70,000+ Religious Texts Digitized by Princeton Theological Seminary, Letting You Immerse Yourself in the Curious Works of Great World Religions

It is maybe easy for those unfa­mil­iar with the study of reli­gion to reduce the aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­pline to a pon­der­ous exercise—self-serious, obsessed with tra­di­tion, ren­dered sus­pect by his­to­ries of vio­lence and high­ly implau­si­ble, con­tra­dic­to­ry claims. But this is a mis­take. For one thing, as schol­ar of reli­gion Wil­fred Cantwell Smith once wrote, “the study of reli­gion is the study of persons”—quite broad­ly, he sug­gests, to study reli­gion is to study human­i­ty: anthro­pol­o­gy, soci­ol­o­gy, his­to­ry, art, lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy, mythol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, etc. Study­ing reli­gion can also be—contrary to cer­tain stereotypes—a great deal of fun.

In what oth­er schol­ar­ly pur­suit, after all, can one read Regi­nald Scot, Esquire’s 1584 The Dis­cov­er­ie of Witch­craft, L. Aus­tine Waddell’s 1805 The Bud­dhism of Tibet, and J.G. Frazer’s 1894 The Gold­en Bough, inspi­ra­tion for T.S. Eliot’s poet­ry and spir­i­tu­al ances­tor to Joseph Campbell’s pop­u­lar com­par­a­tive work The Hero with a Thou­sand Faces?

But of course, not many an advanced schol­ar would find him or her­self immersed in all of these texts, spe­cial­iz­ing, as they must, in one par­tic­u­lar area. Those of us who are mere­ly curi­ous, how­ev­er, or insa­tiably curi­ous, can do as we please in the the­ol­o­gy library, thumb­ing through what­ev­er strikes our fan­cy.

We may do so from the com­fort of wher­ev­er we can get wifi thanks to Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Seminary’s The­o­log­i­cal Com­mons’ project with the Inter­net Archive, which has dig­i­tized over 70,000 texts from the Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary Library, span­ning hun­dreds of years and near­ly every con­ceiv­able reli­gious sub­ject. Yes, there are shelves of hym­nals, hard­ly the kind of thing to gen­er­ate much inter­est among any but the most devout or the most deeply-down-a-schol­ar­ly-rab­bit-hole. But there are also many fas­ci­nat­ing gems like Jacob Grimm’s 1882–88 Teu­ton­ic Mythol­o­gy in four vol­umes (trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish), like E.A. Wal­lis Budge’s beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed 1911 Osiris and the Egypt­ian Res­ur­rec­tion, and like Wes­leyan min­is­ter Charles Roberts’ 1899 The Zulu-Kafir Lan­guage Sim­pli­fied for Begin­ners.

Like many texts writ­ten by colo­nial observers and Ori­en­tal­ist schol­ars, some of these books may tell us as much or more about their authors than about the pur­port­ed subjects—we encounter in reli­gious schol­ar­ship no more nor less bias than in any oth­er field, though piety is giv­en license to take more overt forms. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as Cantwell Smith wrote, “the tra­di­tion­al form of West­ern schol­ar­ship in the study of oth­er men’s reli­gion was that of an imper­son­al pre­sen­ta­tion of an ‘it.’” But these out­dat­ed views are them­selves instructive—as part of a process towards a wider human­ist under­stand­ing, “the grad­ual recog­ni­tion of what was always true in prin­ci­ple, but was not always grasped.”

For stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­al schol­ars, the Prince­ton dig­i­tal library is obvi­ous­ly, well… a god­send. For the merely—or insatiably—curious, it is an open invi­ta­tion to explore strange new worlds, so to speak, and to real­ize, again and again, that they’re all the same world, seen in innu­mer­ably dif­fer­ent ways. In this archive, you’ll find pri­ma­ry texts and com­men­taries on Islam, Bud­dhism, Hin­duism, Judaism, Zoroas­tri­an­ism, Greek and Egypt­ian reli­gions, indige­nous faiths of all kinds, and, of course, giv­en the source, plen­ty of Chris­tian­i­ty (like the 1606, pre-King James Bible at the top). “The next step,” writes Cantwell Smith, in mov­ing the study of reli­gion for­ward, “is a dia­logue.… If there is lis­ten­ing and mutu­al­i­ty… the cul­mi­na­tion of this progress is when ‘we all’ are talk­ing with each oth­er about ‘us.’”

Enter the online Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary Library here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Har­vard Launch­es a Free Online Course to Pro­mote Reli­gious Tol­er­ance & Under­stand­ing

Phi­los­o­phy of Reli­gion: A Free Online Course 

Free Online Reli­gion Cours­es 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Peter Gavin Ferriby says:

    The­o­log­i­cal Com­mons is a project fund­ed by Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty has noth­ing to do with it; the two insti­tu­tions are legal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly sep­a­rate, although they share some his­to­ry and the loca­tion of Prince­ton, NJ. Please cor­rect your arti­cle, on behalf of schol­ars in both insti­tu­tions.

  • Virginia Dearborn says:

    Mr. Fer­ri­by is cor­rect. This is a Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary project and part­ner­ship. Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty is a dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tion named for the same town. Thank you!

  • Bhupinder S Sood says:

    How do I read about Sikhism and research?

  • RAHUL Lonchey says:

    How do I read about tibetan lamaism

  • Ita Asuquo Umoren says:

    I want to know the pro­ce­dure for apply­ing for the Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary course.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.