, sects, and religious groups emerged from the influence of major religious traditions—Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu. An excellent, group-categorized bibliography is included providing extensive suggested reading for those desiring to learn more about one of the specific groups included in the dictionary.

I am delighted that the authors intend to publish future editions of this dictionary. I hope new listings, from Amish to YWAM, will be incorporated in the next edition. In addition, I hope to see an examination of some of the fast-growing offshoots of established Christian denominations born in dissension and currently demonstrating aberrant, detrimental proclivities in their methodology or theology.

It is my hope that the first volume of the Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult will be the first of a regularly updated series. I highly recommend the premier edition as an essential reference tool, a must-have basic for one's personal or professional reference.

Maxine Pinson, Publisher/Editor

Savannah Parent

Savannah, Georgia

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1994