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 East Division
Near East Section

Address: 101 Independence Avenue SE
Thomas Jefferson Building, Room LJ220
Washington, DC 20540-4820
Telephone Number: (202) 707-7937
Fax Number: (202) 252-3180
Contact Persons: Levon Avdoyan, PhD, Area Specialist: Armenia and Georgia
Hirad Dinavari, Area Specialist: Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan
Muhannad Salhi, PhD, Area Specialist: Arab and Islamic World
Fawzi Tadros, Senior Reference Specialist: Arab and Islamic World
Joan Weeks, Near East Section Head and Area Specialist:Turkey,Turkish Central Asia and the Turkic World
Email Address: [email protected]
Online Catalog

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, and 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 Eastern 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. 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 services of the Near East Section 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 electronic mail. In-person readers must obtain a Reader Registration Card to use the collection.
Borrowing Privileges:
Not a lending institution.
OCLC, RLIN. All cataloged materials found in the computerized catalog will be found on OCLC and RLIN. These catalogs cover a large part of the monograph and serial collections.
Background Note:
The Near East Section is a part of the African and Middle Eastern Division. The Section was established in August 1945 as part of the former Orientalia Division and signaled the recognition of a need in the Library of Congress for accelerated development of the Near East Collections to meet the country's expanding interest in the Near and Middle Eastern countries. A decision was made to separate Near Eastern affairs from the Semitic Division and assign to the new section the responsibility of handling the custodial, reference, and bibliographic affairs of the Near East. The term "Near East" as it is now used does not, in reality, correspond to the geographic areas covered by the section's activities which include the whole Arab World, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. The Section is now assigned the responsibility of handling the Library's reference and bibliographic services for Islam; the Arab World, including North Africa, Turkey, Afghanistan, Malta; and also Armenia.

Return to top of page.

Description of Collections

Books and monographs:
Arabic language and Islamic Collections: Collections of Islamic materials on all topics are in the custody of many divisions at LC, including a large portion of English and European language materials in the general collections. The largest portion of materials in the Near East and Southern Asian Sections include items in the vernacular languages of about 51 countries with Islamic populations. If all Library of Congress collections relating to Islam were to be combined they would reach nearly one million items in number. Compared with other national libraries (British, French, Russian), the Library of Congress' is superior except in the areas of book manuscripts and archival non-American materials. Materials dealing with Islam as a religion number some 300,000.

Because of Overseas Operations, the Cairo Office, purchases from Europe, and copyright deposits, the collection on Islam is international in scope and wide ranging in Islamic viewpoint. Publications since the establishment of the Division in 1945 are particularly strong.

Researchers coming to the Near East Division are able to find the materials to do in-depth and extensive research in the area of Islam, both in classical and modern materials. They are abundant classical sources in theology and philosophy, with all leading theologians from the 9th to the 14th centuries well represented in many editions. The European Renaissance was strongly influenced by medieval Latin translations of early Arabic materials. A solid collection of these rare books are found here. The Library contains the most important reference tools and bibliographies in all languages for the study of Islam. These include such works as World Bibliography of Translations of The Meanings of The Holy Koran: Printed Translations, 1515-1980, the Encyclopedia of Islam, and others.

Another strength of the collection is in the area of Islamic movements and sects with a particularly good collection on the Wahabi movement and its related offshoots, including Sanusiyah, Salafiyah, Moslem Brothers, and Khumaynism. These are important in themselves and in understanding the fundamentalist theology of today. Because of the comprehensiveness of the collections, one may also find the works by and about more divergent Islamic groups such as Ahmadiyah and Ausar Allah. The Sufism and Shi'ah Islamic collections are large and comprehensive.

There was a re-introduction of Islam into Central Asia or the Former Soviet Union in the 8th century. This area of study is reflected in turn-of-the-century reprints and re-editions of Islamic materials held in the collection. There are some Islamic materials from Western China, but not much has been published since 1989.

The Library has a vast collection in the area of the Qur'an. This collection includes manuscripts of the Qur'an, facsimiles, translations, tafsir or commentaries, and studies about the Qur'an in both books and articles in many languages. The Qur'an itself is available in the Arabic script in which it was first written, and 40 different translations. The collection also includes the Hadith or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed in Arabic and other languages.

Persian Collections--The Persian and its cognate languages collection (Pushto, Dari, Tajik, Bluchi, and Kurdish) comprise a variety of materials in all fields of knowledge. The collection in the Persian or Farsi language consists of 25,000 cataloged volumes and is strong in literature, history, economics and religion and philosophy. About 5,000 of these 25,000 deal with Islam in Farsi language countries. Because this number does not incorporate the uncataloged and minimum level cataloged items, one may estimate that the Near East Section actually has four to five times this number of books in their collection. The Persian specialist can help researchers with these items.

