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Facts On File
2 vols. 800 pp.; $99
Reference books in American religion have become big business in recent years--big, that is, by the monetarily modest standards of academic publishing. During the past decade alone a veritable spate of them has appeared, virtually flooding our shelves with names, dates, and other forgettable religious data. Since the publication of Scribner's massive Encyclopedia of the American Religious Experience (3 vols. 1988), several other major works have been released. To name only the most well known requires the mention of at least half a dozen, including the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (1988), the third and fourth editions of the Encyclopedia of American Religions (1989, 1993), the Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990), a second edition of the Dictionary of American Religious Biography (1993), the Dictionary of Baptists in America (1994), and, last but not least, the award-winning Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America (1995).
Religion, it seems, has resurfe. And often, as newsmakers, poll takers, and a growing number of opinion shapers reawaken to its utter relevance to their work, they rub their otherwise well-trained eyes in a dreamlike state of disbelief at the enormous complexity of the religious scene they have too long ignored. Gone are the days when the well-informed could count themselves au courant with a basic knowledge of Murray, Weigel, and the brothers Niebuhr. Today one needs a scorecard to keep track of the myriad players whose public performances make the headlines every week.
While one might question, then, the need for yet another reference work in a market that seems to be so clearly overcrowded, The Encyclopedia of American Religious History has actually filled an important niche by providing the most panoramic survey of the field to date. Its three primary authors and a small cadre of other experts have contributed terse, reliable summaries of subjects from Lyman Abbot to Louis Farrakhan ...