Religion is well-represented in Houghton’s catalogue. Religious institutions have been patrons of the arts and the letters throughout human history, and the library reflects that through its immense collection of books and manuscripts connected, in one way or another, to human spirituality.
Houghton’s archives demonstrate the tangible effect Christianity, the major Western religion, has had on the entire globe throughout its 2,000-year history. The collection includes, for instance, a third-century papyrus containing fragments of the Gospel of Thomas (MS Gr SM4367, 009930237); a fifteenth-century illuminated Book of Hours from the Netherlands (MS Typ 253, 009616976), a gorgeous witness to the primacy of Catholicism as an ideology and as an institution during the European medieval period; an early modern blockbook, an extremely rare item akin to a modern graphic novel, depicting the Book of Revelation (Typ Inc 14, 001242636); and a Nuremberg Chronicle (WKR 10.2.7, 001527048), a religious account of the history of the world.
Moving away from Europe but remaining in the Christian tradition, Houghton holds more than a couple of items related to Christian proselytizing missions around the world. A Massachuset Bible from 1685 (AC6.El452.663mb, 004443936), printed in Cambridge, displays the conversion efforts of British colonizers in North America, and a seventeenth-century Jesuit booklet retelling Christ’s life in Chinese (52-1049, 010022984) demonstrates the far-reaching influence of Christianity around the early modern globe. On the topic of Christian missions in the East, Houghton holds two missionary treatises—one in Latin (Ch 62.3.2*, 002213095) and one in French (Ch 62.22.2 (2)*, 003995563)—revealing early modern Western views on China and Chinese religion.
One of Houghton’s strengths, in fact, is its collection of missions records from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). The ABCFM archives (ABC 1-91, 000602481) contain documents relating missions all over the globe—from Africa (ABC 15, 009763477) to the Pacific Islands (ABC 19, 009763593) and Native American communities (ABC 18.3-18.8, 009763568)—and allow students to research both religious and social interactions between Westerners and other cultures.
The library’s collection, however, is not restricted to the Christian perspective. Besides its enormous collections of Arabic and Hebrew manuscripts, which contain a myriad items regarding Islam and Judaism, Houghton also possesses Zoroastrian liturgical texts from the nineteenth century (MS Persian 58, 009037822); William James’ copy of “Aggressive Hinduism” (WJ 561.8.3, 012183625), a pamphlet about the South Asian religion written by a Western woman; a 1889 translation of Confucian analects into English (MS Chinese 1, 009894145); contemporary French newspaper articles about the Dreyfus Affair (MS Am 2638 , 011724159); and a Batak book of charms (MS Indo 30, 013481783), charm necklace (MS Indo 31, 013481797), and prayer sticks (MS Indo 32, 013481804).
On the more unorthodox side of religion, Houghton offers William James’ copy of a prospectus of Oahspe (R 3590.5.5*, 009582719), a spiritualist late nineteenth-century “new” Bible; The Songs of Argus Zion (MS Eng 1610, 010196664) a collection of messianic, apocalyptic songs and watercolor illustrations; Daniel Clement Dennett’s paper “What Evolutionary Good is God?” (MS Am 2587 , 008937558), which links religion to human evolution; and even a Thai fortune-telling manuscript (MS Typ 439, 012900213) that can predict the future of your rice crop.