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Michigan State University

Religions of the World: Biographical Dictionaries

This is a guide to researching religions of the world: Western and Eastern Christianity, Eastern religions, Islam, Bahai, New Age Movements, Judaism. Last updated 06-26-2023

Biographical Dictionaries

Many of the encyclopedias and dictionaries described in the other sections of this guide have biographical entries, which are high quality and often no substitute for these dictionaries below.

World's Greatest Religious Leaders, How Religious Figures Helped Shape World History.  Main BL 72 .W67 2018 v. 1-2

Signed entries, with further reading references, and some b/w illustrations, are 4-6 pages in length.  Arrangement is alphabetical by surname.  There is a Guide to Related Topics at beginning of v. 1 which is essentially a broad subject index where you can look up particular faiths and denominations and learn which individuals in the dictionary are associated with them.  There is also a 6 page timeline, a very short general bibliography, and an overall index.  Authors of the entries are mostly American trained, and employed, academics.

Women in Scripture, a Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and the New Testament. BS 575 .W593 2000 Reference
"...was conceived as a way to collect the best and most up-to-date scholarship--feminist Biblical scholarship--in a single, user-friendly book." Summarizes the scholarship on the topic written since the 1960s. Includes Biblical material about women from the canon of both Jews and Christians.

Who's Who in Theology and Science Main BL 240.2 .W514 1996

Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits Main BX 3702 .A1 C36 2017

Contains signed entries, from several paragraphs to several pages in length on topics, personalities, events, places, ideas, etc.

Butler's Lives of the Saints. Main BX 4654 .B8 1956 v. 1-4 and older editions
Book of Saints, a Dictionary of the Servants of God. Main BX 4655 .B6 1994
Oxford Dictionary of Saints Main and Remote Storage BX 4659 .G7 F23 1997
Dictionary of Saints. Main BX 4655.8 .D44

New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. Reference BR 1710 .W35 2007b

Butler's... is "a standard source, providing, in calendar order, readable, short biographies of saints. Gives legendary and factual information. Brief bibliographies... name indexes in each volume; cumulative index in v. 4." Book of Saints... reflects changes in the Catholic Church's calendar of saints of 1969. Notes removal of certain saints from the Canon and addition of others. Brief biographies, especially those associated with British place names. List of patron saints of various professions, trades, arts, etc. Dictionary of Saints has "brief entries on some 5,000 saints...for those seeking a concise resume of pertinent facts in their lives." Also has lists of patron saints, their symbols in art, chronological chart of popes, and calendars of saints both Roman and Byzantine.  Oxford Dictionary of Saints is online.

Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines

Drawn from a variety of sources ranging from classical literature to early ethnographies to contemporary interpretations, this work provides a comprehensive introduction to the ways goddess figures have been viewed through the ages. Describes the myths and attributes of goddesses and female spiritual powers from around the world. Organized by culture and religion, explores the role of women in each culture's religious life and introduces readers to the background of each pantheon, as well as to the individual figures who peopled it. Alternative names for important divinities are offered, as are lists of minor goddesses and their attributes.

Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians. Main BR 95 .B575 2000
Greenwood Press. "...provides readers with a concise introduction to the lives and though of more than 450 Christian theologians." Covers education, career, summarizes subjects' major works and contributions to theology. Short bibliographies of primary and secondary works. Only covers Christian theologians who died before 1994. Does not cover philosophers of religion, just those whose work was in systematic and spiritual theology or church history. Deals with Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants, especially those of the post-Reformation period in the English-speaking world. Signed entries.

Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals Reference BR 1643 .A1 B56 2003

Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, 1730-1860. Main BR 1640 .B53 1995 v. 1-2
"...biographical information and sources for study of figures of historical, literary, or religious significance who flourished at any time between 1730 and 1860 and were associated with the evangelical movement in the English-speaking world." Entries seek to show how the individuals touched and molded social and political life. Both ordained and lay figures covered. Brings evangelical women to the fore in a way not done before. Evangelicals included fit the definition of Evangelical Protestantism of David Bebbington: "a movement marked by conversionism (involving a call to personal repentance and moral transformation); crucicentrism (theology centered on the cross of Christ, the doctrine of the Atonement being central); Biblicism (the Bible is the supreme authority in matters of faith and practice); and activism" (a commitment to doing which springs from one's beliefs). Signed entries.