The Library began collecting books for the Persian collections in the 1940s after WWII when publishing in Iran began to flourish. A strong research collection was obtained. Purchases since 1979 have been particularly strong, with the Near East Section obtaining about 70% of what is published in Iran in the area of religion and a considerable amount of publications from Afghanistan as well. A good portion of these post-1979 books relate to religion, philosophy and social justice in terms of Islamic philosophy. Of interest also is the complete set of Iranian Parliamentary Debates beginning in 1907. These serve as a good example of the inter-relationship between religion and state as not only are a large number of representatives are religious leaders, but as a matter of course each bill must be accepted to have religious value by an outside religious leader before it can become law.

There is much material in the general collection in English and European languages with a particular strength in Sufism and works by the Sufi poet, Rumi.

Turkish Collections--The Turkish collection numbers some 40,000 books; 10,000 of these were published during the Ottoman Empire, while 30,000 are modern Turkish. Approximately 7,000 of these 40,000 deal with religion. The relationship between the religion of Islam and the government of Turkey, a secular state, is strongly represented in this collection. Much of this material concerns Islam in Turkey, while the majority deals with Sunni Islam. There are also books on sectarian movements, particularly the Alevi.

Armenian Collection--There are approximately 13,000 books in the monographic collection. Because the Armenian alphabet was principally created for the evangelization of Armenia and Georgia all Armenian literature is therefore Christian literature. Within this collection there are monographic materials capable of supporting research on the Armenian church and religion supplemented by important religious monographs and series in the general collections. Examples of the latter include the Patrologia Orientalis and the Corpus Scriptorium Christianorum Orientalium. The collection also includes early works of the pagan religions of Armenia, Georgia, and Anatolia

One will also find publications of the two Armenian Catholic Mekhitarist monasteries of Venice and Vienna representing an almost complete set of the output of the religious order since the 1700s. There are a number of early imprints from Constantinople and Echmiazin which include The Book of Redemption by Catholicos Simeon of Yerevan printed in 1779.

Georgian Collection--Although Georgian is a language of the Caucasus, the Near East Section has custody over the cataloged collection. Much of the Georgian material consisting of approximately 6,000 volumes is still uncataloged, though cataloging has recently accelerated and is proceeding. No satisfactory evaluation of the collection can be made at present; however one may safely state that the collection is rich in modern Georgian literature and history. As with the Armenian collection, all Georgian literature is Christian since its alphabet was created for the propagation of Christianity.

Catalogs--Near East National Union List (in preparation): This is a main entry catalog of works in Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Modern Turkish, and Pushto, which have been reported to the National Union Catalog by libraries in the United States and Canada. This catalog will cover printed publications (both monographic and serial) which appeared in 1978 or earlier, and those few manuscripts for which reports have been received. This catalog is in romanized form throughout. While in preparation, only the staff members of the section may use this catalog. They will be happy to assist readers when its use is called for.

There are title and subject catalogs for Arabic, Persian, Pushto, Turkish, Armenian (also author shelf-list files), and Central Asia. There are also smaller, but incomplete catalogs or hand lists for series, cataloged Arabic serials, monographs and manuscripts on microfilm, and the Mansuri Collection.

The computer catalog includes all general collection materials related to religion in the Near East.

Periodicals and newspapers:
Arabic Serials--Out of a collection of approximately 5,000 Arabic serials, 244 have the subject heading Islam.

Armenian Serials--The Near East Section has a collection of the most important Armenia serials beginning with the late 19th century to the present, including many vital publications of the Armenian Church both in Armenia and from the Armenian Diaspora.

Persian Serials--The Near East Section has 40 to 50 current journal subscriptions from Farsi language countries. Religion is not the focus of these journals yet since 1979 most journals contain long articles on religion The newspaper collection is rich with 325 titles from 1871-1996. Most contain articles relating to Islam and religion. The Near East Section also has dissident papers published since 1979 that are critical of Islam and the current regime. There are also some 80-90 journals in Persian, most containing articles on Zoroastrianism. These journals begin in the 1920s and continue through current times. There are also a few journals dealing with Zoroastrianism in the general collections, some difficult to find in other institutions.

Turkish Serials--The Near East Section has 19th- and 20th-century serials dealing with Islamic movements in Turkey, both past and present.

Legal material related to the Near East and Africa is in the custody of the Eastern Law Division of the Law Library, which holds extensive collections of periodicals dealing with Islamic law. See the Library of Congress, Law Library entry.

Archives, manuscripts, correspondence, and oral histories:
The Minassian Collection--During the 1930s, the Library acquired from Kirkor Minassian (1847?-1944), a New York art dealer, over 300 item related to the development of writing and the book arts in the Middle East. The collection included book manuscripts, book bindings, calligraphy sheets, miniatures, and religious scrolls. There are more than two hundred calligraphy sheets (a few were added from other sources) that contain fragments of the Qur'an in Kufic script from the 9th and 10th centuries. There is also a Persian genealogy of the Prophet Mohammed in scroll form containing 31 different styles of script.

