This eighth edition of the work produced by the Institute for the Study of American Religion contains descriptions, statistics, and documentation on over 2300 religious groups in the United States and Canada. The work begins with three introductory essays: "The Development of American Religion," "Religion in Canada: A Historical Survey, 1500 to the Present," and "American Religion in the 21st Century" which are primarily authored by J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute with help from associate director James Beverly. Both men have well established academic credentials as do the collaborators on various sections of the work.
Groups are gathering into chapters representing faith traditions, most with a well documented introductory essay. Selection of chapter titles: Western Liturgical Family (includes Roman Catholic Church); Pietist-Methodist Family; Lutheran Family; Pentecostal Family; Baptist Family; Latter-day Saints Family; Western Esoteric Family !-!V (includes Theosophy, New Age, Christian Science, Wicca); Middle Eastern Family (includes Judaism and Islam); Eastern Family (includes Hinduism and Buddhism); and Unclassified Groups, both Christian and other.
A Geographical Appendix cross references major The "Defunct Appendix" lists groups that no longer exist. A geographical index and master index provide two ways to locate entries of interest.
A potential challenge of using this resource, both practically and philosophically is classifying groups within faith families when the choice is a judgment of the editors such as including the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement under "Baptist Family." Melton tries to justify such choices, either in related essays or descriptive notes.
As in any work of this scope, addition of the most recent religious developments such as the newly built BAPS Swaminarayan Hindu Temple in Lilburn, GA will need to wait for the next edition.