Encyclopedia of American Women and Religion. Main BL 2525 .B45 2017
ABC-Clio. "...includes women who influenced American religion during their time and some whose influence continues to be felt.... covers religious denominations, with their positions on the roles of women, women's religious-based organizations... and individuals who have overcome obstacles to attain positions in church hierarchies or founded religious sects." Includes quasi- religious groups, including witches and ecofeminists. Heavy focus on 19th and 20thcenturies. All entries by the author, who has a PhD in history with a dissertation on right-wing women in America in the 1930s and 1940s. Further reading references conclude articles.

Religious Leaders of America. Remote Storage BL 35 .R5 ed. 2
Gale Group. Subtitle: a Biographical Guide to Founders and Leaders of Religious Bodies, Churches, and Spiritual Groups in North America. Overall author has written many reference books on American religious history. More than 1,200 entries on American and Canadian religious figures who have impacted the religious community since 1865, including recent and living figures, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, some women and minorities. Does not cover those influential before 1865, those whose influence was felt largely abroad, or largely in secular life. Further reading references. Entries not signed by individual authors.

African-American Religious Leaders A-Z of African Americans  Main BL 72 .A27 2011

Dictionary of American Religious Biography Main BL 72 .B68 1993

Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders. Main BL 2525 .M448 1986
Garland. Overall author same as source just above. Some entries are signed by authors. Further reading references. Cults and sects used in their more neutral senses. Sects are those bodies which dissent from the established churches on issues of strictness of behavior (Holiness Movement), firm allegiance to doctrinal positions (Fundamentalism), and/or doctrinal innovations (Pentecostalism). Cults represent more radical religious innovation within a culture; new religious/spiritual options. The entries are for those individuals responsible for founding and leading the cults and sects of the U.S., who died before 1983.

Dictionary of Jesuit Biography, Ministry to English Canada 1842-1987  Main BX 3755 .D53 1991

Who’s Who in Hell, A Handbook and International Directory for Humanists, Freethinkers, Naturalists, Rationalists and Non-Theists. Main BL 2785 .W55 2000
Includes some Unitarians. Includes biographies of humanists and non-believers who, over the centuries, have listened to the evidence supplied by orthodox “believers” and have rejected such evidence for a variety of reasons, always because of their own critical intelligence. Those included have developed through skepticism and reason a philosophic outlook that is secular, freethinking, rationalistic, naturalistic, humanistic, or a combination. Info is taken from other biographical works. Entries range from one or two lines to a page.

Icons of Unbelief, Atheists, Agnostics, and Secularists.   Main BL 2759 .I36 2008

Long, signed, biographical articles on famous atheists, agnostics, and secularists, such as Dawkins, Harris,  Freud, Mill, Bradlaugh, etc. 

Great Popes Through History Main BX 955.3 .G74 2002 v. 1-2

Islam Beyond Terrorists and Terrorism, Biographies of the Most Influential Muslims in History  Remote Storage BP 70 .M34 2002

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Fiction from C.S. Lewis to Left Behind  Main PS 374 .C48 T57 2009

90 biographical entries on British and American authors of Christian-themes novels published from World War II to the present. Entries include religious and educational background, survey of authors' major works and themes, summary of critical response to the work, and bibliography of works and criticism.  Author of book, Nancy M. Tischler is professor emerita of English and humanities, Pennsylvania State U. and has written on women and themes of the Bible.

Witnesses to the Baptist Heritage, Thirty Baptists Every Christian Should Know.  Main BX 6493 .W58 2015

Not a dictionary.  Chapters on each individual, each about eight pages long.  Arranged chronologically.  Each chapter has suggested readings at the end, a mix of works by the person and about the person.

Marquis Who's Who Biographies

Their Who's Who in Religion is in Remote Storage BL 2530 .U6 W48, but this content should be in this online product.  For famous, living Americans active in religion, find brief biographical details and contact information.  Once in the resources, look near top right of screen. Where it says "Search by subject or topic" click on the down arrow. Then click on "Biographical Information" near the bottom of the page under "People, Places and Things."  Then, within the Lexis Nexis interface, you will be searching the biographical dictionaries published by the Marquis company. 

Biography and Genealogy Master Index
This is an index to entries in a wide variety of biographical dictionaries.  It is particularly useful if the above sources do not have and entry for the individual you seek information about, as it indexes the contents of a lot of more obscure, older, biographical dictionaries.