Skip to Main Content

Collection Development Policy


Beth Bidlack
December 2006//rev March 2007

Brief overview of the collection


History:  Religious studies was a core component of the original library of the University of Chicago, which included the Berlin Collection (57,630 volumes and 39,020 dissertations, or 96,650 volumes in all) and the Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg Collection, as well as the library of the Baptist Union Theological Seminary (40,000 volumes) and American Bible Union. After Swift Hall was built and became home to the Divinity School, the religion collection was located there until the Joseph Regenstein Library opened in 1970. At that time, the collection was moved to Regenstein as part of the graduate library for humanities and social sciences.


Broad subject areas emphasized or de-emphasized: The collection focuses on the academic study of religion. Historic strengths of collection include German scholarship in systematic theology, biblical studies, and the history of Christianity (due in part to the Berlin and Hengstenberg collections). Current strengths of the collection match those of the Divinity School  (e.g., history of religions, especially Christianity and Judaism; biblical studies, especially New Testament textual and historical criticism). The private libraries of Joachim Wach, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Kitagawa were incorporated into the collections, thereby strengthening its focus on the history of religions. The private library of Marvin Fox strengthened the Library’s collection in Jewish studies, and specifically in Maimonides studies.


Description of academic program: Within the Divinity School there are three Committees, each with three areas of emphasis, and one additional area of study: the Committee on Constructive Studies in Religion (Philosophy of Religion; Religious Ethics; Theology); the Committee on Historical Studies (Biblical Studies; History of Christianity; History of Judaism); the Committee on Religion and the Human Sciences (Anthropology and Sociology of Religion; History of Religions; Religion and Literature); and Islamic Studies. Degrees offered include the MA, PhD, and MDiv. In addition, there is an undergraduate major in religion.


Audience/Purpose: The collection supports the research and teaching of Divinity School faculty and students, including the ministry program (MDiv). It also supports the work of undergraduate majors in religion, especially those writing BA theses (approx. 8-12 per year). In addition, it supports the interdisciplinary research of the University of Chicago (e.g., faculty and students in the Art History, Music, and History Departments). While primary focus of the collection is to support current research, there is also a need to anticipate new, emerging fields of study within religion (e.g., new religious movements, and religion and brain science).


Collecting guidelines

 Levels of selection (comprehensive, research, instructional support, basic information; for a description of these levels, see the general policy statement.)


There is much overlap among the Library of Congress classification scheme for religion (BL-BX) and other areas (e.g., history, languages and literature). Often among a specific classification, there are a great variety of subdivisions. While the Library cannot collect in every subdivision, it does try to create a fairly comprehensive collection overall. At times, the B classification table may seem arbitrary and counter-intuitive. It is used here as one way of outlining the expanse of materials in religious studies. Please note, that Philosophy (B) and Ethics (BJ) are discussed within the Collection Policy Statement for Philosophy.


Religions. Mythology. Rationalism (BL): The materials found within the BL classification are quite varied, including the history, philosophy, and sociology of religions. The level for history of religions is comprehensive; the level for other areas, including philosophy of religion and natural theology, is research. The collection in BL is augmented by the Library’s collections in South Asian, East Asian, and the social sciences.


Judaism (BM): Research level in Western languages and Hebrew (through a separate fund). In building the Judaism collection, there is a great deal of collaboration among bibliographers. For example, many works on Semitic languages and archaeology are selected by the Bibliographer for the Ancient Near East. Works on Jewish history are selected by the Bibliographer for History; works on Judaism in Eastern Europe are selected by the Bibliographer for Slavic and Eastern European Studies; works in Yiddish are selected by the Selector for Judaica.


Islam, Bahaism, Theosophy, etc. (BP): Research level for Islam; instructional support level for Bahaism, research level for Theosophy thanks to the support of the Kern Foundation Fund. The BP collection is augmented by the collections in Middle Eastern Studies and South Asian Studies.


Buddhism (BQ): Research level. The BQ collection is augmented by the collections in East Asian Studies and South Asian Studies.




Christianity (BR): Research level in Western languages. The BR collection is augmented by the collections in Protestantism (BX), History, and Slavic and Eastern European Studies.


Bible (BS): Research level, with a focus on critical editions, textual criticism, and the history of interpretation. The collection is augmented by the Ancient Near East collection in areas such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts.


Doctrinal Theology (BT): Research level for systematic, historical, and philosophical theology. There is some overlap with the BX classification which includes individual theologians by denomination and/or location.


