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Religious studies collection policy

Liaison librarian

  • nikki [dot] tummon [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email) 514-398-5727

History of the Collection

McGill University offered courses in theology as early as the 1840s. The history of the Collection, which was housed primarily in the former Religious Studies Library, really parallels that of the Faculty which began as a co-operative venture in theological education in 1912 when Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian seminaries came together to form the Joint Board of Theological Colleges affiliated to McGill University. The co-operating colleges made available their various library holdings.

In 1925, three of the participating denominations, namely the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches (apart from a minority body of the latter) joined to form the United Church of Canada. In 1926 the United Theological College was established. The Montreal Diocesan Theological College and the United Theological College continued the Board relationship and affiliation with McGill University.

By 1931 Divinity Hall was erected to house the Joint Board and its work. The building provided lecture rooms, an auditorium, offices, a chapel, and a library, created by the pooling of the various institutions' resources. It was only in 1948 that the programme of the Joint Board became the Faculty of Divinity of McGill University and the library became Divinity Hall Library. In 1969 Presbyterian College of Montreal became affiliated with the faculty. A year later, in 1970, the name of the faculty was changed from Divinity to Religious Studies and the library was renamed the Religious Studies Library. Two years later, in 1972 Divinity Hall was renamed the William and Henry Birks Building.  

In the summer of 1996, the major portion of the Religious Studies collection was removed from the William and Henry Birks Building to the Humanities and Social Sciences Library. Some 25,000 titles were retained and are housed in the Birks Reading Room. Titles purchased for religious studies which serve the undergraduate teaching programmes, and those pertaining to Eastern studies, e.g. Buddhism, Sanskrit, etc. are sent to the Birks location on a regular basis.

The shared, pooled, library collections of the Anglican and the United Church colleges were eventually donated to McGill University, and exist as part of the present library collection. The library resources were strong from the beginning in the biblical, historical/theological, and religion/culture areas. The emphasis of these areas has continued. In recent years expansion has taken place with the addition of resources in comparative religion.

The Indian holdings have largely been built with funding from the Shastri Indo-Canadian foundation which continues to supply Indian publications concerning religion.

There is a substantial collection of monographs published by the World Council of Churches.

Current Collection Development

Religious Studies today is an interdisciplinary multicultural field encompassing philosophy, history, literature, sociology and politics as well as theology and professional training for the ministry. For this reason there is inevitably some overlap in the topics collected for Religious Studies with those collected for other McGill disciplines.

Current collection development continues to recognize the aforementioned subject areas, namely: biblical, historical/theological, religion/culture and comparative religion studies. Some of these themes have new or expanded concentrations, for example: Japanese religions, Tibetan Buddhism, Canadian church history, feminist theology, ethics, especially bioethics.

Academic Programmes and Liaisons

The Faculty of Religious Studies exists primarily to support the following programmes: Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (Honours, major, minor), Bachelor of Theology, Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Theology, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy. Joint honours programmes are in effect with the Faculty of Arts. The faculty is also involved with the Bioethics option in the Master's programme for the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine); the Faculty of Law - Postgraduate Institute of Comparative Law; and the Faculty of Arts - Department of Philosophy.

Collection development is the responsibility of the Religious Studies bibliographer. Liaison with faculty is maintained through the Faculty Council and the Faculty's Library Committee, as well as regular contact with individual faculty members. Co-ordination with the bibliographers of cognate fields mentioned above is largely maintained through the sharing of relevant review material, publishing information and other information of interest.

McGill Resources

In addition to housing the greater part of the collection in religious studies, the Humanities and Social Sciences Library (McLennan-Redpath) includes much research material of relevance to this discipline. It has rich holdings of scholarly periodicals in the social sciences and humanities subjects, as well as the publications of scholarly societies and the general periodicals which have served the educated public throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition there is a considerable quantity of history and social science publications dealing with Catholicism, missions and church records, and Freemasonry.

Of particular interest to Religious Studies are the following subject areas of the McLennan-Redpath collections:  Anthropology, Archaeology, Classics, East Asian Studies, English, Ethics, History, Jewish Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Women's Studies. Canadian church history titles and the biographies of Canadian clergy, missionaries, etc., are purchased on Canadiana funds.

Rare Books and Special Collections holds a variety of materials of interest to the student of Religion, e.g. publications relating to early Canadian missions, and the Redpath Tracts, a collection of published documents and some 15000 political and religious pamphlets printed in the British Isles from 1561-1900. Rare Books purchased most of the Presbyterian College's rare books collection in 1987. The rare books collection of the former Religious Studies Library was moved to the Rare Books in 1992. There were in all some 1200 volumes covering the 16th to the 19th centuries, including a number of important editions of theological and biblical texts.

