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American Religions Collection, Department of Special Collections

Collection Profile

Jonestown, Waco, Heaven's Gate-all names in the headlines that continue to capture our interest. The American Religions Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara contains printed, manuscript, and ephemeral material relating to these and thousands of other religious movements, figures, and events. The driving force behind the collection has been J. Gordon Melton, Methodist minister, prolific author of works such as the Encyclopedia of American Religions (1978), expert witness at numerous "cult" trials, and founder of the Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR). Since the late 1960s Melton and ISAR have been seeking materials relating to America's many new and alternative religious and spiritual groups in the short time before they disappeared from distribution. In 1985, Melton moved from Illinois to Santa Barbara and donated this burgeoning collection to the UCSB library. With his help, it has continued to grow dramatically and today contains more than 30,000 books, several thousand serial titles, 1,000 linear feet of manuscripts, and hundreds of audiotapes, videotapes, CDs and DVDs.

Some of the American Religions Collection's holdings date from the early 19th century, but the bulk is from the mid- and latter 20th century. The emphasis has been on less documented religious groups, with strengths in the newer Asian religions, American Islam, esoteric and New Age organizations, religious healing, the metaphysical religions, astrology, independent Catholicism, and smaller Protestant denominations. There are particularly substantial holdings for Buddhist, Christian Science, evangelical Christian, Hindu, Mormon, Scientology, Theosophical, and Unification movements, as well as religious broadcasting, Wicca and Neo-Paganism, and flying saucer religions.

Alongside the core collection donated by Melton are more than 60 other discrete manuscript collections. The Nori Muster Betrayal of the Spirit Collection, for example, contains correspondence, diaries, interviews, and other material from a former member and associate editor of ISKCON World Review: Newspaper of the Hare Krishna Movement. The Anthony U. Leitner Memorial Collection focuses on hundreds of Buddhist groups, many in the greater Los Angeles area, where Leitner attended and often recorded services. The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) Collection includes files on hundreds of organizations whose activities were considered suspect, as well as detailed records of CAN's annual conferences which often featured sessions on deprogramming, psychological evaluation, and abuse issues.

Use of the American Religions Collection has mushroomed as word of the broad scope of its holdings has spread. Some of the use comes from religious studies faculty and students, but the bulk comes from independent religious scholars, devotees and debunkers of specific movements, researchers in American studies, sociology of religion, women's studies, gender/sexuality (ordination of women, gay/lesbian issues), as well as those studying Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and other immigrant groups in America. The collection has served as the source for many of Gordon Melton's works, as well as numerous other publications.

Collection Profile and Overview: David C. Tambo
Illustrations: Tony Lewis and Alex Hauschild

More About This Collection

Further information, including new acquisitions, can be found on the following Web pages:

http://www.library.ucsb.edu/speccoll/aguides.html

http://www.library.ucsb.edu/speccoll/collections/rare.html#arc

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