Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects and World Religions

A while back I recommended the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects and World Religions by Larry Nichols, George A. Mather and Alvin Schmidt. I also offered it for sale on this blog.

Since then I have had occasion to look at it in detail and check the facts on various entries. Although, overall, it is quite accurate, there was some sloppy research done on some groups that causes me to urge you to double-check the entries if you use it. Some mistakes are relatively minor. They list Tony Alamo's ministry as being Trinitarian, when in reality at times it can appear Trinitarian and other times Modalistic. The Christadelphians are listed as having 850 congregations with a total of 11,000 members. That would be 12 members per congregation. Most people put their membership at about 50,000 or more.

However, the sloppiest entry I saw was for Heaven's Gate. It lists co-founders Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles dying in 1997, the year of the mass suicide. Having known her daughter, I know Bonnie Nettles died in 1985 of cancer and was thus not involved in the suicides. The Encyclopedic Dictionary also lists them as being married - they weren't. Finally, it lists the mass suicides as taking place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when it was Rancho Santa Fe, California.

This book does have some excellent entries, especially on groups you see little other information on, and I wouldn't expect a book the size of the Encyclopedic Dictionary to be perfect; however, in the future I hope they can do better than they have done. Since I'm a stickler for accuracy (and lots of endnotes!), until these mistakes are corrected, I would urge caution in relying solely on the information in it. (P.S. Don't tell Mark - [inside joke!])

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