Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES
- 19 -- RELIGION


The collections of the Research Libraries in the area of religion emphasize the impact of religion on society rather than individual religious experience. Intensive coverage of the subject is considered to be the province of the theological libraries of the community. Nevertheless, the total resources of the library number almost 100,000 volumes, and there is an attempt to be comprehensive in the fields of history of religion, biography of religious figures, bibliographies, and clerical lists. Certain religious sects such as the Shakers, the Mormons, the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Christian Scientists are given particular attention, since some are indigenous religions and all have played a part in the development of the United States. In most other aspects of the subject, the collecting policy is selective, with variations noted in the more detailed discussions that follow.

A brief listing indicates the development of the holdings in this area:

1854Astor Library3,752 volumes
1921New York Public Library58,592

In 1855 the Astor Library's collection on theology was described as including the best editions of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the Walton Polyglott, various editions of the Vulgate, and numerous versions of the whole Bible, and parts of it, in the principal languages of Europe and the East. The collection of the Fathers is full, but not absolutely complete, and contains most of the Benedictine editions, the Bibliotheca Maxima of Despont, the Patres Apostolici of Cotelerius, and many other works of this class of less note. It is equally well provided with works on the Councils, including Colet's edition of Labbé, in 29 volumes; the Concilia Maxima, in 37 volumes folio: Beveridge's Synodicon, Lorenzana, Concilianos provinciales, etc. It is also respectable in scholastic, dogmatic, parenetic and polemic theology, including the early and more recent English Divines in the best editions.1

By 1877 theology as a collecting field had been deemphasized by the Astor Library since other libraries of the city covered this field. In 1883, however, a gift from John Jacob Astor made possible needed additions. The Lenox Library had an unusually extensive file of the "Jesuit Relations" relating to both America and the Far East; a list of books on this subject appeared as No. II of the Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library. The Stuart Collection, which came to the Lenox Library in 1892, contained some 2,000 volumes relating to theology and ecclesiastical history; many of these titles are now duplicated in the library's general collections. In 1894 purchases at the George H. Moore library and Livermore sales added important catechisms.

In 1897 the library secured the Reverend W.H. Treadway's collection of sermons, about 20,000 pieces. In 1899, Helen Miller Gould (Mrs. Finly Shepard) presented the Berrian collection on Mormonism with materials on the Reorganized Church, and on James J. Strang.

In 1914, Miss Isabel Hapgood was instrumental in the library's receiving over 500 theological works, presented by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church through the courtesy of the Most Reverend Platon. In 1923, Frank A. Peterson gave a large collection relating to the Seventh Day Adventists, including the publications of that group, a collection to which he subsequently added. In the same year the library purchased a collection of 5,000 publications issued by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, consisting of catechisms, tracts, portions of the Gospels, the Bible, and other religious books in native dialects of India, Africa, and other parts of the world.