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"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
Humanities and Social Sciences Division

Address: 101 Independence Avenue SE
Thomas Jefferson Building, Room LJ100
Washington, DC 20540-4610
Telephone Number: (202) 707-8476
(202) 707-1749
Fax Number: (202) 707-1957
Contact Persons: Cheryl Adams, Reference Librarian, Religion
Internet Catalog Address:

Access Policies

Hours of Service:
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 8:30 a.m.--9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Friday, Saturday 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, and members of the public, universities, and learned societies.

A Library of Congress Reader Registration Card is required to use the Main Reading Room. 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. Enter on the Second Street side of the Jefferson Building to locate this room.

Photocopying can be done by researchers with coin or debit card. The Library of Congress' Photoduplication Services can provide a wide range of reproductions of the Library's collections, such as single-page photocopies, microforms, 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 by contacting Photoduplication Services, Public Services Section, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4570. Telephone: (202) 707-5640. Fax: (202) 707-1771. TTY: (202) 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 material available on interlibrary loan. Certain rare, brittle, and other materials are not available for loan.

Reference Policy:
The Library of Congress encourages researchers to use local library resources first. Public, state, academic, and special libraries are often able to respond more quickly and thoroughly than the Library of Congress. Once researchers have exhausted local and regional resources, they may seek assistance from the Library of Congress. For help in planning a specific search strategy, users are invited to visit the Reference Assistance Room adjacent to the Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building. Librarians are available to assist researchers in the use of catalogs and reference materials, to refer readers to other bibliographic sources and other libraries, and to aid in locating materials not easily found. In some cases researchers will to go to another reading room to use specific catalogs and reference sources and to request materials.

The Library accepts telephone, mail, and e-mail inquiries regarding the collections of the Library. Reference librarians will not do research for readers.

Borrowing Privileges:
Not a lending institution.
OCLC, RLIN. Any materials cataloged and available in the Library of Congress online catalog are available through OCLC and RLIN. FirstSearch, an OCLC database including the Library's collections, and Eureka, an RLIN database providing the same service, are available to researchers in most reading rooms at the Library of Congress.
Background Note:
The Library of Congress was founded in 1800. After its collections were destroyed during the British attack on Washington in 1814, Thomas Jefferson made his eclectic and broad-ranging collection of approximately 6,500 books available for the reestablishment of the collection. The variety of Jefferson's library became the hallmark of the growing collection at the Library of Congress. The collection covers all subject areas with the exception of clinical medicine and technical agriculture, which are handled by the National Library of Medicine and the National Agricultural Library, respectively. The Library's general collection of books and serials consists of approximately 16 million volumes from throughout the world and represent 460 languages. The Library of Congress is particularly strong in materials received via copyright deposit from United States publishers and overseas publishers with distributors in the United States.

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Description of Collections

Books and monographs:

According to the National Shelflist Count of 1989, the Library of Congress had 364,467 titles in the classification BL-BX. Thousands of titles have arrived since this time. This number is large and includes both books and serials, yet it does not encompass all of the religion collections at the Library of Congress. One can find materials in many other classifications relating to religion, such as the N class for religious art; the D class for Islam, Judaism, and information on the religions of the indigenous people of many continents; the H and R classes for business and medical ethics; and the Z class for religion bibliography. Acquisition priorities include these areas: philosophy of religion, history and principles of religion, comparative religion, systems of theology and doctrine, liturgies and rituals, religion and society, and trends and developments of current or historic importance.

The evaluation of the Library's religion collections done through the RLG Conspectus (Research Libraries Group) of 1985 and 1987 places the Library at a level four, which is defined as a collection consisting of the "major published source materials required for dissertations and independent research." Materials collected from the 19th and 20th centuries are excellent and plentiful, with a particularly broad base of 20th century materials because of acquisitions obtained through the Copyright Program. Within the collection development guidelines, the Library collects and has collected all manner of monographs and periodicals in the field of religion, published not only in the United States, but also from countries worldwide. This material is not limited to those items published by or about the predominant religious groups within a country, but also include all those which may have significant religious impact, including clandestine groups. Inclusive publication dates of this collection are 1801 to the present. All pre-1801 materials are located in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

American Religious History--By virtue of its sheer volume, the strengths of the collection are many, yet the general collections are particularly strong in United States religious history. The holdings in this area are exceptionally broad, comprehensive, and they abundantly document the American religious experience. All the large religious groups in the country are covered, many by their own publications, along with the works by American religious leaders. A good proportion of the books are in English, but as with all Library of Congress collections, thousands of items are published abroad and are in foreign languages. The prominent role played by religion in the early colonies is evident in the many books on this topic, as well as in discussions of the events, culture, and society of the times. Quakers, Puritans, and to a lesser extent, Shakers are well represented. There are also materials on the Church of England, the Congregational Church, and others in the collection. One may find histories (from the early 19th century and the late 20th century), biographies of founders and leaders, and of special note, hundreds of minutes from church conferences from around the country. Histories of individual churches are also prevalent.

