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Accordion List

The University offers bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees in Religious Studies. The program emphasizes historical and textual studies of Judaism, Christianity (primarily Western and Syriac Christianity), Islam, and Asian religions, with work on the philosophy of religion and religion in America forming important parts of the program. Growing areas of interest are the material culture of religion, affect studies, and ethnological approaches to religion. The areas of religion in literature and the sociology of religion are also taught within and outside the department.

The Religious Studies Department coordinates the Religious Studies Graduate Group. While the department is relatively small, the number of researchers making use of religious studies materials is not and crosses many departments; faculty in ancient and Middle East studies, history, the various literature departments, and sociology, as well art and music historians and anthropologists all study and teach materials dealing with religion.

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 collection in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center 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 Library and Van Pelt. Much material in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts 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 the Kislak Center. The materials held by the Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies form an important research collection for Judaism, particularly for the ancient and medieval periods. Penn Libraries' manuscripts and printed materials from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Tibet,  is the largest collection of its kind in North America. The Yarnall Theology Collection, 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 also some codex manuscripts, such as a Wycliffe New Testament, a 15th century manuscript containing works by Gerson and Cairo Genizeh fragments. The Penn Libraries holds a number of electronic resources for the study of religion, such as the Cetedoc library of Christian Latin Texts, the Patrologia Latina, and a subscription to the ATLAS Serials Project of electronic journals.

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 Libraries organizes and maintains collections of subject-based websites useful to students and scholars. Sites devoted to the study of religion are included on the Religious Studies page. Datasets and other and research tools are purchased as needed if they can be housed, supported and made available. 

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. 

6. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 

With worldwide interests, the collection is especially attentive to religious minorities. This has also been inclusive of women’s concerns and those of LGBTQ+ communities. 

7. Open Access 

Open access is increasingly important in religious studies and actively sought after.

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.

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. 

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 CAJS), sermons and homiletics, pastoral psychology, and non-historical works relating to individual denominations are also excluded.

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, and Haverford College (Society of Friends), as well as at Temple University, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr.