Religious Studies


1. History and Overview of the Collection

Columbia University Libraries supports the study of religion at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. Religious studies is deeply interdisciplinary and includes teaching, research, and scholarship on world religions in historical, critical, and comparative perspectives. In addition to faculty and students in religious studies and theology, the Libraries support departments and programs whose work may incorporate the study of religion, including the Department of Middle East, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), the Department of English and Comparative Literature, the Department of History, the Department of Classics, and others.

Both current and special collections materials on particular world religions are collected extensively, in relevant world languages, by specialists in the Libraries’ Global Studies division in African studies, Jewish studies, Latin American and Iberian studies, Middle East and Islamic studies, Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies, South Asian studies and at the C.V. Starr East Asian Library in East Asian studies and Tibetan studies.

This document outlines the Libraries’ general policy on collections for religious studies but it is not intended to be a rigid set of rules; collection suggestions from students and faculty are welcome. (See contact information below.)

2. Academic Departments and Programs Supported

a.  Undergraduate

Columbia University Libraries supports Barnard College (BC), Columbia College (CC), and School of General Studies (GS) undergraduates majoring in religion. The religious studies collection also provides support for students majoring or minoring in the Departments of: English and Comparative Literature, Classics, Philosophy, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Music, and Art History.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

In addition to its support for undergraduate instruction, Columbia University Libraries supports Department of Religion MA and PhD students as well as graduate students in the above-mentioned departments; Union Theological Seminary MA, MDiv, STM, and PhD students; and MSW and PhD students at the School of Social Work. 

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.

Many of Columbia’s centers address religion as a focus or thematically. Principal among these are the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL); the Heyman Center for the Humanities; the Center for Buddhism and East Asian Religions; the Center for Israel and Jewish Studies; the Institute of African Studies; the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean; the Center for Democracy, Toleration, and Religion; the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race; the Middle East Institute; the Center for the Study of Science and Religion; and the Institute for Research in African American Studies.

d. Course Reserves

Selection for course reserves is up to individual faculty members. The Librarian will do whatever is possible to secure specific materials absent from the collection.

3. Selection Guidelines

a. Print

Current editions of monographic, serial, annual, reference publications and, more selectively, other formats (maps, dissertations, newspapers), are collected primarily for Butler Library and, in some cases, for the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary. The Libraries holds significant runs of periodicals and other serial publications relevant to the study of world religions dating to the 18th century.

b. Digital Collections

Columbia University Libraries purchases and provides access to a wide range of aggregated databases, electronic journals, and electronic primary source collections including: Index Religiosus; Religion Past and Present; Vocabulary for the Study of Religion; World Religion Database; Index to the Study of Religions; Oxford Handbooks Online; American Theological Library Association (ATLA) Religion Database with AtlaSerials PLUS; Encyclopedia Judaica; Index to Jewish Periodicals; Talmudic Encyclopedia; Index Islamicus; Encyclopedia of Islam; Buddhist Digital Resource Center; Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān; Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World; Christian-Muslim Relations; and Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism.

The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary curates the New York City Religions Web Archive, which biannually captures and catalogs seven hundred websites documenting the city’s religious diversity.

c. Media

Media related to religious studies are collected based on faculty and student request. See also the extensive Butler Media Collections.

d. Languages Collected

The primary languages collected are English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. For other languages, see the relevant Global Studies area policies.

e. Chronological Focus

Columbia University Libraries collects materials covering all eras from the ancient to contemporary worlds, with particular emphasis on the 19th century to the present.

f. Geographical Focus

The geographical focus of the collection covers Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia. See Global Studies policies.

g. Imprint Dates Collected

The main focus of collecting is current and recent (+/- three years)  imprints. When antiquarian acquisitions are offered via gift or purchase, no specific chronological ranges are established in advance; rare or unique materials from any period may be considered.  

4. Distinctive and Special Collections

Special collections (archives, rare books, realia) relevant to religious studies are held by the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), and Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. Current collecting emphases include: the religious history of the Americas; the religious diversity of New York City; colonial/missionary history; the history and interpretation of sacred texts; philosophical and sociological approaches to the study of religion. In particular, archival collections documenting the history and practice in these areas are of interest.

5. Collection Strategies

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The range of available print materials--monographs, edited volumes, serials--is significantly enhanced by Columbia’s participation in Borrow Direct and the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI), a partnership with New York University and The New York Public Library.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

The majority of titles are selected for on-site locations, primarily Butler Library and the Burke Library. 

Duplication of titles is limited to works identified by faculty as being central to a specific course. In these cases, no more than a few copies are obtained, one of which should be placed by the faculty member on reserve.

Deduplication only takes place when a title has been identified for relocation to the Libraries’ off-site storage facility (ReCAP) and a copy already exists on shelf at that facility. Even in this instance, the Librarian will inspect the local copy for any unique features or unusual provenance before assenting to deduplication.

c. Deaccessioning

Titles are generally deaccessioned only in cases where the physical copy is disintegrating and no longer serviceable in print/physical format. In these instances, the Librarian will evaluate whether to make a preservation photocopy, to create or acquire a digital surrogate, and/or whether to replace the physical copy with another. Resources on obsolete formats are reviewed by librarians on a case-by-case basis; in instances where the original format has artifactual value, it will be retained even after it has been digitized or otherwise reformatted. Distinctive collections held in RBML, the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, and the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary are not deaccessioned.

d. Digitization and Preservation

Materials may be treated for preservation issues as needed.

contact information


JEFFREY WAYNO

Collection Services Librarian
  • The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary
(212) 851-5608
The Burke Library - Union Theological Seminary

YUUSUF CARUSO

African Studies Librarian
  • Global Studies
(212) 854-8045
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs

MICHELLE CHESNER

Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies
  • Global Studies
(212) 854-8046
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs

ROBERT H. DAVIS

Russian, Eurasian & East European Studies Librarian
  • Global Studies
(212) 854-4701
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs

LAURAN HARTLEY

Tibetan Studies Librarian; Lecturer in East Asian Languages & Cultures
  • Starr East Asian Library
(212) 854-9875
C.V. Starr East Asian Library - 304M Kent Hall

GARY HAUSMAN

South Asian Studies Librarian
  • Global Studies
(212) 854-8401
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs

RIA KOOPMANS-DEBRUIJN

Head of Public Services / East Asian Studies Librarian
  • Starr East Asian Library
(212) 854-1505
C.V. Starr East Asian Library - 310 Kent Hall

PETER MAGIERSKI

Middle East & Islamic Studies Librarian
  • Global Studies
(212) 854-3995
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs

SÓCRATES SILVA

Latin American & Iberian Studies Librarian
  • Global Studies
(212) 854-1679
Global Studies - 309 International Affairs