New Age Encyclopedia

By J. Gordon Melton et al
Detroit : Gale Research (1990). 586 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
2.2 (Fall 1991) : 216-217

The purpose of this book by the Director of The Institute for the Study of American Religion and others is to furnish reliable information on the New Age Movement (hereafter NAM). It seeks an "objective, nonjudgmental approach" (p. vii). The authors say, "The overwhelming majority of literature on the movement has been extremely hostile –particularly the books produced by Evangelical Christians who feel threatened by it" (p. vii). This conclusion is borne out in an earlier article by this reviewer ("Christian Books on the New Age, a Review Article," The Master's Seminary Journal 1/2 [Fall 1990] 177-200). Other literature on the NAM, such as works by religious skeptics, dismisses the movement as a result of psychological aberrations and social dysfunction (p. vii). So this encyclopedia seeks "a balanced, objective, and comprehensive overview" (p. vii). It gives no opinions on the NAM viability or its ultimate religious or philosophical value.

Over three hundred alphabetically listed articles give information on NAM themes, practices, spokespersons, organizations, and terms needing definition. Before this listing the work has a 21-page essay, "An Overview of the New Age Movement," that deals with origins, history, roles of main leaders, and capsule statements on the distinctive tenets and ideological loyalties. A list of chief works definitive of the NAM that the authors consulted is included. Also, a four-page "Chronology of the New Age Movement" (pp. xxxv-xxxviii) lists dates and developments from 1875 to 1990. The encyclopedia provides great clarification on the NAM relation to other movements such as the occult and metaphysical. It shows that some in occult and metaphysical groups embrace selected NAM features; it also reflects that some disclaim any association with NAM thought or practice (p. viii).

The encyclopedia begins with "A. R. E. Clinic" (a holistic health center in Phoenix, AZ) and ends with "Zone Therapy." The latter cross-references "Reflexology," which is a form of therapeutic massage based on ten zones in the body and believed to lead to better functioning of other body parts (p. 379). Definitive entries deal with topics such as acupressure, acupuncture, Aquarius (Age of), applied Kinesiology (bodywork that combines aspects learned from chiropractic and acupressure), art therapy, astrology in the New Age, Atlantis, Blavatsky, cancer cures, holistic health, Edgar Cayce, Channeling, Chinese medicine, A Course in Miracles (nearly 1,200 pp. produced in 1965-1973 claiming to give words of Jesus), Benjamin Creme, Crystals, John Denver, Marilyn Ferguson, Findhorn Community in Scotland, Firewalking, hypnosis and self-hypnosis, integral yoga, other forms of yoga, J. Z. Knight, Maitreya, Ruth Shick Montgomery, Music and the New Age, New Age Politics, Past-life therapy, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Reincarnation and Karma, Kevin Ryerson (channel/medium of Shirley MacLaine), David Spangler, Theosophy Society, UFO Abductions, etc.

The entries on NAM leaders provide basic information on their birth, career, marriage, when and how any NA experience began, success in writings, tapes or seminars, schools they founded, societies they started or shared in, etc. At the end of each entry the book lists bibliographic details on sources for further study. Further sections at the end list U. S. institutions that offer NA courses, and alphabetical and keyword indexes.

The entry "Christianity and the New Age" appears on pp. 111-15. It offers basic information and lists the top authors responding against the NAM as Russell Chandler, Constance Cumbey, Douglas Groothuis, Karen Hoyt, Walter Martin, Paul and Terri Reisser and John Welton, and Ruth Tucker.

If the book is used to gain basic, reliable, compact information about persons, organizations, and definitions, it is a very handy source. For example, if one wishes information about Shirley MacLaine's NAM connection, he would turn alphabetically to "MacLaine, Shirley" (pp. 270-72), and even find a listing of five of her books as well as other key sources that discuss her. The article "Skeptics and the New Age" covers pp. 417-27. Data about David Spangler is on pp. 428-29. That about Firewalking is on pp. 175-77, about Benjamin Creme pp. 135-37, and about Helena Petrovna Blavatsky on pp. 71-74. But evangelical perspectives and evaluations based on Scripture must be sought elsewhere. It is beneficial to compare the encyclopedia's entry on a NAM leader with reactions in books by evangelical Christians. Thirty-two of these books are evaluated in an earlier issue of The Master's Seminary Journal (see documentation above).