BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Lilly Library at Indiana University will establish an endowed curator of religious collections to increase public understanding of the role of religion in daily life, thanks to a $2.5 million grant to the Indiana University Foundation from Lilly Endowment Inc.
The Lilly Library is one of 16 organizations from across the United States participating in the second round of Lilly Endowment’s Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative. The group includes fine arts museums, historical societies and history museums, libraries, historic sites, museums dedicated to serving children and families, and museums dedicated to particular geographic locations and cultures.
For decades, Lilly Library collections have been used by scholars from around the world to illuminate faith perspectives and their historical impact. Now a permanent curator will expand interest beyond academic communities.
“There is no substitute for the focused energy and activity that a knowledgeable curator can bring to a collection,” said Joel Silver, director of the Lilly Library.
The library’s holdings include irreplaceable religious books, hymnals, manuscripts and writings that span more than a millennium, representing a variety of faith traditions from every part of the world.
“Establishing a permanent guardian for these rare and unique items ensures the information and viewpoints contained in them will inform contemporary conversations for generations to come,” Silver said.
The Lilly Library, which houses the New Testament of the Gutenberg Bible among its many highlights, serves as IU’s principal rare books, manuscripts and special collections library. Admission is free, and collections are available to both students and the public.
Diane Dallis-Comentale, the Ruth Lilly Dean of IU Libraries, said the Lilly Library is an ideal participant in the Indianapolis-based foundation’s efforts to improve public understanding of religion.
“Everyone at Indiana University is incredibly grateful for the continued support of Lilly Endowment,” Dallis-Comentale said. “For scholars and the community alike, now more than ever, historic texts and literary artifacts are needed to spark individual curiosity that goes beyond acceptance of second-hand stories. We are committed to a diversity of voices telling those stories, and this is an incredible opportunity to invite explorations into the ways faith has influenced cultures around the world.”
Josiah Kirby Lilly Jr. donated his collection of rare books and manuscripts — widely considered to be one of the finest private libraries in the world — to Indiana University between 1954 and 1957. As he had envisioned, these 20,000 printed books and 17,000 manuscripts had a transformative effect on the intellectual life of the university and, in turn, the state of Indiana. In 1960, Lilly and then IU President Herman B Wells opened the doors to the new Lilly Library and its collections —some 100,000 printed books and nearly 1,000,000 manuscripts. Today, thousands visit the growing collections of 480,000 rare books, 8.5 million manuscripts and 150,000 pieces of sheet music.
Audiences who engage with Lilly Library’s religious collections will learn how words, images and ideas regarding religion have been transmitted through history. Once selected, the curator of religious collections will make these unique books and materials more prominent through targeted exhibitions, presentations, and digital and traditional forms of outreach.
“Looking at the history of Indiana and its universities, we find Lilly Endowment woven throughout innovations and advancements of collective benefit,” IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Rahul Shrivastav said. “In line with Indiana University’s priorities, these benefits involve making humanities visible so that Hoosiers and visitors from around the world can deepen and broaden their understandings.”
Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.
This is the second round of Lilly Endowment grants to help organizations develop exhibitions and education programs that fairly and accurately portray the role of religion in the U.S. and around the world. The Religion and Cultural Institutions Initiative began in 2019 with an initial group of 18 grants. Through both rounds of grants, Lilly Endowment has made a total of more than $86 million.
“Museums and cultural institutions are trusted organizations and play an important role in teaching the American public about the world around them,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These organizations will use the grants to help visitors understand and appreciate the significant impact religion has had and continues to have on society in the United States and around the globe. Our hope is that these efforts will promote greater knowledge about and respect for people of diverse religious traditions.”