The Heavyweights of Religion Research

Reference works that provide pound-for-pound excellence.
2002This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

When I was a young boy, my parents bought a richly illustrated children's encyclopedia. The happy event occurred about the time that I had become old enough to enjoy exploring books on my own. Those hours soaking up all that information constitute some of my warmest early memories, and I've had a tendency to think of reference books as brain candy ever since.

Five recent reference works offer much more than mere brain candy for Christians who love data. Heavyweights in more than one sense, they retail at nearly $660 and weigh 50 pounds. You may not have the budget for these treasures, but you may want to know where to find them in your favorite public or seminary library.

A Researcher's Treasure House

The first edition of The World Christian Encyclopedia, published in 1983, enjoyed the highest praise in William M. Johnston's Recent Reference Books in Religion (InterVarsity, 1996), a magisterial, heavily annotated reference book about reference books.

The new and long-awaited second edition strives to be the definitive work in the demography of global religion. Volume One presents its worldwide findings by countries, by churches, by ministries, and by adherents. Volume Two divides by segments (religion profiles, cultures, language groups, metropolitan areas) and by topic (through a glossary and bibliography). The data appear in many tables, charts, diagrams, photographs, a directory of names and organizations, and an index.

World Christian Encyclopedia delivers an astounding mass of information. It is easy to find yourself absorbed by any one of its 1,700 pages.

This will not appeal to everyone, of course. Library Journal, for instance, has expressed impatience with the volume's overwhelming data. Some people gain energy in a library, ...

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