The Islamic Studies Library collects broadly on Islamic culture for regions of the world where Islam has acquired importance with the exception of the former USSR. There is an overlap situation with respect to Middle Eastern Christianity - for details see the Co-ordination and Co-operation section.

The former Blacker-Wood biology library collection, now to be found at the Life Sciences Library, has holdings for evolution and creation that are of interest.

The Blackader-Lauterman Library is a good resource for Ecclesiastical Architecture, Religious Art, and some archaeological topics.

Marvin Duchow Music Library holds critical works, scores and recordings of church, devotional and religiously inspired concert music, spanning the early medieval period to the present.

Education Library collects on morality and religious education.

Life Sciences Library collection is valuable for its medical and professional ethics.

Osler Library of the History of Medicine collects historical material concerning the relationship of healing and faith.

Nahum Gelber Law Library has publications on legal ethics and has a small specialized collection relating to canon law in Quebec.

Macdonald Campus Library holdings include publications concerning environmental ethics.

Regional Resources

The Bibliothèque des lettres et sciences humaines of the Université de Montréal is particularly strong in works on Catholic theology. It is strong in Near and Middle East archaeology.

Concordia University Libraries: Concordia's Webster Library places emphasis on comparative ethics (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish & Muslim), Judaic studies, eastern religions, current religious movements (particularly of Montreal). Vanier Library, on the Loyola campus, is strong in Christianity, particularly Catholic theology and patristics. There is also a very interesting collection on American Freemasonry.

Jewish Public Libraryhas strong holdings in Hebraica and Judaica and provides a rich collection of publications and archival resources on the sociological and cultural evolution of the Jewish people.

Presbyterian College Library: The emphasis in this collection is Reformed theology, especially Presbyterianism. In addition the PCL collection is strong in practical Biblical commentaries, used primarily by clergy and In-Ministry Year students.

Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec, a former Sulpician library now concentrates on Quebec publications in the humanities and social sciences. However, the base collection is strong on materials for research in Christian theology and church history.

College Jean de Brébeuf Bibliothèque has considerable strength in Jesuit and theological materials.

Le Grand Séminaire de Montréal Bibliothèque holds an in-depth collection of approximately 112,000 volumes, specializing in all aspects of Roman Catholic theology.

Université du Québec à Montréal maintains major research collections on thanatology and on the social aspects of human sexuality.

Université Laval Bibliothèque holds a strong collection on the history of Christianity, the Catholic Church and contemporary Christian theology. Laval collects comprehensively on Gnosticism and Nag Hammadi, Roman Catholic catechism in Quebec, devotional manuals, and on theologians Thomas Aquinas and Paul Tillich; material on bioethics is collected at level 4. Also of interest is the Bibliographic Information Base in Patristics (BIBP) which provides bibliographic services in the field by storing and classifying data on articles and books that deal with patristics.

Canadian Centre for Ecumenism Library collects material concerning the ecumenical movement, church history, dialogues, spirituality, world religions, churches in Canada, ethics, ecology, religious freedom, native peoples, ministry.

Centre de Documentation Africaine is a valuable resource for black theology, and especially for its journal holdings.

Centre de Documentation CEAD, CEDAL, CIDMAA, Video Tiers-Monde has thousands of titles (monographs, periodicals, and videos) concerning Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Centre d'information sur les nouvelles religions is a substantial resource centre for information on new religions.

In 2012, the Bibliothèque Interculturelle de la Ville de Montreal received the collection of the documentation centre of the former Intercultural Institute of Montreal, containing information on non-mainline religious groups in the city and cross-cultural activities.  

Archives: United Church records for Montreal, Gatineau, and Pontiac counties are held at the Archives Nationales de Québec; United Church records of the Eastern Townships and Quebec City are held at Special Collections Library at Bishop's University. Presbyterian Church Archives are to be found mainly at the Presbyterian Archives in Toronto. The Montreal Diocesan records of the Church of England are held at the Anglican Church of Canada Diocese of Montréal Archives in Christ Church Cathedral. Anglican records of the Quebec diocese are held in the Special Collections Library at Bishop's University. Records of the Roman Catholic Church are held in the archives of the Archidiocèse de Montréal and the Archidiocèse de Quebec.