Sectarian groups are well represented in the general collections. The Library has an impressive number of works by and about Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science with nearly 800 books on the topic in the general collections alone (Rare Books and Special Collections has further material in this area). Books in related metaphysical areas, such as mental and spiritual healing and New Thought, number more than 2,400, books on spiritualism nearly 2,600. There are some 2,200 historical and current works by and about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith. These and other individuals and religious groups published sermons, homilies, and didactic pamphlets that found their way to the Library. Many of these fragile pamphlets have been microfilmed and keep company with thousands more in the Microform Reading Room. Examples range from a 1816 treatise on a Massachusetts Sabbath law to an 1871 Rosicrucian lecture on proper sexual relations.

Holiness and Pentecostalism as broad theological concepts are well represented in both scholarly and popular works from the 19th century through the current day. Works by and about individual groups, from the Church of God to the Toronto Blessing, can also be found. Titles such as Revivals and How to Have Them (1898) and Getting Ready for a Revival (1888), along with songbooks or sermons to move the crowd were common fare in the late 1800s. The Library has hundreds of these along with the writings of Dwight Moody, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham. Graham's life and work alone are covered in more than 100 titles in the general collections. Works on fundamentalism are equally available by looking at the names of individual groups and the term itself in the catalog.

As the end of the 19th century approached, the distinctly American movements of Adventism, the Millerite Movement, Seventh-day Adventism, and Millennialism appeared. This religious sense of a final end, the doctrine it entailed, and the necessity to shift theologically from an end-time movement to a long-term prospect is reflected in nearly 3,000 books from the mid-1800s to today.

Missionary work--The general collections have several thousand books and pamphlets by missionaries and missionary organizations. The local and international aspect of these missionary activities is reflected in the collection which includes reports and letters from missions and missionaries overseas, a Yoruba version of the Book of Common Prayer, examples of native languages written for the first time in primers and vocabularies, a lecture by missionaries to Japan describing Japanese customs to a United States audience, descriptions of bush life in Australia, and the late 19th-century diary and correspondence of a missionary to the western United States called Souls and Saddlebags. These writing reflect the variety of work these groups felt they must accomplish. The collection also includes works by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and other British societies.

There are pamphlets and tracts, often bound together as books, published by tract societies of the 19th century such as the American Tract Society, the Religious Tract Society, and the Virginia Religious Tract Society to name a few. The Microform Reading Room collections contain more missionary and tract materials. One may find the China Missions Oral History Collection, the Madagascar Records of the United Society of the Propagation of the Gospel, as well as the Religious Pamphlet Collection consisting of approximately 2,000 19th- and early 20th-century pamphlets by mission societies, church groups, and tract societies that discuss and interpret the Bible, guide children, and speak to issues of the day such as slavery and baptism.

The general collections also hold thousands of works by the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans, as well as a smaller number by other male and female religious orders. Their missionary work took place throughout the world, providing the general collections with reports and documents from such countries as Tibet, Russia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, France, Japan, and India, to name only a few. The Library has many books about these orders along with correspondence and reports, discussions of spiritual life, rules, histories, and much anthropological and linguistic research stemming from their work with native peoples. As with the missionary work mentioned above, these anthropological studies of the customs and languages of people from lands beyond the United States were some of the first such books published.

Religious youth movements--The Sunday School Movement prospered in the United States. The Library holds 19th- and 20th-century denominational question books, catechisms, and tools for teachers. The YMCA also had a hand in keeping youth close to the church, and a representative group of materials has been acquired for the general collections. One will see here the expected titles on water safety and YMCA camps, but also titles such as Young People and the Use of Atomic Power (1956) and Young People and YMCA Strategy in Wartime (1942), showing how this group tried to respond to challenges of the times.

Women--In the general collections one finds a broad scope of materials relating to women in religion, including Buddhist monastic training for women; the spiritual life of Hindu, Moslem, and Jewish women; Womanist theology; goddess religion; women missionaries; and lesbian clergy, to name just a few. Large collections of the writings of important religious leaders such as Mary Baker Eddy, as mentioned before, and Ellen G. White of the Seventh-day Adventists, are found here. The holdings are world-wide in scope and in innumerable languages. Because of the historical depth of the collection, they also give the researcher a sense of changes that have occurred in this area of study and in society.

