You already know if you have a lot of religion books in your collection. The question is: how should they be organized?
This section, perhaps more than any other, highlights the prejudices of Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System. I will explain how later. But for now, be assured that there is room in this classification scheme for any religious topic from any religious faith.
Let’s get started.
Home Library Organization
People who love books often accumulate large collections. And it can be frustrating when you find yourself wanting to consult a particular book and you find yourself wasting a lot of time trying to track it down.You’re pretty sure you own it, but it’s lost among all the others.
In an earlier post, I outlined the advantages of using the Dewey Decimal Classification system for organizing your nonfiction books. So if you have a lot nonfiction print books in your collection, looking at that post is the first step.
I also listed a few of the types of subjects that belong in the 200s (Religion) section in the first article. Books that talk about religion as a topic unto itself, those that compare religions, or contain biographies of religious figures are here. New or original religions and works related to them also have a place as shown below.
If more than 30 of your books belong in religion, read on. This post will give you the guidance to further refine the placement of the religion books in your collection.
The chart above covers the basic ten categories of the DDC. If you haven’t gone through your books to decide where they belong, you may want to look at my previous post and go through those steps first. Then come back here for more in depth information on the third category: the 200s Religion.
The 4-step process for home library organization
The four-step home organization process is covered in more detail in “Easy Home Library Organization Using the Dewey Decimal System.” But here, briefly, are the steps:
- Examine the chart above.
- Decide in which category above each book belongs.
- Make piles of books for each category.
- Decide where each category will be housed.
Very few personal collections contain books in every category. You may be surprised to find 90 percent of your books can be grouped into one specific section.
As I mentioned above, Dewey’s religion section can be surprising and potentially disturbing for some readers. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it for modern readers is that the majority of the classification numbers are devoted to one religion–Christianity.
I in the early 1990s, I witnessed a heated discussion between a fellow library science student, and a library science professor over this issue. The student was upset because over half the numbers in the 200s are devoted specifically to Christian history, doctrine, scripture, and the like. The most recent figures from the Pew Research Center, estimate 31 percent of the world’s population as Christian, although those numbers are declining, especially in Europe.
The professor, on the other hand, was equally upset because the student refused to acknowledge every religion does have a specific place in the system. Her point that even if all the non-Judeo-Christian religions in the world are crammed into the 290s, it does not matter because they have a place.
I could see both sides. Dewey created his system in the 1870s. As an American male librarian from that period in history, he had societal and personal biases. At the time, most of the Western world was Christian, at least in name, and Dewey had no way of knowing how various subjects in his system, including religion, would gain or lose prominence, in future years, even in America and Europe.
While the system is tweaked periodically, some would argue it is in need of a complete overhaul. The problem with redoing the system is the staff time and supply expense for most public and school libraries would be prohibitive. Another concern would be the idiosyncratic methods some libraries might use, which would make the system less consistent across institutions. Change may come one day, but for now, I’ll merely describe it as it is.
If you are offended by this section of the system and would like to come up with your own, please feel free to. Your home collection is yours to do with as you’d like.
But if you are simply wanting to get your religion books sorted in a primary fashion, this post should clear up where to place your religion books.
Below is a chart that further subdivides the Religion category.
You may want to look over each subdivision and further divide your books accordingly. If you keep records of your books as outlined in “Simple Record-Keeping for Your Home Library,” you may want to check out my blog post. For instance, if you had 30 books marked as belonging in Religion, you may now have 10 of those marked at 210, 5 as 220, 3 as 270, and 12 as 290.
Every book collection is different. The point is to narrow your collection down more specifically, so you will be able to locate the books effortlessly when you need to find one.
Religion books in brief
The Dewey Classification manual defines religion as “beliefs, attitudes, [and] practices of individuals and groups with respect to the ultimate nature of existences and relationships within the context of revelation, deity, and worship.”
Here are books both on comparative religions and on those that discuss personal views on religion in general but are not representative of specific ones. This is where those books covering multiple religions belong as well as books on general religious systems; the principles and psychology of religion; and interreligious relations, attitudes, and social theology. This section is not limited to Christianity.
Recommended books in general religion:
- World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored and Explained edited by John Bowker
- Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America by Gustav Niebuhr
- The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View by Tim Crane
- God Without Religion: Questioning Centuries of Accepted Truths by Sankara Sananam
- Four Testaments: Tao Te Ching, Analects, Dhammapda, Bhagavad Gita: Secret Scriptures of Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism by Brian Arthur Brown
- Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel, and Quran by Brian Arthur Brown
210 Philosophy and theory of religion
This section is also not limited to Christianity. It is the place for books on natural theology, philosophical theology, and concepts of God:
- Rationalism (free thought)
Theodicy books which cover the vindication of God’s justice and goodness in the face of existing evil and suffering, are shelved here. Science and technology in religion is also placed in this section.
Recommended books in philosophy and theory of religion:
- Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion by Greg Graffin
- The Case for God by Karen Armstrong
- A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
- How Large is God? Voices of Scientists and Theologians by John Marks Templeton
This is the place to file your Bibles, which are defined as the Holy Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, no matter the translation or version. The scriptures and holy books of other religions belong in the 290s. In addition to the scriptures themselves, all dictionaries, encyclopedias, concordances, handbooks, commentaries, and harmonies relating to the Bible belong here as well. This includes all the books of the Old Testament (Books of Moses, Historical Books, Poetic Books and Prophetic Books) and the books of the New Testament (Gospels, Acts, books on the life of Jesus, miracles, parables, The Sermon on the Mount, the Epistles, Revelation and the Apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and intertestamental works.
