Grab a company charge card: What religion reference works belong in newsroom libraries?

My May 30 Memo proclaimed the third edition of the “World Christian Encyclopedia," due next year, as a “must-buy” for media organizations because it will provide current overviews and statistics about each religious group in each country on earth, and much else.

This time around, The Guy proposes other religion works media shops savvy enough to maintain reference libraries should have on hand for unexpected breaking news as well as timeless features. Writers might want some items in their personal collections. The following covers print, but some e-editions are available.


The first essential is a couple comprehensive one-volume encyclopedias or dictionaries describing all world religions, as issued by several reliable publishers. You’ll also want the hefty ($215!) “Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.”


Save money by using a good public or college library for the multi-volume encyclopedias on religion, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaica, Islam, etc. However, via you could get the 1987 “Encyclopedia of Religion” for only $275. (Publishers: We really need a 21st Century equivalent of James Hastings’ less abstract “Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics” from 1913!)  

Acquire similar one-volume reference books on Catholicism and Judaism, which on some matters can be supplemented by century-old, multi-volume encyclopedias online here and here. For Protestantism, there’s the latest “Handbook of Denominations in the United States” and more comprehensive one-volume “Encyclopedia of Protestantism.” For Islam, get John Esposito’s dictionary and/or Cyril Glasse’s one-volume encyclopedia. For other world faiths, if those overview volumes do not suffice  tap experts as needed.  

 Baylor professor Gordon Melton compiles the remarkable “Encyclopedia of American Religions,” pretty much mandatory for describing gazillion offbeat sects you’ve never heard of. The Guy was grateful to Melton when scrambling on the Branch Davidian slaughter and Heaven’s Gate mass suicides. (Alas, the current edition lists for $582!)


The Guy’s Bible for most journalistic usage is the Revised Standard Version due to familiar phraseology, and in the Catholic edition all those extra books Protestants and Jews omit. Your outlet’s inclusive-language rules may require the New Revised Standard Version instead. Those two and numerous other full texts are available online here. The Jewish Publication Society Tanakh  (1985, not 1917), not available online, should be quoted when articles treat Judaism alone. The Guy recommends getting the JPS text plus background in the “Jewish Study Bible.”

Islam’s Qur’an in English translation is also a must. The Guy normally quotes Majid Fakhry’s rendition, simply because it’s endorsed by Al-Azhar University. Extensive commentary makes North American Muslims’ recent  “Study Quran” an essential item. With other world scriptures, go with quotes and interpretations from your sources

As budgets allow, consider further biblical items like Reform Judaism’s “The Torah: A Modern Commentary” and Conservative Judaism’s “Etz Hayim” Torah commentary. There’s no equivalent for Orthodoxy, so consult knowledgeable rabbis.

Other useful Bible works to consider are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and “Protestant mainline.” If you can splurge, the mainline, six-volume “Anchor Bible Dictionary” is worth the $600. Then for good conservative Protestant scholarship you’ll want both the “New Bible Commentary” and “New Bible Dictionary.”


Unfortunately, the National Council of Churches is no longer capable of compiling the “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” after 96 years. Standard statistics for 455 groups, though not the other valuable information the Yearbook supplied, are posted here. There’s the “American Jewish Year Book.” An online  directory of U.S. Muslim centers is posted here. The “North American Mission Handbook,” lists 900 Protestant agencies with overseas information.

The venerable “Catholic Almanac” has vanished, but the U.S. bishops’ conference posts much information here. In case needed on short notice, locate in advance the nearest church office where you can consult  the current “Official Catholic Directory” with its detailed U.S. listings, the “Annuario Pontificio” covering  Vatican offices and global Catholicism, and for global numbers the Vatican's “Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae.”    

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