Cover image for The illustrated encyclopedia of active new religions, sects, and cults
The illustrated encyclopedia of active new religions, sects, and cults
Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin.
Personal Author:
Revised edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Rosen Pub. Group, [1998]

Physical Description:
488 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BL80.2 .B385 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



An essential resource for both teens and teachers, this completely updated and revised edition features more than 650 entries. This reference guide is designed to provide information about all active cults and sects throughout the world, including religious movements that your students might come into contact with or want to know about. Get historical information on such groups as the Order of Solar Temple and the apparent mass suicide of forty-six of its members in Switzerland and Quebec. In addition, you will find up-to-date information on Aum Shinrikyo, the group accused of releasing nerve gas into a subway in Japan, as well as an overview of the Heaven's Gate cult, with a synopsis of its history and the events leading up to the mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Learn about the origins of well-known groups such as the Scientologists or Theosophists or more obscure groups such as the Cosmic Star Temple. Groups are easy to locate through four comprehensive indexes, including personal names; geographic, alternative, and former group names; and a categorical index that organizes religions according to their type (e.g., Pentecostal, New Thought, Wiccan).

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Published by a company known primarily for its juvenile nonfiction works, this encyclopedia includes groups that "espouse a religious belief system" yet also "demonstrate novelty in both organization and beliefs" and came into existence within the last 200 years. Beit-Hallahmi, a professor of psychology, has written extensively on the relationship between religion and psychology. Not counting the numerous cross-references, there are approximately 1,100 entries in the work, ranging from very few words (the Universal Shrine of Divine Guidance entry is simply "U.S. Christian-occultist group founded by Mark Karras in 1966") to approximately 900 words for Scientology, Church of and Unification Church. Just under 15 percent of the entries have bibliographies listing from 1 to 12 works, "only books based on scholarly research, not publications representing the group itself," according to the preface. The volume concludes with a synoptic index, which lists groups by religious origins or geographic location. Thus, users will find a list of all relevant entries under such headings as Theosophy Groups or Japan. Numerous flaws, however, were spotted in this index. For example, of the five groups listed under Italy, only one actually has an entry. The work features some 100 black-and-white photographs, most of them of religious leaders. The groups in this work range from well-known, established religions such as Mormons to New Age, occult, and UFO-based movements, such as Arising Sun IFO, whose entry indicates that "messages are reported from Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Elvis Presley." The work is current through the April 1993 destruction of the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians. There are no biographical entries; proper names always have a see reference to the appropriate religious group. The Board spotted one blind cross-reference: "Duane Peterson, see International Christian Ministries"; no entry exists for the latter. A sampling indicated that approximately 55 percent of the religious bodies in this volume are also in Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions (Gale, 1989), which features more than 1,500 entries and also gives addresses. The latter, however, covers only the U.S. and Canada, while the current work is international in scope. This encyclopedia is accessible to a wide variety of users, but many will be disappointed with the brevity of many entries. Whereas Pillar of Fire receives half a page in Encyclopedia of American Religions, it is dealt with in about 50 words in this volume. The recently published Contemporary Religions: A World Guide [RBB Je 1 & 15 93], criticized by the Board for its numerous editorial flaws, is international in scope but contains no bibliographies and does not feature as many small groups as the present work. At $49.95, The Illustrated Encyclopedia is a less-expensive alternative to Melton or Contemporary Religions. However, libraries should be aware that the many brief entries (most sampled were under 100 words), lack of addresses, and relatively few bibliographies will do little more than verify the existence of a religious movement. (Reviewed Nov. 1, 1993)

Choice Review

These two publications are different versions of the same work. Both aim to provide basic facts about new religious movements that have formed within the last 200 years and advocate a supernatural belief system. They include sects (offshoots of other movements) and cults (independent religions) and feature descriptive entries written in a popular style, occasionally citing monographic secondary sources. Both works contain interfiled cross-references (names of leaders, related organizations, and nicknames) and synoptic indexes that list movements by categories and geographic names. The coverage of the Grolier dictionary is good, but the articles are very uneven, ranging in length from ten to 750 words. Some of the entries for lesser-known groups are excessively brief and sometimes employ circular definitions. The Rosen encyclopedia is half the price of the Grolier volume and appears to be aimed at a popular audience. It contains many full-page black-and-white photographs, and its scope has been restricted to extant religions. In addition to deleting entries on defunct groups, the compiler has edited out of the Rosen many of the briefer entries on active religions (and a few of the longer ones). Many helpful cross-references were also eliminated. The Grolier CD-ROM offers full-text Boolean and proximity searching as well as hypertext links to browse articles. The search software resides on the CD-ROM and works on DOS machines (386 or better; DOS 3.X or higher; 3MB free on hard drive) and Macintoshes (System 6 or higher; 4MB RAM). It may be networked at a single site at no extra charge. The CD-ROM runs well on Macintosh computers, but is somewhat cumbersome when viewing results of keyword searches. Instead of showing the full text of all the hits in sequential order, the program requires the user to toggle back to the summary results screen to display the next article. The DOS version displays the results of Boolean searches in a manner that may mislead novice users. It appears to show the full text of the articles in a continuous display when, in fact, it is displaying only paragraphs that contain search terms. Some of the retrieved paragraphs do not display the titles of the entries from which they come, giving the appearance that they are part of the preceding article. In fact, the user needs to toggle to the full-text display from each paragraph. The online tutorial and the printed manual do not adequately address this aspect of the program. More complete information on many of the entries in these works can be found in J. Gordon Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions (4th ed., 1993; 1st ed., CH, Dec'79), Melton's New Age Encyclopedia (CH, Nov'90), and the Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, ed. by Keith Crim, Roger Bullard, and Larry Shinn (CH, Mar'82). However, the sources under review do cover a number of groups not found elsewhere, making them useful acquisitions. The Grolier volume is expensive for what it delivers, but the Rosen edition lacks many of the Grolier's cross-references. Libraries with a demand for information on this topic should consider the Rosen edition for their ready-reference needs, but others may wish to wait. W. Fontaine; Dartmouth College