Guide to the Research Collections

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


Resources in Religions

Materials which deal in a general way with the religions of the world number some 5,000 volumes. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the bibliography and history of religion are collected comprehensively; periodical and society publications are acquired selectively. Periodical holdings include such titles as Archiv für Religionswissenschaft (1898-1934), Hibbert Journal (1902- ) and Recherches de science réligieuse (1910-34). Files are usually complete for issues through 1934, when a number of subscriptions were discontinued. Noteworthy features are the philosophy of religion, manuals, and comparative studies, with representative nineteenth- and twentieth-century works. There are rich pamphlet collections of eighteenth-to twentieth-century essays and miscellanies.

Among non-Christian religions the holdings are particularly extensive for the classical religions and are complemented by associated materials in archaeology and anthropology. Teutonic religions are also well represented, not only by a good collection of formal treatises but also by substantial holdings of sagas and an unusual group of periodicals, both literary and historical. Oriental religions and Judaism are treated separately in the following section.

Oriental Religions

Only general works on Oriental religions and Islamic theology are collected comprehensively by the Oriental Division; other religions are given representative or selective treatment. A number of spiritual disciplines or philosophical systems that have religious elements are treated in the discussion of Oriental philosophy in chapter 18 of this Guide.

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Approximately 1,000 volumes on the Islamic religion are available, including about 160 editions of the Koran in Arabic and fifteen other languages. The earliest examples are fragments in the Manuscripts and Archives Division dating probably from the eighth to tenth centuries, in Kufic characters. Other rarities include English, Latin, and German translations from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Also found are some 400 works on the Koran, 200 on the lives of the prophets, and 200 on Islamic tradition. The 150 volumes on pilgrimages include a first edition of Sir Richard Burton's celebrated Personal Narrative (1855), describing his journey to Mecca. The works of Theodore Gaster and Henri Frankfort are representative of more recent material on Oriental religions.

Beginning with ancient Egypt (with an emphasis on religion's archaeological aspect), the resources of the Oriental Division follow the course of religious thought through Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Hinduism, Brahminism, Sikhism, Buddhism (a strong collection covering all of Asia), Lamaism and the Bon religion of Tibet, Taoism and Confucianism in China, and Shintoism in Japan. A comprehensive collection of the Persian liturgical texts in Avestan and Pahlevi is available. There is also a good deal of material on Christianity in the Orient, including Nestorianism and the Ethiopian, Maronite, and Melchite Churches. Printed collections produced by various learned societies such as the Pali Text Society reinforce the holdings of monographs.

Pictorial and textual information on the rituals and liturgies of the Oriental religions may be found in the Spencer Collection.


The Judaic religion is well covered in the Jewish Division, although no attempt is made to achieve the comprehensive coverage provided by theological seminary libraries. There are about 12,500 volumes in the holdings. The collecting policy is generally representative or selective.

The Talmud and Talmudic literature comprise about 2,900 volumes, including editions published in Pesaro and Venice in the sixteenth century. There is also a first edition of the Jerusalem Talmud (Venice, 1523) and commentaries by Solomon ben Adret (Venice, 1522).

About 2,200 volumes represent the halacha and responsa. Among them are Jacob ben Asher's Arbaah Turim (Piove di Sacco, 1475), the second dated book printed in Hebrew. Another code of religious law written by Moses Maimonides dates from 1490, and a similar work by Moses ben Jacob of Coucy is dated Soncino, 1488. These works are all available in later editions as well. Notable among the collections of responsa, for which there is a card index, are those of Solomon ben Adret, chief rabbi of Barcelona (Rome, 1480), and of Asher ben Jehiel (Constantinople, 1517).

Two manuscript mahzors of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries according to the Ashkenazic (German) rite are among the treasures of the Research Libraries. They form part of some 1,800 volumes on liturgy and ritual in the Jewish Division. A mahzor according to the Roman rite was printed in Soncino in 1485. With the Hebrew manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division are a number of Yemeni liturgical texts written in the eighteenth century.