Consortia and Document Delivery

The Center for Research Libraries, Chicago, maintains a collection of expensive multi-volume sets, microfiche editions, newspapers runs, doctoral dissertations, etc. It holds considerable material of interest to religious studies, particularly Christianity, dating from the 13th century to the present. Collections include a multi-volume set Reformed Protestantism: sources of the 16th and 17th centuries, church registers and diocesan catechisms, various sets of Church of England records, many missionary archives, records of American denominations and religious research reports, and the papers of certain theologians and philosophers, such as Wittgenstein.

In addition to the Center's regular acquisition of materials of interest to its members, the Center will purchase, on a demand basis, foreign dissertations and U.S. state publications, 1952 to date, microfilms of archival materials and retrospective files of newspapers to which CRL has a current subscription.

McGill University is currently a subscribing member, and thereby enables University researchers to borrow titles for extended periods.

Memberships in OCLC and other consortia such as Canadian Research Knowledge Network provide access to vast bibliographic and full-text data bases and to efficient document delivery systems based on the holdings of North America's most eminent research collections. Monographs and journal articles not available at McGill are obtainable at no cost to the user via the Documentation Delivery Service.

General Collection Guidelines

Languages: Collecting is done mainly in English, then German, French, sometimes Latin and Italian. In addition there are core collections in Tibetan, Sanskrit and Pali languages.  Occasionally Greek and Hebrew materials are acquired; the acquisition of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae gives online access to all known Greek works up until 1453 AD.

Treatment of the Subject: Mainly scholarly publications are selected, however some popular and pastoral literature is required. Very little audiovisual material is acquired.

Chronological Coverage: Writings from all periods are selectively acquired, except for Judaism which has a 300 C.E. limitation.

Geographical Coverage: The focus is on a) the Western World, with some attention to missions and Christianity in all parts of the world; b) the Eastern World and its religions, with emphasis on India and Japan; c) the Middle East up to 300 C.E.

Date of Publication: The emphasis is on current publications. Retrospective purchasing is confined mostly to replacing important books which have deteriorated or disappeared and is dependent on the funds available at the time.

Subjects and Levels of Collecting

Definitions of levels from the American Library Association's Guide for Written Collection Policy Statements, 1996. The subject headings and arrangement of topics are based on the Library of Congress classification and subject headings


B56 Philosophy — relation to theology & religion 3a  
B121 - 138 Philosophy — History and systems-- Orient    
   Chinese Philosophy 2 3b
   Indic Philosophy 3b  
   Japanese Philosophy 2  
B131 - 132 Hindu Philosophy 3b  
B162 Buddhist Philosophy 3b  
B630 - 708 Alexandrian and early Christian Philosophy 4  
   Apologists, Gnosticism, Manicheism, Neoplatonism... philosophers e.g. Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Irenaeus, Origen (church father), Philo, Tertullian etc.)       
B720 - 765 Medieval (in conjunction with Philosophy) 3b  
BD215 Epistemology — Belief, Faith 3a  
BD444 Ontology — Death and Dying 3a  
BF51 Psychology — Relation to Theology 2  
BF1404 - 1999 Occult sciences (demonology, witchcraft, oracles etc.) 1  
BJ1289 Buddhist ethics 2  
BJ1201 - 1278 Christian ethics 3b 4
BL41 Comparative Religion: Historiography 3b  
BL51 Philosophy of Religion 4  
BL53 Psychology of Religion 3a  
BL60 Religion and Sociology 3a  
BL65 Religion and Culture 3a  
   Religion and Medicine 3a  
   Religion and Language 3a  
BL85 - 87 Religious Pluralism 3a  
BL175 - 290 Natural Theology 2  
   Religion and Science 3a  
   Anthropology 2  
BL425 - 490 Religion Doctrines (General) 3a  
BL500 - 547 Eschatology 4  
BL550 - 635 Worship. Culture 2  
BL625 Mysticism 3a 3b
BL700 - 820 Classical Religion and Mythology (reliance on Classics) 2  
BL1100 - 1270 Brahmanism Hinduism -(emphasis) 4- 4
BL1245 Vaishnavism 3a 3b
BL1300-1380 Jainism 2 3a
BL1600 - 1695 Semitic Religions 1  
BL1830 - 1870 Confucianism 2 -4
BL1900 - 1940 Taoism 2 -4
BL2018 Sikhism 2  
BL2220 - 2222 Shinto 2 3a
BL2400 - 2490 African Religions 2  
BM150 - 178 Judaism - Ancient History 3b  
BM480 - 509 Judaism - Pre-Talmudic and Talmudic Jewish Literature (includes Dead Sea Scrolls) 4  
BQ1 - 9999 Buddhism 3b 4
    China (strongest at present)  
  Tibet (developing)
    Japan (developing)    
    Korea (weakest)    

