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Religion Collections in Libraries and Archives: Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia

Library of Congress: African and Middle Eastern Division TEST

Introductory Information

Library of Congress: African and Middle Eastern Division

Address: 10 First Street, SE, Thomas Jefferson Building, LJ 150, Washington, DC 20540-4810

Telephone number: 202-707-5426

Contact information

Online catalog

Digital collections

Access Policies

Hours of service

Open to the public: Yes

Interlibrary loan: Yes

Reference policy: Reference requests are accepted by Ask a Librarian form, phone or in person

A Library of Congress Reader Registration card is required to use Library of Congress reading rooms. To obtain a registration card, applicants must be 16 years of age or older and present photo identification bearing a verifiable permanent address. Please see Reader Registration and Access to Library of Congress Reading Rooms for more information.

Background Note

The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) was created in 1978 as part of a general Library of Congress reorganization. AMED currently consists of three sections - African, Hebraic and Near East - and covers more than 77 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia. Each section plays a vital role in the Library's acquisitions program; offers expert reference and bibliographic services to the Congress and researchers in this country and abroad; develops projects, special events and publications; and cooperates with other institutions and scholarly and professional associations in the US and abroad.

As a major world resource center for Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, AMED has the custody of more than one million physical collection materials in the non-Roman-alphabet languages of the region such as Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, and Yiddish. Included in these collections are books, periodicals, newspapers, microforms, grey literature, and rarities such as cuneiform tablets, manuscripts, incunabula (works printed before 1501), and other early African and Middle Eastern publications. Among the most prized items are also several sizable pamphlet collections on African Studies.

Collection Highlights

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Learn more about the African Collections, resources and specialists

As of May 2022, there are 817 titles under the Library of Congress Subject Heading “China—Religion” and 3,128 titles under “Philosophy, Chinese.” The Chinese collection has a number of subscription databases and e-resources that provide numerous full-text books and serials relevant to Chinese religion and philosophy. Information about Chinese religions is also available in the Chinese collection's extensive holdings of cong shu (collectanea) and fang zhi (local histories).

The Chinese Rare Book Collection has some rare items on religion such as the Dunhuang manuscripts, namely, Chinese Buddhist manuscripts from the Tang period (618-906 A.D.). It also has Buddhist sutras from the Song and Yuan periods (960-1368 A.D.), such as, the Sutras of the Heart of Prajna from the Thunder Peak Pagoda (Incomplete volumes, printed in 975 A.D.) and an 11th-century Buddhist scroll of the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra. Another highlight is the illustrated book of Life and Activities of Shakyamuni Buddha Incarnate (1486). Volume I of the book depicts the life of Gautama Buddha through the period of enlightenment; volume II his ministry; volume III the spread of Buddhism to China; and volume IV the reception accorded to this religion by Chinese emperors and officials of various dynasties. Many works on Chinese religions are available through the Chinese Rare Book Digital Collection.

The Asian Division’s collection of 2,780 Naxi (Nashi) manuscripts is the largest collection outside of China. It has pictographic manuscripts on religious practices and shamanism from the Naxi tribe in Yunnan province (view selections of this collection online). The William Gamble Collection includes 120 reports and other items from Christian mission hospitals, presses, and other institutions at Ningbo and Shanghai, ca. 1800-1858. It also contains Chinese translations of 19th-century Christian tracts and scriptures.

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Learn more about the Hebraic Collections, resources and specialists


There are more than 150,000 volumes in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and related languages. A substantial portion of these are religion or religion-related. Inclusive publication dates of this collection are 16th century to the present.

