Skip Navigation Links  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Main Reading Room (Humanities and Social Sciences Division)
  Home >> Guides >> Religion
"Religion," mural in the North Corridor, Library of Congress Jefferson Building, by Charles Sprague Pearce, 1897.

Religion Collections in Libraries and Archives:
A Guide to Resources in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia

Table of Contents - Preface/Acknowledgements - Abbreviations
Lists of Entries: District of Columbia - Maryland - Virginia

Library of Congress
African and Middle Eastern Division: African Section

Address: 101 Independence Avenue SE
Thomas Jefferson Building, Room LJ220
Washington, DC 20540-4821
Telephone Number: (202) 707-5528
Fax Number: (202) 252-3180
Contact Persons: A list of African Section reference assignments and contact information is available at
Email Address : Reference inquiries may be submitted via webform at
Internet Catalog Address:

Access Policies

Hours of Service:
Monday--Friday 8:30 a.m.--5:00 p.m.
Weekends/Federal holidays Closed
Open to the public: Yes
Photocopying:: Yes
Interlibrary loan: Yes

The primary mission of the Library of Congress is to serve Members of Congress and thereafter, the needs of the government, other libraries, members of the public, universities, and learned societies.

A Library of Congress Reader Registration card is required to use the reading room for the African and Middle East Division. To obtain a registration card, applicants must be 18 years of age or older and present photo identification bearing a verifiable permanent address. The cards are issued without charge in Room G40 of the Jefferson Building. One must enter on the Second Street side of the building to locate this room.

Photocopying can be done by researchers with coin or debit card. Photocopying depends on the condition, age, and size of items. The Library of Congress' Photoduplication Service can provide a wide range of reproductions of the Library's collections, such as single page photocopies, microfilms, or color slides. The ability of the Library to furnish reproductions is subject to copyright and other restrictions. Photoduplication Services is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday. Further information on products and services can be obtained be contacting Photoduplication Services, Public Services Section, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4570. Telephone: (202) 707-5640. Fax: (202) 707-1771. TTY: (202) 855-855-1234

The Library of Congress is an interlibrary loan source of material not readily available through local, state, or regional libraries. Requests are accepted from recognized libraries that are listed in standard directories or are affiliated with networks and that make their own materials available on interlibrary loan. Certain rare, brittle, and other materials are not available for loan.

Reference Policy:
The services of the African and Middle Eastern Division are offered to the Congress, government agencies, other libraries, and the public in general. Readers can receive in-person assistance in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room as well as assistance by telephone, mail, FAX, and e-mail. In-person readers must obtain a Reader Registration Card to use the collections. Each professional staff member has reference and acquisition responsibilities for a particular linguistic or geographic region.
Borrowing Privileges:
Not a lending institution.
OCLC, RLIN. Most cataloged holdings will be listed in OCLC.
Background Note:
Unusually rich and extensive research materials on sub-Saharan Africa are available to the researcher at the Library of Congress. The African Section, one of three units of the African and Middle East Division, is the focal point of the Library's reference and bibliographic activities on sub-Saharan Africa, which excludes the North African countries of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. The Section was established in 1960 and initially supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It plays a vital role in the Library's acquisitions program, provides reference services for an international community, prepares bibliographic guides, and maintains liaison with other institutions in the United States and abroad.

Return to top of page.

Description of Collections

Books and monographs:
The Library's collections of Africana, material from or relating to Africa, are among the best in the world. They encompass every major field of study except technical agriculture and clinical medicine, which are under the jurisdiction of the National Agricultural Library and the National Library of Medicine, respectively. Most of the materials are dispersed in the Library's general book and periodical collections. The dates of the collection range from the earliest known works in religion to the latest research. Based on a search done June 1997, of the Library's current online catalog (books cataloged since 1968), books in the B class related to African religion and philosophy numbered 3,200. However, most of the works about the religious practices of individual sub-Saharan African ethnic groups and their religion are classified under DT, which includes African history, as well as under G classification, or anthropology and social customs. The latter area includes materials on funerals, holidays, festivals, and other religion-related aspects of a culture. Often the history or anthropology sections will include a wide variety of books on specific religious groups, country by country, as well as works by and about the many prophets and churches of these religions. One example of both the specificity of the collection and also of the small indigenous presses sought out by the African Section are materials written by the prophet of the Islamic revisionist movement, the Republican Brothers. After the execution of this organization's prophet, most copies of his work were destroyed by the government of Sudan. Just previous to his death, the African Section had obtained a rare set of the prophet's works.

Publications on African art in the N classification are also numerous. Within this area one may find books on the religious use and significance of such items as masks, Ethiopian rock churches, altars, and religious carvings. Because the peoples of Africa are numerous and their customs, religious art, and religious history are varied, and because these books are dispersed within these many Library of Congress classifications, it is not possible to know the exact number of titles. Even so, the collection on the many aspects of African religions is known to be large and of strong research value--one of the best in the country. If one is looking for the work of specific Christian denominational missionary work in Africa, seminaries or religiously-based universities may have better holdings.

The collections of the African Section support a high level of research particularly for difficult to find materials published in Africa. Because of the work of bibliographic representatives and the Library's Overseas Operations Field Offices in Nairobi and Cairo, the African Section is able to obtain a large and varied portion of the religion material published in Africa itself. The collection is particularly strong in materials published in the over 20 countries of Eastern and Southern Africa. At times this may mean mainstream resources, but at others it may involve the collection of materials created by small religious groups or small African presses.

Most materials may be found in the card and computer catalogs of the Library of Congress.

Periodicals and newspapers:
For African studies in general (all subjects including religion), the African Section estimates that there are approximately 6,000 current subscriptions. A search of the Library's online serials catalog containing serials cataloged since the mid-1970s (done June 1997) identified 350 titles with broad religion-related subject headings (e.g. Religion; Islam--Africa; Christianity--Africa; etc.) and with a geographic area code for Africa. Many of the titles cited may no longer be currently received. At the same time, many political, philosophical, or sociological journals may well have articles on religious topics. As with books, serials earlier than 1970 are also prevalent, but not easily numbered. The serials collection mirrors the strengths of the book collection with many serials published in Africa itself. The journal collection is strong enough to support graduate level research in religion.

The Library of Congress holds numerous bibliographies on religion in Africa and printed indexes to periodical literature, which would assist in locating older works such as Bibliographie de L'Afrique Sud-Saharienne, Sciences Humaines et Sociales, and its precursor which began in 1934, the Bibliographie Ethnographique de L'Afrique Sud-Saharienne. There is also the Index to South African Periodicals which began in 1941 and continues with supplements through 1976. A good current bibliography is the Quarterly Index to Periodical Literature, Eastern and Southern Africa. The collections contains a good proportion of the journals cited in these indexes. What makes this especially important is that these indexes cover not only mainstream scholarly publications, but also little known journals published by small presses. These indexes point to the wealth of information on religion in Africa.

Serials can be searched in the card and computer catalogs.

Vertical files:
The African Section has approximately 200 manuscript boxes containing pamphlet file material which is organized by region and country. Each area has a section for humanities in which one may find information on religion for that region. The files were established in 1960 and contain current and retrospective materials.

Subject Headings

African religions; Art and mythology; Christianity--Africa; Gods in art; Islam--Africa; Religion in art--Africa; Ritual--Africa

To contact the institution described in this entry, please use the contact information at the top of this page.
To submit updates and corrections for this entry, please use our comments form.
To ask a reference question, please use our Ask a Librarian form.
  Home >> Guides >> Religion
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  June 22, 2017
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian