Religious studies collection development policy

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Program information

The University offers the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in Religious Studies. The program emphasizes historical and textual studies of Judaism, Christianity (primarily Western Christianity), Islam and Asian religions, with work on the philosophy of religion and religion in America forming important parts of the program. A growing area of interest is the material culture of religion. The areas of religion in literature and the sociology of religion are also taught within and outside the department.

The major department served by the collection is the Religious Studies Department, which also coordinates the Religious Studies Graduate Group. Faculty in Ancient and Middle East Studies, History, the various literature departments, Sociology, as well art and music historians and anthropologists all study and teach materials dealing with religion. While the department is relatively small, the number of researchers making use of religious studies materials is not and crosses many departments.

Collection description

The size of the religious studies collections is hard to determine since they are located in many places and shelved according to several classification schemes. The Van Pelt collection is strongest for the historical and textual study of religion, with particular strengths in Antiquity, the Latin Middle Ages, Judaism and South Asia. Works on the religious traditions of non-western cultures are located in both the Museum and Van Pelt Libraries. Much material in Special Collections touches upon religion since a large proportion of early printed books are concerned with that topic. In particular, there are the Ross, Block and Evans Bible Collections. The Lea Library with its emphases on the Inquisition, witchcraft and canon law is one of the jewels of Special Collections. The materials held by the Center for Judaic Studies form an important research collection for Judaism, particularly for the ancient and medieval periods. The Yarnall Library, on deposit in Van Pelt, provides an important collection of materials on the Anglican Communion and is strong in the sources for the study of early and medieval Christianity. There are major resources for religious studies in microform collections such as Early English books, Flugschriften des fruhen 16. Jahrhunderts, and the Witchcraft Collection. There are also some codex manuscripts, such as a Wycliffe New Testament, a 15th century manuscript containing works by Gerson and Cairo Genizeh fragments. The library holds a number of electronic resources for the study of religion:  such as the Cetedoc library of Christian Latin Texts, the WWW version of the Patrologia Latina, and a subscription to the ATLAS Serials Project of electronic journals.

Guidelines for Collection Development

1. Chronological

There are no chronological limits to the collection, which ranges from prehistoric and traditional religions to modern unbelief.

2. Formats

Materials are collected in most formats, although textbooks and unpublished dissertations are acquired only upon specific request. We especially welcome requests for video recordings. The Library organizes and maintains collections of subject-based Internet links useful to students and scholars. Sites devoted to the study of religion are included in the Religious Studies page.

3. Geographical

The are no geographic restrictions.

4. Language

There are no restrictions on languages; however, materials in non-Roman scripts are selected by the appropriate units and/or bibliographers.

5. Publication dates

Emphasis in selection is placed on current materials, with retrospective purchasing done for lost or missing items and items specifically requested.

Principal sources of supply and major selection tools

Material is chiefly acquired through approval and slip plans with major American and European vendors. Foreign materials are also acquired through standing orders for major academic series and especially for critical editions. Reviews are scanned in The Journal of Religion and Religious Studies Review. 

  • Subjects collected and levels of collecting

    The collection emphasizes academic studies in the history and culture of religion. Titles are especially sought that are texts, defined broadly, and other primary sources. While there is a move away from a "world religion" approach in the field, any religion may be a topic and any approach may be used. For example, ethnographic studies that focus on religion are purchased. 

Subjects excluded

Major subjects excluded are those relating to "practical" religion, religious education for example. This means that most popular religious literature is not purchased, although studies of such may be included. In addition, liturgics (see Yarnall and CJS), sermons and homiletics, pastoral psychology, and non-historical works relating to individual denominations are also excluded.

Cooperative arrangements

Significant collections relating to individual denominations can be found at St. Charles Seminary (Roman Catholic), Lutheran Theological Seminary, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian Historical Society, Haverford College (Society of Friends), as well as at Temple University, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr.

Related subject collections