The Mansuri Collection--In 1945, the Library purchased a collection of printed books and manuscripts form Shaykh Mahmud al-Iman al-Mansuri, professor of religion at the al-Azhar University, Cairo. Assembled by the Shaykh from sources in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, the collection deals with virtually every aspect of Qur'anic and Islamic studies and includes commentaries, biographies, dictionaries, and works on history, literature, and philosophy. Approximately 1,300 of the 5,000 volumes that comprise the collection are book manuscripts.

The Arabic manuscript collection is rich in works dealing with the Islamic religion. Of particular interest are fragments from the Qur'an in Kufic script from the fifth century A.H./11th century A.D.

Persian manuscripts and rare books relating to religion number about 20. Some of theses are prayer books that are exquisitely written and illuminated; others have bindings that are lacquered or gilded. Most of these materials were written by Persian scholars in India in the 16th century forward. The famous Islamic poets Sa'adi and Hafiz are represented.

There are seven Armenian manuscripts, mostly of a religious nature. These include liturgies and gospels, the earliest from the 13th century. Many are profusely illustrated.

Turkish manuscripts: a collection of approximately 100 deals mostly with religious subjects. There are some interesting titles such as Tezkiretu'l-Evliya copied by Muhammed Haravi in 1526. This is one of three known copies of the anonymous translation of ‘Attar's work made for Aydinoglu Mehmed beg in 1334. There is also Muhammediyye by Yazuoglu Mehmed in 1558 and Acaibu'l-Mahlukat, an illuminated copy of the Turkish translation made for Suleyman the Magnificent's son Mustafa. The latter is undated but was probably created in the late 16th century.

Manuscripts in the Libraries of the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates in Jerusalem--This collection of codices and scrolls was microfilmed in Jerusalem by the Library of Congress 1949-1950. There are 1,027 microfilm reels housed in the Microform Reading Room. A Checklist is available. Catholic Microfilm Center Collection--This collection, all on microfilm, was donated from the now defunct Catholic Microfilm Center in California. It consists of copies of manuscripts in Arabic and Syriac dealing mostly with religion found in the libraries of Syrian and Lebanese monasteries and learned institutions. There is a rudimentary catalog of the manuscripts which can be consulted in the section. The Center has authorized the Library to reproduce copies of any of the manuscripts without any special reservation. Manuscripts in the St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai--In 1950, the Library of Congress undertook a huge expedition to microfilm in situ the manuscripts of St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. As a result, a collection made up of 1,700 reels of film and 1,228 photographs was produced containing 1,687 titles of manuscripts of which 306 were in Arabic, 1,087 in Greek, and the rest in nine other languages. These microfilms are in the custody of the Microform Reading Room. The Near East Section holds aChecklist to this collection and a guide entitled The Arabic Manuscripts of Mount Sinai.
All maps, except some atlases for reference, are in the custody of the Geography and Map Division, which holds a substantial number of maps from the Near East and Africa including those relating to religion in those areas. See also the Geography and Map Division description.
Paintings, photographs, slides, and prints:
The Prints and Photographs Division holds the Matson Collection, consisting of approximately 25,000 slides taken during the 1920s and 1930s of Palestine in general and Jerusalem in particular. There is also a small collection of photographs of the Arab World and Saudi Arabia, in the Hairier Collection. Some of these may contain some religion. See also the Prints and Photographs Division description.

Subject Headings

Ahmadiyya; Armenian Church; Bektashi; Hadith; Holy Land; Islam--Central Asia; Islam--Iran; Islam--North Africa; Islam--Turkey; Islam and literature; Islam and politics; Islam and secularism; Islam and state; Islam and the social sciences; Islamic architecture; Islamic art; Islamic banking; Islamic calligraphy; Islamic civilization; Islamic economics; Islamic ethics in literature; Islamic fundamentalism; Islamic law; Islamic philosophy; Islamic religious education; Islamic renewal; Islamic sects; Islamic theology; Kharijites; Khumaynism; Mohammed, Prophet, d. 632; Moslem Brothers; Moslem scholars; Moslem scientists; Moslems; Pillars of Islam; Qur'an; Salafiyah; Sanusiyah; Shi'ah; Shiite literature; Sufism; Women in Islam; Zoroastrianism


Pourhadi, Ibrahim. Iran and the United States, 1979-1981: Three Years of Confrontation: A Selected List of References. Washington, DC: Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress, 1982.

Pourhadi, Ibrahim. Persian and Afghan Newspapers in the Library of Congress, 1871-1978. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1979.

Selim, George Dimitri. American Doctoral Dissertations on the Arab World, 1883-1974. Washington, DC: Library of Congress: GPO, 1976 (and Supplements for 1975-1981 and 1981-1987).

Tadros, Fawzi Mikhail. The Holy Koran in the Library of Congress: A Bibliography. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1993.

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