African American religion--Because of the influence of the Copyright Office on the collection, the general collections have a representative amount of religious materials on African American churches, clergy, and religion in the 20th century. Most major book publications by the African Methodist Episcopal Church are available as are the works of other African American denominations. Of note is the microform collection entitled Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church Historical Museum in Manuscript and Print. Scattered early titles from the 19th century include works by missionaries to the African American community, and a number of titles on slavery and the church, such as the 1856 title, Scriptural Examination of the Institution of Slavery in the United States.

20th-century movements--The general collections have a noteworthy and representative array of items reflecting the rise in new religious movement of the 20th century. There are, for example, all English-language works by the Church of Scientology, numerous works about the Unification Church, and more by and about Sun Myung Moon. One can find the Urantia Book and its concordances and indexes, nearly 200 books by and about Edgar Cayce, and a microform edition of his actual readings in the Microform Reading Room. The New Age Movement is also well represented. Many sects, cults, and splinter groups, old and new, are represented in historical as well as contemporary accounts. The Library has collections on the People's Temple (Jonestown), the Branch Davidians, and other less well-known groups.

Scriptures--The Library's general collections offer an outstanding starting point with its extensive holdings of the sacred texts and other basic writings of all major and many minor religions worldwide, including all significant editions and translations of the Bible, Talmud, Tripitaka, Vedas, Upanishads, and others, as well as large numbers of interpretive or reference works about them.

Hundreds of translated versions exist for sacred texts. A researcher can read the Talmud in Spanish, the Qur'an in English, the Bible in Swahili, selections from the Buddhist Tripitaka in German, the Book of Mormon in Danish, or Hindi Vedas in Italian. One may also find a multitude of editions of the full Bible, the Old and New Testaments, and assorted Bible selections. There are polyglot Bibles, interlinear and parallel text Bibles as well as simplified, shorthand, hieroglyphic, annotated, self-study, illustrated, abridged, thumb, and pocket editions of the Bible. The Library holds items as varied as pocket New Testaments printed for Civil War soldiers and a Cowboy Pictorial Edition of the Bible published in the 1980s. There are not only Bibles for toddlers, children, teenagers, and the family, but also Bibles for learners, the sick, the liberal, busy people, and for students of literature and art. In languages they range from Amharic to Zulu. Practically every version of the Bible or part of the Bible in the English language is represented in the general collections.

The general collections have a rich array of children's Bibles and Bible stories, presenting a fascinating look at how various authors have presented the Bible to children through the last two centuries. Many follow the Bible closely, while other tales take a turn on the original story in an attempt to make it more meaningful to the current audience. An example of this is The Prodigal Daughter: Or a Strange and Wonderful Relation, Showing How a Gentleman of Great Estate in Bristol, had a Proud and Disobedient Daughter . . . (1800). 19th- and early 20th-century items are the most numerous, yet one will also find many modern picture books relating newer or distinctive versions of Bible stories such as David He No Fear by Lorenz Graham, told in the speech patterns and images of African people newly acquainted with the English language. Illustrations from any of these books tell much about the society of the time it was written. Fascinating pre-1801 children's Bibles and stories can be found in the Rare Book and Special Collection Division.

The holdings of printed Bibles, as well as the sacred texts of other religions, are complimented by facsimile editions of early printed and manuscript texts, and related microform collections. Examples are the Biblia Pauperum, a facsimile of one of the late-medieval picture-book versions of the Bible simplified for the literature, and the Pamplona Bibles, a facsimile compiled from two picture Bibles with martyrologies, originally commissioned by King Sancho el Fuete of Navarra in the early 13th century. The microform collections also contribute to the expansiveness of this collection. There one will find the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, a microform copy of the Library's Gutenberg Bible, an extensive collection of early printed Bibles and Bible translations from the 15th and 16th centuries, and early Bible manuscripts in Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic and Slavonic from Mount St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai.

Christianity (general)--The breadth of the Christian resources in the collection is comprehensive. There are more than 10,000 works dealing with liturgy and ritual. One will find Holiness, Swedenborgian, Catholic, Jewish, medieval, Armenian, Greek Orthodox or ecumenical liturgies, just to name a few. Others books discuss Christianity and society and trends and developments of current or historical importance, offering the researcher a wealth of information on almost any Christian denomination. The central writings by and about all religious leaders are found in the Library. Just to name one area of strength, one may look at the German Reformation to find approximately 2,400 books on Martin Luther alone and a goodly number in many languages on Calvin, Zwingli, and Tyndale. Catechisms, prayer books, lives of the saints, devotional tracts, and hymns number in the thousands. The researcher will also find ecumenical prayer and service books, studies on women, interfaith discussions, and conference proceedings.