Homiletic literature and sermons number about 2,000 volumes, mostly in Hebrew, but including materials in Yiddish and English. Midrashim are a feature of the holdings. Isaac ben Moses Arama's sermons, published in Salonica in 1522, are noteworthy. Individual sermons are classed by author and by subject (i.e., "Sermons, American"; "Sermons, Hebrew") in the Jewish Division Catalog. This is no longer a feature of the Public Catalog.

The various Jewish sects, ancient and modern, are well represented. The writings pertaining to the pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and so on are of wide interest. The oldest Jewish sect is that of the Samaritans; the collections contain virtually everything obtainable in printed form written by and about them. Next in point of age is the sect known as the Karaites, whose early history lies in obscurity. There is an almost complete collection of the known printed texts produced by writers of this sect, with equally complete resources about it.

Hasidism and the Kabbalah, both of which are strongly represented in the collections of the Jewish Division, are discussed in chapters 10 and 18 of this Guide.


The collections attempt comprehensive coverage of the history of Christianity with the exception of essays, miscellanies, and periodical and society publications, which are acquired selectively. Holdings are particularly strong in biographical material, bibliographies, directories, and church histories. There has been no attempt to build resources in the field of Christian theology, and apart from such standard works as the Acta Sanctorum and other writings of the early Fathers, little theological material is to be found.

Material of specific interest includes a growing collection of books about Saint Rose of Lima, the first American to be canonized, and the Berg Collection copy of the first English edition of John Foxe's Actes and Monuments of These Latter and Perillous Dayes (1563), better known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

Materials associated with the celebration of Christmas include original works of graphic art issued as Christmas cards, collected by the Prints Division, and privately printed Christmas greetings produced in limited editions, collected by the Rare Book Division. There are some 1,400 of the latter, documented in a special card file. The Spencer Collection has strong holdings in the iconography of the Nativity.

Jesus Christ:

A strong collection, extensively subdivided and documented by 5,000 card entries in the Public Catalog, relates to Jesus Christ. Although only biographical materials are now acquired comprehensively, the library has always collected extensively in the iconography of Christian art. "Christus in Arte," an unusual collection in the Art and Architecture Division, consists of 25 bound volumes of pictorial documents dealing with the life of the Savior. The first group of 15 bound volumes was given in 1920 by John Powell Lenox of Oak Park, Illinois.2 In 1951 Madame Lucie Lenox-Darcy and her husband Emery Darcy added 800 pictures, several unframed originals, and a bound volume of letters, press clippings,

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and illustrations.3 Resources in this area are arranged by form rather than by subject: prints are to be found in the Prints Division and art books in the Art and Architecture Division. Notable in this very extensive archive are original works by Dürer, Cranach, and Urs Graf.

In accordance with the attempt of the Research Libraries to document all sides of a question, materials hostile to Christianity are collected comprehensively and number some 2,000 books and pamphlets, including a good selection of items on and by Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Charles Bradlaugh, and Annie Besant. Among notable items are Anthony Collins's Discourse of Free-thinking (1713) with Jonathan Swift's version in "plain English" of the same year, and a copy of Ethan Allen's Reason the Only Oracle of Man (1784). The Irving Levy collection of pamphlets and other literature on free thought was given in 1923.


The holding of sermons is extensive. Current collecting policy assures selective acquisition of published sermons delivered in New York City or by internationally known preachers such as William Ashley (Billy) Sunday or William Franklin (Billy) Graham. The most important group of sermons is from the United States. The Reverend W.H. Treadway's collection of sermons, about 20,000 pieces, was secured in 1897. The great mass of these sermons are bound in pamphlet volumes: there are also scrapbooks of sermons clipped from newspapers, pictures, portraits, and other material. Only collections appear under the subject heading "Sermons" in the Public Catalog; individual sermons must be located through the name of the author. Entries for sermons as a literary form subdivided by country are found in file drawers located on the balcony of Room 315. The entries cover material acquired before 1940 when the use of literary form headings in the major languages was discontinued. The Jewish Division continues to catalog sermons of Jewish interest under the form heading "Sermons."

