01: After spending an hour reading the 654-page Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism (Westminster/ John Knox Press, $29.95), it came to this reviewer’s mind that this was the kind of volume that should have long been on his bookshelves.
Not only is it a convenient, single volume packed with information, but the entries — while short — are quite precise and often supplemented by a few bibliographical references. Every entry about a person include the dates of birth and death. In addition, it remains readable, the style is not dry. And there is a good reason for that: a single author, Randall Balmer, Professor of American Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University, has written the book, even if a few other people have helped with drafting entries.
The volume “is weighted heavily toward North America”, admits Balmer, but Evangelicalism itself “is a quintessentially North American phenomenon.”. Entries about key figures from other parts of the world can however be found as well.
— By Jean-François Mayer
02: Sociologist William Sims Bainbridge’s The Endtime Family (SUNY Press, $23.95) provides an in-depth look at the Family — formerly Children of God — by using a survey approach as well as the more standard ethnographic or descriptive method of researching this new religious movement. Bainbridge, who surveyed 1,025 members, notes that this is the only study of an NRM drawing on such a large collection of data. He compares the beliefs and social attitudes of Family members with those of the general public from General Social Surveys and finds that on many social attitudes the group is not marginal or “fringy” in its views
Yet Bainbridge also notes that the ways in which the Family is unique– its “sexual sharing” practices between members, homeschooling, and transient lifestyle — creates too much tension and too little contact with the outside world, making recruiting difficult (the group’s small membership of around 10,000 has held steady for years, mainly due to high fertility).
More controversially, Bainbridge holds that the Family’s increasing practice of channeling spiritual messages from the departed may prove “revolutionary” for future religious life. He also ventures that its sexual practices that prohibit contraception while “promoting positive attitudes toward giving and receiving sexual love” may serve as a model for Western societies seeking to rejuvenate declining family life.