  India (next strongest)

BR1 - 1725 Christianity 4  
BR60-67 Early Christian Literature-Fathers of the Church 4  
BR140-1500 Early, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation 4  
    (Emphasis on the latter especially for Britain, Germany, Switzerland, lesser extent Netherlands and France)    
BR1690-1725 Biography (emphasis on Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Melanchton; Canadian figures increasingly)    
BS1 - 700 Bible 4  
  Works about the Bible (texts, versions, introductions, commentaries, criticisms, the Bible as literature, theology of the Bible etc.)    
BS701 - 1830 Old Testament 4  
BS1901 - 2970 New Testament 4  
BT10 - 1480 Doctrinal theology (primarily Protestant) doctrine and dogma, philosophical theology, systematic theology, authority, kingdom of God, miracles, God, Christology, Mary, saints, creation, ecology, environment, salvation, eschatology, future life, creeds etc.    
BT83.55 Feminist Theology 3b 4
BT83.57 Liberation theology 2 3b
BT1095 - 1480 Apologetics... & heresies and schisms 3b  
BV Practical theology  3b  
BV1 - 530 Worship (including church year, symbols, liturgy, prayer, hymnology) 2  
BV590 - 1652 Ecclesiastical theology (includes church institutions, societies and their work, ministry, church law, sacraments, religious education 3b  
BV2000 - 3705 Missions 2  
BV3750 - 3799 Evangelism 2  
BV4000 - 4470 Pastoral theology 3a  
BV4485 - 5099 Practical religion 3a  
BX1 - 9.5 Church unity. Ecumenical movement 3a  
BX100 - 754 Eastern churches. Oriental churches. Orthodox Eastern Church 2  
BX800 - 4795 Roman Catholic Church (reliance on regional resources) 3a  
BX4800 - 9999 Protestantism (concentration on the main denominations) 4  
DS101-123 History 4  
   Israel (Palestine) The Jews    
  Concentration up to 300 C.E. (Jerusalem, Antiquities, social life and customs, civilization, history, etc.) see also Jewish Studies policy 3b  
GF80  Human ecology (moral and religious aspects) 2  
GN470 - 474  Customs and institutions religion, philosophy 2  
  Social Sciences    
HQ1393 - 1395   Women and religion 2 3b
    Women and Christianity    
    Women and the Bible    
  Language and Literature    
PA700 - 895   Greek language (biblical) 2 3b
PJ4501 - 4855   Aramaic (biblical) 2  
PK401 - 969   Hebrew language (biblical) 2 4
PK1001 - 1095   Sanskrit language 2  
PK2901 - 4485   Pali language 1  
  Vedic literature 3b 4
   (Vedas; Rigveda, Brahmanas, Upanishads, etc.)    
PK4501 - 4681 Sanskrit literature (Mahabharata, Ramayana, Valmiki, etc.) 3b 4
  Pali literature see also BQ 3a  
PL3601-3775 Tibetan language and literature        3a
R724 - 725 - 726   Medical ethics (religious, theological aspects, perspective) 3b  

Co-ordination and Co-operation

History: There is some overlap in Reformation/Counter Reformation resources.

Philosophy: The classical philosophy and the medieval and  patristic periods resources are valuable to Religious studies, and the particular philosphers emphasized do not overlap.

Jewish Studies: Religious Studies concentrates on Old Testament Judaism and the intertestamental period and relies on Jewish Studies holdings for post-Biblical non-Rabbinic Hebrew literature, Rabbinic literature, medieval and modern texts and critical studies etc. Jewish-Christian relations publications tend to be purchased for Religious Studies.

Islamic Studies Library: Religious Studies seldom duplicates the purchases of the Islamic Studies Library unless absolutely necessary. Middle Eastern Christianity is a subject which requires consultation between the two bibliographers because of its rather complex nature. Islamic Studies collects Muslim-Christian relations at the 3b level.

Regional Co-operation

Presbyterian College Library: There is a general, informal understanding that Religious Studies generally avoids duplicating the College's purchases. In 1986 an agreement was reached with the Director of Libraries whereby the College would buy in the Reformed theology field, and Religious Studies would refrain from doing so. It was further agreed that should the College cease to exist, McGill would get first consideration in the disposal of Reformed theology material.


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