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J. Gordon Melton To Present Woods Lecture Sept. 19

September 4, 2007

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MACOMB, IL - - "A Will to Choose: The Origins of African American Christianity" is the topic of Western Illinois University's Wednesday, Sept. 19 Mary Olive Woods Lecture by J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, CA, and a research specialist in the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The 7:30 p.m. lecture in the University Union Sandburg Theatre and reception following in the Sandburg Lounge are open free to the public.

Melton is the author of more than 35 reference and scholarly books. His most noted book is "The Encyclopedia of American Religions" (2002, 7th edition) in which he compares more than 2,000 religious organizations. Melton also co-edited the "Encyclopedia of African American Religion (1993) and "Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encycolpedia of Beliefs and Practices" (ABC-Clio, 2002) with Martin Baumann, which received the Editor's Choice Award from the American Library Association (ALA) and Booklist, the ALA journal. Among his publications are "Bibliography of Black Methodism" (1970) and "A Will To Choose: The Origins of African American Methodism" (2007).

Melton says he intends to go beyond Methodism and explore a broader range of African American religiosity in his lecture.

"I've come to believe that coercion in matters of religion is self-defeating. If you leave people alone, the great majority will find their way to the center of one of the 15 or 16 great religious traditions. Religious violence usually, but not always, comes from repressing religion," said Melton, who is also a Methodist minister.

"We are so pleased to have the opportunity to welcome Dr. Melton to Western Illinois University. With his expertise in world religions, he will bring a unique perspective to this important chapter in American religious history," said John Simmons, chair of Western's philosophy and religious studies department.

The annual Woods Lecture is sponsored by the department of philosophy and religious studies in conjunction with the 1987 trust fund of Mary Olive Woods. The Woods fund provides up to eight student scholarships each year in addition to the annual lecture presentation.

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