Recommended books in the Bible:
- Bible Almanac by J. I. Packer
- How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel
- The Historical David: The Real Life of an Inverted Hero by Joel Baden
- The Prophets by Abraham Joshua Heschel
- Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven, and Faithful by Stephen J. Binz
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
- Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels
Books that go in the 230s include Christian mythology; specific Christian theologies; the doctrines of specific denominations and sects; the philosophy and theory of Christianity; God’s relation to the World; Jesus Christ and his family; humankind; salvation and grace; eschatology; covenants; catechisms; apologetics and polemics.
Do you want to know more about Christianity? The video below explains it in a nutshell.
Recommended books in Christianity and Christian theology:
- Basic Christianity by John R.W. Stott
- Proving God: Swedenborg’s Remarkable Quest for the Quantum Fingerprints of Love by Edward F. Sylvia
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
- The Nature and Divinity of Man: A Christian Interpretation by Reinhold Niebuhr
- Be Transformed: The Healing Power of the Sacraments by Bob Schuchts
- My Life with the Saints by James Martin
- The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology by Jurgen Moltmann
- Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias
240 Christian moral and devotional theology
This section houses Christian ethics or moral theology and codes of conduct; Christian prayer and meditations; evangelistic writings; the use of art in Christianity; Christian experience and practice; guides for the Christian life (both individuals and groups of people); and Christian observances in family life.
Recommended books in Christian moral and devotional theology:
- The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
- Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life by Joyce Rupp
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
- Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
- The Wisdom of Time by Pope Francis and Friends
- Waiting for God by Simone Weil
250 Local Christian church and Christian religious orders
Books related to the management of churches; churches by geography; biographies of church leaders; books on preaching; texts of sermons; pastoral work and works by pastors, ministers, priests; books on counseling and spiritual direction; religious congregations and order; and pastoral care of individuals and specific groups of people like the youth, the elderly, women, those with disabilities, prisoners, and so on are shelved in the 250s.
Recommended books in Christian orders and local church:
- Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr.
- Immeasurable: Reflections of the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. by Skye Jethani
- A Spirituality of Service: Reflections on a Life-Long Journey of Faith and Work among the World’s Poor by Jerry Asker
260 Christian social and ecclesiastical theology
This section houses books on the institutions, services, observances, and disciplines; works of Christianity and the church; the role of the church in society; church government; and missions work. Books about associations for religious work (both non denominational and interdenominational) and religious education are shelved here too.
Recommended books in social and eccelesiastical theology:
- The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America by Richard John Neuhaus
- A Public Faith: How the Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miroslav Volf
- The Popes: A Concise Biographical History edited by Eric John
- The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology by Jonathan A. Stapley
- The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith by Andrew F. Walls
- Just As I Am by Billy Graham
270 History, geographic treatment, biography of Christianity
This is where books on all facets of history on the Christian church belong: collected writings of apostolic and church fathers through the modern period; religious congregations and orders in history; monasticism; persecutions regardless of denomination; doctrinal controversies and heresies; and Christian history in all geographic locations.
Recommended books in the history of Christianity and the Christian church:
- The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch
- The Templars: Knights of Christ by Regine Pernoud
- The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
- God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China by Liao Yiwu
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
- The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances Fitzgerald
280 Denominations and sects of Christian church
Books on non denominational and interdenominational churches; the early church; Eastern churches; the Roman Catholic Church; Anglican churches; Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational, Puritan, Baptist, Adventist, Methodist); and sects such as the Shakers, Unitarian and Universalist churches, Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Christian Scientist, Society of Friends (Quakers), Mennonites and all other Christian denominations and sects go here.
Recommended books in Christian denominations and sects:
- Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad by Saad Sirop Hanna
- Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner
- Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhuis
- Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers by Richard S. Newman
- The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints by Leonard Arrington
- Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill et al.
290 Other religions
Every other religion, denomination, cult, and sect in the world goes in the 290s. I suspect that in most libraries in America through at least the late 1950s, this was a limited section. In many libraries today, it takes up roughly half the 200s section.
The five major religions discussed in the video below are only a tiny fraction of the religions practiced in the world, but they have the most adherents by far. Many of the world’s other religions are offshoots (denominations or sects) of at least one of them. The video discusses briefly what all religions have in common, as well as what differentiates these five.
This section (290s) covers a lot of ground. I will just name the major religions in the order they are arranged on the shelves. At a later time, I will break this section down into more detail.
First, there are Classical religions (Greek and Roman); next, Germanic religions (Scandinavian and Norse); followed by religions of Indic origin (Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism); then Zoroastrianism; Judaism; Islam, Babism, and the Baha’i Faith; and finally by all other religions not provided for elsewhere. This includes Tibetan, Black African, and South American religions and modern revivals of old religions.
Recommended books in other religions:
- The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
- The Illustrated World’s Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions by Huston Smith
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton
- Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple
- The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography by Daisaku Ikeda
- Why is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? A Westerner’s Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice by Tsomo Lama
- The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty by Estelle Frankel
- If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
- Sufism and the Way of Blame by Yannis Toussulis
- Whispers of the Ancients: Native Tales of Teaching and Healing in Our Timeby Tamarack Song
- Exodus! Heirs and Pioneers, Rastafari Return to Ethiopia by Giulia Bonacci
- Mastering the Toltec Way: A Daily Guide to Happiness, Freedom, and Joy by Susan Gregg
- Water from an Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life by Kenneth McIntosh
- Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman
Sit back and admire your organized shelves
Once you have further subdivided your religion books, be sure to update any spreadsheets or card catalogs you may have made for them. If you don’t know how, check out “Simple Record-Keeping for Your Home Library“. Part of the joy of having a system is that you will never need to worry about misplacing a beloved book again.
Now pour yourself a favorite beverage and enjoy your organized book collection.
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