Hymns and Hymnals--Hymns with music can be found in the Performing Arts Reading Room. A representative collection of hymns without music, a common form in the 19th century, is found in the general collections. One may find here not only English-language hymns, but also Seventh-day Adventist hymns in Serbian, Lutheran hymns in German, Norwegian, and Swedish, Orthodox Eastern hymns in Greek, and Baptist hymns in Burmese. Along with these, many of which were created for missions to foreign lands, one may find modern hymns, discussion, and history. The Library also has collections of hymns in the vernacular for Hinduism and Buddhism, but these are not part of the general collections. Please see the Asian Division entry.

Patristics--Patristic works are exceptionally well represented in the collection by original texts, translations, and commentaries. The Library of Congress has translations in other foreign languages when these include scholarly commentaries in critical notes. Important titles include Patrologia Latina, Patrologia Graeca, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Sources Chrétiennes, and the Post and Ante-Nicene Fathers. The Library also has useful resources on the Coptic and Syriac Churches as well as other ancient groups. Many of these have sizable portions in western languages or are part of a western series and thus is found in the general collections. Materials in the vernacular for Coptic and Syriac are accessed through the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division.

Eastern Orthodox Church--The Library of Congress has magnificent collections in Orthodox and Russian Orthodox materials. The Library of Congress has, in fact, the largest collection published by the Orthodox Church outside of Russia. All major scholarly works are represented complimented by a comprehensive collection of liturgical texts and service books. Because of the restrictions made on publishing in Russia, and then later in the Soviet Union from 1918 to the late 1980s, much of what was published in this field was done by Russian Orthodox exiles, such as Sergei Bulgakov and Georges Florovsky. The Library has an excellent collection of these materials. These important and influential works are not available in Russia. Orthodox works for Bulgaria, Serbia, and the Ukraine are also represented with good collections. Important pre-1801 collections can be found in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and the Manuscript Division holds the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America, Diocese of Alaska Records for 1844-1974 (a microform version is available in the Microform Reading Room).

Judaism--Judaism is well represented in 20th-century publications. Because of the Copyright Office, the general collections contain most 20th-century English language publications by Jewish presses in the United States and United States presses with titles on Jews and Judaism. Sacred works such as the Bible and Talmud are available in English and in many other languages, along with commentaries. There is also a good collection of 19th- and 20th-century rabbinic sermons. There is also a good collection of German monographs from the 19th and 20th centuries on Jews and Judaism in Germany. These include works by Jews and also anti-Semitic works as well.

Islam--Materials relating to the study of Islam in the general collections are especially rich since the 1950s, providing good resources for graduate-level research. All major schools of thought are represented. The addition of the collections available in the Near East Section (in the vernacular) makes the collections for the study of Islam at the Library superb. The Library has received almost everything about Islam produced in the United States through Copyright and acquisitions of 20th-century European publications have been excellent. The general collections contain translations of the Qur'an and Hadith and an excellent collection of travelogues from the 19th century which describe the life, customs, and religions of Islamic regions. Because of the Library's open acquisition policy, the Library collects broadly in Islamic materials, both geographically and philosophically. Works on major Islamic groups such as Sunnah and Shi'ah are well represented, but so are branches such as the Ahmadiyya and the Nation of Islam. Anti-Islamic materials are also held.

Baha'i--The Library of Congress has a significant collection of English language Baha'i materials published in the United States and a reasonable selection of English language Baha'i materials published elsewhere. Areas of focus include doctrine, history, and the sacred works of this faith. Works by and about the Baha'u'llah are numerous as well. After the New York Public Library and Baha'i organizations, the Library of Congress has one of the best English language Baha'i collections in the United States. Approximately 60% of all Baha'i publications are in English. Baha'i materials in the original languages are not a strength of the Library's collection.

Buddhism and Hinduism--Buddhism and Hinduism are each represented by two to three thousand books in Western languages, some in microformat. These include doctrine, practice, studies, history, and translations of sacred books. These sources in the general collections can support an undergraduate level of research. To study at a graduate level one must know the canonical languages of these religions. These canonical works can be found in the Asian Division bringing collections for the study of Buddhism and Hinduism at the Library of Congress to a very high level.