Practical Theology (BV): Most areas of practical theology are at an instructional support level in order to support the MDiv (ministry studies) program. The sermons of historically important people are collected at a research level. Due to the historical strength of the Divinity School faculty in the area of psychology of religion, the level in that area is research. For devotional materials and professional guides, the Library coordinates collection efforts with the libraries of local seminaries. The collection is also augmented by the School of Social Administration and Psychology collections.


Eastern Christian Churches, Ecumenism (BX1-765): Instructional-research level. This area is augmented by the Slavic and Eastern European Studies collection.


Roman Catholic Church (BX800-4795): Research level for history and theology of the Roman Catholic Church. The Divinity School has an Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Professorship in Catholic Studies. The Library relies on Roman Catholic institutions (e.g., Catholic Theological Union and Loyola University Chicago) for practical and professional materials. The collection is also augmented by the D’Angelo Law Library’s collection in canon law.


Protestantism (BX4800-9999): Research level for histories of denominations and Protestantism in general. We rely on area seminaries for most denominationally specific materials (conference proceedings, doctrinal works); however, due to the heritage of the University, there is a focus on the history of Baptist denominations.


 Type of materials included & excluded:

The following types of material are usually excluded: introductory textbooks, anthologies of previously published materials, professional handbooks and devotional materials, denominational materials (e.g., hymnals, conference proceedings), popular works in spirituality and practical theology, and unrevised dissertations available via Proquest online.   


 Physical formats included & excluded:

All formats are included. Among the notable full-text electronic resources are Acta Sanctorum, Library of Christian Latin Texts, Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts, Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation, Patrologia Latina Database, and Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. For a more complete list see Database Finder/Religion. Online indexes include ATLA Religion Database.


 Publication dates collected:

The focus is on currently-published materials, with some retrospective purchasing (e.g., the appointment of new faculty members, the development of new academic programs, patron requests, areas of particular strength such as the “Chicago School” within the history of religions approach to religious studies).


Primarily English, German, French, and Italian, with more limited representation in Spanish. The Bibliographer for Religion relies on area studies selectors for materials in other languages (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian). Hebrew materials of a religious nature are selected under a separate Hebraica (HEB) fund.


 Geographical range:

The focus is on materials published in North America and Western Europe. The Bibliographer for Religion relies on area studies collections for materials focused on and/or published in the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, and Eastern Europe.


 Chronological span:

Comprehensive, from materials focusing on the history and literature of ancient Israel, early Judaism and Christianity to the Reformation to the present (e.g., constructive theology).


Areas of distinction


Thanks to the generosity of the Kern Foundation Endowed Theosophical Book Fund, the Library has a strong collection of Theosophical materials. Other important collections include the Berlin Collection, the Hengstenberg Collection, the Ludwig Rosenberger Collection of Judaica, the Emma B. Hodge Collection of Reformation Imprints, the Edgar J. Goodspeed New Testament Manuscript Collection, the Maurice T. Grant Collection of English Bibles, materials on the religious history of Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley from the Reuben T. Durrett Collection on Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. Important manuscript and archival collections include materials relating to Baptist Union Theological Seminary, the Divinity School, and the founding of University.


Related University of Chicago collections

The religion collection is complemented by the following collections: Middle Eastern Studies (Islam), Slavic and Eastern European Studies (Judaism, Orthodox Christianity), East Asian Studies (Buddhism, Christianity), South Asian Studies (Hinduism, Buddhism), Classics, the Ancient Near East and the library at the Oriental Institute, Medieval and Byzantine Studies, Philosophy, Jewish Studies, and General Humanities.


Cooperative arrangements and related collections

The University of Chicago Library has established borrowing agreements with the JKM Library of McCormick Theological Seminary (Presbyterian Church, USA) and Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), the Hammond Library at Chicago Theological Seminary (United Church of Christ), and the United Library of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary (Episcopalian) and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary (United Methodist), located near Northwestern University.


There are complementary collections at other denominational seminaries within Hyde Park, including Catholic Theological Union (Roman Catholic), Meadville Lombard Theological School (Unitarian Universalist), as well as the greater Chicago area, including the Asher Library at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. In addition, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Archives and Records Center is located in downtown Chicago.


There are additional libraries which are part of the Chicago Area Theological Library Association, including the Moody Bible Institute (Independent Baptist), North Park University (Evangelical Covenant), Trinity International University (Evangelical Church), Wheaton College (non-denominational Evangelical) and its Billy Graham Center Archives and Marion E. Wade Center (with books and papers of Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkein, and Charles Williams).

Subject Specialist

Profile Photo
Anne Knafl
Joseph Regenstein Library, Room 462