The collections of sermons in the Rare Book Division include at least one incunabulum: Bernard of Clairvaux's sermons, dated 1494. A strong group of election sermons, preached each year at the opening session of the legislature, are most extensive for Massachusetts and Connecticut and range in date from 1663 to 1884.4 A number of Mexican sermons are interesting examples of early imprints. Sermons by individual preachers include a copy of Robert Cushman's A Sermon Preached at Plimmoth (London, 1622), probably the first printed sermon delivered by a North American preacher, and sermons by George Whitfield. A particularly extensive collection of Jonathan Edwards' works includes first printings of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and God Glorified in the Work of Redemption. The Manuscripts and Archives Division holds additional North American sermons.


About 7,000 volumes on Christian missions include periodicals, the publications and reports of societies and organizations, and a notable representation of publications of the missions themselves. Material on the American Indian is of particular note, as is the collection of some 5,000 titles 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. Supplementary sources include an excellent collection of colonial governmental reports issued by supervisory bureaus for missions.

The collection of Jesuit letters from North American missions ("Jesuit Relations") is one of the finest in existence, being founded on the acquisitions of James Lenox. Among the most prized items are the 1632 Le Jeune edition (McCoy 1): the Le Mercier edition of 1656 (McCoy 96); and the Lallemant edition of 1660 (McCoy 104)5 There are also strong holdings of Jesuit letters from missions in the East. Dating from the late sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the reports cover such countries as Mexico, Peru, Chile, Ethiopia, China, India, and Japan. The Rare Book Division fills gaps in these holdings when possible. The division's total resources listed under Jesuits and Jesuitism numbers about 900 separate title entries. A list of the original Lenox holdings appeared as No. II of the Lenox Library's Contributions to a Catalogue of the Lenox Library.

Resources in Christian Denominations

Holdings in Christian denominations are strongest in the area of history, and less comprehensive in matters of doctrine and other aspects of the subject. There is a conscious effort, however, to acquire all material documenting changes in church polity, such as the publications of the Vatican Councils.

General church history is well covered, with such standard sets as the Gallia Christiana and Espa&nmacr;a Sagrada. Materials for the English churches include parish and diocesan registers, the publications of the Canterbury, York, and Cantilupe Societies, and the volumes issued by local record societies. The national convention reports of the United States denominations and the reports of regional New York conventions are collected.

Extensive materials relating to individual American and foreign churches are located in the Local History and Genealogy Division, while works on ecclesiastical art and architecture are held by the Art and Architecture Division. The publications of learned societies, which are often indexed in the library's catalogs, frequently provide information in these areas.

Eastern Orthodox Churches

The Slavonic Division catalog holds some 1,200 entries for the Eastern Orthodox Church. The extensive collections of works of Old Church Slavonic are notable for their linguistic value, but the resources also contain numerous liturgical works. The Spencer Collection holds other illustrated examples of liturgical manuscripts, as well as manuscript texts used in the Armenian Church.

Roman Catholic Church

In the Research Libraries are found some 15,400 volumes on the Roman Catholic Church. Comprehensive collections are maintained in the field

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of Church history and in the history of individual orders, particularly the Jesuits and specifically Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier: an unusual set of the "Jesuit Relations" documents the early work of the order in world missions. Clerical lists and directories are also collected comprehensively; materials in other categories are collected on a representative or selective basis. The publications of the Church and of religious orders are collected. Among historic Catholic parties, the Jansenists are especially well represented, with supportive literary and educational material. A noteworthy collection relating to Church policy and canon law includes some 125 editions of Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the earliest dated 1550. A remarkable example of pictorial materials documenting the affairs of the Church exists in the Spencer Collection's manuscript copy of Ulrich von Richental's "Chronicle of the Council of Constance," written in the South-German dialect and illustrated by a contemporary artist about 1450-60.6

Materials on the Inquisition are comprehensively collected. Among strong holdings for Mexico and the South American countries are a number of broadsides of the early nineteenth century (in the Rare Book Division) and a group of manuscript documents in Spanish which relate to the edicts and proceedings of the Inquisition in Mexico between 1622 and 1680 (in the Manuscripts and Archives Division).

Histories of local parishes and individual churches, printed church records, and ecclesiastical heraldry are collected by the Local History and Genealogy Division.


The history and bibliography of the Protestant Churches are collected comprehensively. A collection relating to the Anglican Churches is of considerable historical interest; there is a good representation of the reports of diocesan conventions of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and excellent pamphlet materials dealing with the history of the Church of Scotland. The published histories and the writings of founders and principal leaders of the Protestant denominations are usually present, and there are special materials for some denominations: historical works relating to the Baptists were purchased from the library of the Reverend W.R. Williams in 1896; holdings for the New Jerusalem Church include an excellent collection of Swedenborg's works. Of particular note, and given separate attention below, are the resources for the Shakers, the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and the Christian Scientists.

The Local History and Genealogy Division collects comprehensively and retrospectively printed parish registers from the United States, Canada, and the British Isles, including Northern Ireland. It acquires few similar records for Europe or South America, although any materials received are cataloged. British parish registers are best represented; more material of this type has been published in Great Britain than elsewhere, the larger part of it from the late nineteenth century to the present. In recent years many church records have been published in historical and genealogical periodicals. Indexing of this material in the library's card catalogs is confined to records of New York City. Much of the material over a wider geographical area can be found in commercial indexes.

The Research Libraries' holdings of early titles printed in the United States and England as listed in H.M. Dexter's The Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years as Seen in Its Literature (1880) are creditable.


The Methodist Historical Society has placed on deposit with the New York Public Library the records of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City, as well as records of many congregations in Long Island, Westchester County, New York State, and New Jersey. Covering the period 1784 to 1937, the archive consists of nearly 500 volumes and boxes of material. Further papers were donated by Mrs. Gino Speranza in 1949, including 6 roll books of St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City, and various papers and records of St. Luke's Methodist Episcopal Church in the city, also miscellaneous papers of the Church Extension Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The period covered is form 1861 to 1904. Further church records include a volume of Kingston, New York, church records for the period 1681 to 1683, and the New Harlem Deacon's Book in 9 volumes for the period 1672 to 1674; both are written in Dutch. They were donated by the Title Guarantee and Trust Company of New York in 1917, as part of the James Riker papers.

The library holds photostats and typewritten transcripts of original letters and documents exchanged between the Consistory of the Lutheran Church in Amsterdam and the congregation in Manhattan for the period 1649 to 1772. Translations, photostats of which are on file, were published in the library's Bulletin.7

Papers of religious leaders in the Manuscripts and Archives Division include those of Horace N. Allen (Presbyterian missionary to China and Korea; Minister to Korea); Joseph Anderson, Henry Ward Beecher, John Davenport,8 and Jedidiah Morse (Congregational clergymen); Alfred Williams Anthony and John Betts Calvert (Baptist clergymen); Richard Heber Newton and Henry Dana Ward (Episcopal clergymen); Caroline Augusta (Mrs. Henry) Soulé (Universalist clergywoman); William Adams Brown (Presbyterian clergyman and professor of theology); Isaac Langworthy (Congregational clergyman); James Chrystal (Episcopal clergyman); and Theodoric and John Brodhead Romeyn (Dutch Reformed clergymen). Other papers relating to religious activities include a collection of letters of leading American clergymen. Manuscript material on the Mormons, the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Shakers, and the Seventh Day Adventists is discussed under separate headings.


The history and belles letters of Mormonism are now collected comprehensively; other materials relating to the sect are acquired selectively. The holdings number some 2,200 entries in the Public Catalog and are built around

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the Berrian collection presented in 1899 by Helen Miller Gould (Mrs. Finley Shepard). It was at that time considered to be one of three or four ranking collections in this country. The collection represents many years of work by William C. Berrian of Brooklyn; it is composed of 800 books and pamphlets, including many early rarities, a large number of bound and unbound newspapers, and scrapbooks of clippings, portraits, photographs, and similar material, relating to Mormonism from its beginnings to 1880. The collection also contains materials on the Reorganized Church and on James J. Strang.9 The holdings have been steadily increased by gift and purchase. Associated materials include an excellent collection of public documents bearing on Utah and Mormonism.

