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Prayer Traditions: A Virtual Journey through Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia

(The following is a post by the African and Middle Eastern Division’s story map editorial team: Edward Miner, Head of the African Section; Joan Weeks, Head of the Near East Section; Anchi Hoh, Program Specialist; and Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian & Georgian Area Specialist.)

The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) recently launched a story map, titled “Prayer Traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia: a Journey through the Library of Congress Collections.” The story map takes visitors on a virtual journey through these regions, exploring major religions and prayer traditions through a selection of prayer materials housed in the Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

Screenshot of the story map with title "prayer traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia."

Screenshot of the story map, titled “Prayer traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.”

This online exhibit is part of the Exploring Challenging Conversations initiative generously funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. The purpose of the initiative is to enhance public awareness of cross-regional and intercultural religious understanding in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and their global diasporas.

The story map highlights African religious traditions, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Many of the division’s most prized and some never-seen-before prayer materials are on digital display, including manuscripts, rare books, lithographs, and historical postcards in African languages, Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Ladino, Persian, Turkish, and Turkic languages. Some items are in western languages.

A collage of color screenshots illustrating rare books and manuscripts.

A collage of screenshots from the story map, “Prayer Traditions in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.”

The story map also features an interactive geocoded map highlighting major cities and cultural centers in the region, each featuring items from AMED’s collections that reflect the area’s religious and cultural practices. The map data is also available for download.

A color map marking major cities and cultural centers in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Screenshot of the interactive map marking major cities and cultural centers in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Religion in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia is a complex subject, often interwoven with the issues of conflicts, violence, colonialism, slavery, etc. Through its prayer collection, AMED saw an opportunity to develop an exhibit that advances the general public’s understanding of cross-regional and cross-cultural religious engagement.

The Exploring Challenging Conversations initiative also includes a series of “Islam in Africa and the Middle East” public programs and a symposium titled “Religious Practices, Transmission and Literacies in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia” (recordings to be released in mid-August), all made possible with support from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

To view a select listing of the prayer collection housed in the African and Middle Eastern Division, click on this link.

For reference assistance, please contact the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room via Ask a Librarian.

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