Bibliographies--Bibliographies often lead the researcher to materials not easily found through a subject search in the catalogs. There are hundreds of bibliographies on the topic of "religion" in the general collections, and the Library also holds bibliographies on very narrow topics such as: kachinas, Shakespeare's religious knowledge, temples of the ancient Near East, atheism in Bulgaria, Black Holiness, and urban religious groups. Many of the bibliographies can be found in the reference collection of the Main Reading Room but most are in the stacks of the Adams building. The card and computer catalogs cover all of the above categories of material.

Periodicals and newspapers:

The periodical collection parallels the books in scope and comprehensiveness. The exact number of serials relating to religion cannot be determined, but the National Shelflist Count gives an approximate count. Please see the introductory material under the books and monographs section above. As with the book collections, all languages and religions are represented.

The highlights of the periodical collections mirror those in the general book collection. Materials for study of the history of religion in the United States are robust. There is an outstanding array of 19th- and 20th-century Christian denominational proceedings, minutes, and journals. These are generally mainstream denominational publications, but they also include early fledgling serials from smaller groups such as the Christian Scientists and the Swedenborgians, as well as African American journals such as the Star of Zion from the A.M.E. Zion Church (available on microfilm). The greater proportion collected are those at a national level, but there are many at a local city level. English language materials are abundant, yet many publications are in the tongue of the mother church, for example, German, Swedish, or Polish.

The strength of the Russian Orthodox collections is reflected in the periodicals in this area. All major pre-revolutionary and Soviet periodicals relating to religion are in the general collections. Others are in the Microform Reading Room.

Numerous microform collections such as the American Periodical Series contain further denominational and religious periodicals. There is a fine collection of 19th and 20th century European runs of Jewish periodicals in the general collections as well as early printed materials by the American Oriental Society from 1843 to the present.

The card and computer catalogs cover these periodical collections.

Archives, manuscripts, correspondence, and oral histories:

Please see the entry for the Manuscript Reading Room and other reading rooms.

The microform collections relating to religion are large and varied in scope. The holdings include such works as Mayan religious texts, the Gutenberg Bible, Witchcraft in New England, the World Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order, and Manuscripts in St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai. Other collections, not specifically relating to religion, also hold materials of interest. One example is the French Revolution Research Collection which contains sermons, debates on the marriage of priests, documents and discussions of religious festivals and practice, and anti-clerical writings. Also, of special note is the Dissertation Abstracts International Collection. There are thousands of dissertations on varied topics in religion. The Library of Congress is the only repository, besides University Microfilms itself, which has the entire collection of dissertations going back to 1861.

The text of the Books/Monographs section contains note of a large amount of microform material.

The computer catalog covers microform materials. There is also a guide to much of the religion-related holdings entitled Microform Collections in Religion and Theology. Dissertations must be found through the Dissertation Abstracts International Index


Please see the entry for the Geography and Map Reading Room.
Videos and Sound Recordings:

Please see the entry for the Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division.
Paintings, photographs, slides, and prints:

Please see the entry for the Prints and Photographs Division.
Databases, CD-ROMS, and other machine-readable sources:

ATLA Database on CD-ROM

Subject Headings

'Abdu'l Baha, 1844-1921; Baha'i faith; Bible; Buddhism; Christian Science; Christian sects; Church history; Church history--United States; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Church of Scientology; Eastern Orthodox Church; Eddy, Mary Baker, 1821-1910; Franciscans; Fundamentalism; Hadith; Hinduism; Hymns and hymnals; Islam; Jesuits; Judaism; Liturgy; Luther, Martin, 1483-1546; Missions and missionaries; Patristics; Qur'an; Protestants; Religion--United States--History; Religious education of children; Religious tracts; Russian Orthodox Church; Sacred texts; Sermons; Society of Friends; Sunday schools; Talmud; World Council of Churches


Adams, Cheryl L., and Pablo A. Calvan. Microform Collections in Religion and Theology: A Guide. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Humanities and Social Sciences Division, 1995.

Albaugh, Gaylord, P. The History and Annotated Bibliography of American Religious Periodicals and Newspapers Established from 1730 through 1830. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1994.

Philosophy and Religion. [Online] Available Gopher. URL gopher:// collections.catalogs/collections/about/hum/philosophy.and.religion. October 1993.

Research Libraries Group. RLG Conspectus. {S.1.}:RLG, 1985- . Also available online via Research Libraries Group Information Network (RLIN).

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Graduate School of Library & Information Science. Library Research Center. National Shelflist Count: Titles Classified by Library of Congress and National Library of Medicine Classification, 1989. Urbana-Champaign: The Center, 1990.

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