The section's holdings are especially strong in the areas of the Bible, rabbinics, liturgy, and responsa (collections of decisions in Jewish law by individuals or multiple authors). An extensive collection of Passover Haggadot has been assembled as well. Books in the collection have been printed in Israel, Europe, the United States, and many other countries worldwide. Also available are some 1,000 Memorial Books, (local histories of Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust), which document the history of the community and its religious life. Most of this collection is in the Hebraic Section, while those books in western languages can be found in the general collections.
The card catalog is current to 1980. It is divided into author/subject and vernacular title sections. It includes national union catalogs of Hebraica and Yiddica. The LC database is incomplete for holdings of the Hebraic Section--some titles remain unclassified, and some classified material is not in the LC database. All Hebrew and Yiddish material cataloged since 1988 appears in the RLIN database.

Periodicals and newspapers
The section receives a variety of Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers reflecting all shades of opinion, from the religious to the secular, from the far right to the extreme left. Older newspapers and periodicals are in microform. This international collection attempts to span the religious spectrum of Judaism. Examples of current newspapers include Ha-Arets, Yated Ne'eman, Algemeyner Zhurnal, and the Forverts.
A number of Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals and newspapers can be located only via the Section's card catalog

Archives, manuscripts, correspondences, and/or oral histories
The Hebraic section has about 200 manuscripts in Hebrew; 17 in Samaritan; 5 in Ge'ez (Ethiopian church language). The section's most noteworthy treasure is The Washington Haggadah, a 15th-century illuminated manuscript signed by Joel ben Simeon. Other singular manuscript items include a Hebrew translation of the Qur'an, an 18th-century Italian decorated Scroll of Esther, and an early Ethiopian Psalter in Ge'ez. Among the more than 2,000 rarities in the special collections of the section are cuneiform tablets, incunables, several kettubot (Jewish marriage documents), micrographies, miniature books, and amulets. Inclusive dates of this collection are from the 13th through the 20th centuries. One may find oral histories of Holocaust survivors and immigrants to Israel detailing religious persecution as well as microforms from the New York Times Oral History Program, which contains microfilmed oral histories from Israel.
Most of these manuscripts and oral histories are listed in the Section's card catalog..

This collection includes several thousand titles in various collections. They are international in scope and span the religious spectrum from left to right. A few representative titles are: The Collective Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts from the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts and the Department of the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, The Kaufmann Collection which includes Genizah fragments, the Hebrew Manuscript Catalogs from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and The Guenzburg Manuscript Collection in the Russian State Library, Moscow.
Records for collections are online (but not item level cataloging), others are in the Section's catalog and/or contained in collection guides.


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Learn more about the Middle Eastern Studies Collections, resources and specialists

The Near East Section was established in 1945 following the end of World War II. It has in its custody materials in several formats: from exquisite manuscripts to early printed books; and from historic and contemporary newspapers, on microfilm and microfiche, to political and cultural ephemera-in over 40 languages of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as those of the countries and peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Section's Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Turkic & Iranic language collections are renowned for their high scholarly quality, as are the Armenian, Georgian and Central Asian language materials which are growing rapidly and constitute major research collections.

The largest collection-the Arabic-is rich in manuscripts and early printed books, as well as in newspapers, serials and monographs in numerous fields including in literature, the social sciences, and the humanities, The Armenian collection is representative of the literary tradition, in manuscripts and printed works, accomplished both in Armenia and in its extensive, historical diaspora.

The Persian collection holds a number of splendidly illuminated manuscripts which are now digitized, as well as a unique collection of lithographs and early imprints which are currently being digitized. Its twentieth century collections of books and journals is very extensive as well.

The Turkish collection is strong in both modern works and Ottoman printed materials and includes both manuscripts as well as digitized materials such as the Abdul Hamid II gift books and album collections.

Efforts to collect works published in Georgia and in the post-Soviet States of the Caucasus and Central Asia have proved remarkably fruitful.


About the Asian Division

The Asian Reading Room provides public access to more than 4 million items in approximately 200 languages and dialects from across Asia, including Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, Vietnamese, and many others. In the reading room, researchers can use the Asian Division’s collections of printed materials, microform, and databases and confer with reference librarians to answer research questions about the countries of East, South, and Southeast Asia.