Among the rarities in the library are most of the early American and European editions of The Book of Mormon, including the first (Palmyra, New York, 1830); one of the library's 2 copies has the scarce four-page index. The Rare Book Division copy of The Book of Commandments (Zion [Independence, Mo.], 1833) is 1 of the 4 known examples. Forty-three newspaper files include such titles as the Evening and Morning Star (1832-34, 1900- ), scattered issues of the Wasp (1842- ), and the Nauvoo Neighbor (1843-45). Of some 60 periodical and society publications relating to Mormonism, 4 are current, including the Saints' Herald (1860- ) in an incomplete run, and the Relief Society Magazine (1914- ).

Material in the Manuscripts and Archives Division includes the diaries of Albert Tracy. 1858-62, and of Brigham Young, Jr., 1900-02. There is also material relating to the Mormon mission to Japan during the period 1901-05.

Fictional treatment of Mormons is found in first and early editions and typescripts of Joaquin Miller's First Fam'lies of the Sierras (1876) and and an 1882 edition retitled The Danites in the Sierras.

Seventh Day Adventists:

The holdings of materials on the Seventh Day Adventists are based on the collection given by Frank A. Peterson in 1923. The original gift, to which Peterson made subsequent additions, consists of 745 books, 2707 pamphlets, 782 periodicals, 320 sheets, and 6 boxes of manuscripts.10 It is especially strong in periodicals, with some 150 titles covering denominational, missionary, and conference papers. Of note are sets of The Midnight Cry (1842-45) and Quarterly Journal of Prophecy (1847-73). Most of the periodical runs were discontinued in the early 1940s; currently only 1 journal is received in the Periodicals Section, Message Magazine (1935- ), a leading missionary magazine. Books and pamphlets include notable collections of the writings of Mrs. Ellen G. White, virtual head of the Church from its beginning in 1845 to her death in 1915, and of such writers as James White and Uriah Smith. Most of the material is housed at the library's Annex at Forty-third Street.


Because of the strength of its manuscript materials, the library is a leading center of source material on the Shakers. Book materials in the bibliography and history of the sect are collected comprehensively, and other materials are acquired selectively. Many of the earlier items in the library have interest or value as imprints of a typical American sect.

The Manuscripts and Archives and the Rare Book Divisions hold copies of Joseph Meacham's A Concise Statement of the Principles of the Only True Church (Bennington, Vt., 1790), the first Shaker pamphlet printed in this country. In the Manuscripts and Archives Divisions are extensive collections of manuscript materials, the largest being 118 volumes of records of the Shaker Church in the United States from 1780 to 1934. The volumes include a record of the daily events in Shaker communities, diaries, recollections, accounts of seances, spirit messages, songs, poems, and church laws. In 1961 the library acquired 39 reminiscent or autobiographical letters by Angell Matthewson telling of his conversion and early years of membership in the Shaker community at New Lebanon, New York, during the period 1780 to 1813.

Dancing, a characteristic of Shaker worship, is documented in the Dance Collection through contemporary lithographs; modern representations of Shaker dancing by Doris Humphrey are preserved in still photographs and motion picture films. The Music Division holds a number of Shaker hymnals.11

Society of Friends (Quakers):

Some 3,200 entries in the Public Catalog cover the library's fair representation of the great body of writings by and about this sect. History, biography, and general works about the Society of Friends are collected comprehensively: other materials are collected only selectively. Holdings of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century pamphlets are notable, including works by George Fox and William Penn, among them a first printing of Penn's To the Children of Light (London, 1776) and the later American printing (Philadelphia, 1776). The Bowne collection in the Manuscripts and Archives Division contains the account book of John Bowne dated 1649 to 1703 with financial records of the Society of Friends at Flushing, New York.

Christian Science:

A good collection of Christian Science materials includes a first edition of Mrs. Eddy's Science and Health (1875) and numerous later editions. There is a complete set of the Christian Science Monitor (1908- ) and extensive files of periodicals, including most of the foreign-language versions of The Herald of Christian Science. There are many numbers of the Christian Science Series (1889-91). The collecting policy is selective in this area; in earlier years, however, the policy was comprehensive, reflecting an emphasis on this native American religion.

Other Religious Sects:

Material on the Mennonites includes interesting early imprints and unusual historical items. There is a complete file of the Watchtower of the Jehovah's Witnesses from 1879 to the present.