How to do research on religion and theology? Religious study has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly at schools of religion and colleges and universities with religion programs.
Whether reading biblical passages or considering the inherent meanings of religious artifacts, enormous opportunities exist today for students, researchers, and believers to more fully explore the common characteristics, conceptions (and misconceptions), methods, practices, and traditions of religions from around the world.
To satisfy your strong desire to explore traditional and nontraditional religions, differences between one religion over another, laws separating church and state, or deeply rooted religious theories or changing attitudes towards religion, almost everything in the world related to this specific field of study is accessible in some form. This article surveys a large selection of sources for research papers on religion and theology.
Selected Subject Headings
Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms as well when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to the topic of your research paper.
Suggested Research Topics in Religion and Theology
- Bible—Criticism, interpretation, etc.
- Catholic Church
- Christianity and Other Religions
- Religion and Culture
- Religion and Ethics
- Religion and Sociology
Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides
Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your research paper topic.
If your topic is “prayer in the public schools,” for example, enter “prayer” and “public schools” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, from your list of keywords that you developed, alternate with one new keyword at a time in between (for example, “prayer and equality and public schools,” “prayer and free speech and public schools,” “prayer and protests and public schools,” “prayer and religion and public schools,” “prayer and states and public school,” etc.).
For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your searching, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to the subject of your research paper.
Selected Source and Subject Guides
As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your research paper, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include
American Religion and Philosophy: A Guide to Information Sources, by Ernest R. Sandeen and Frederick Hale, 377 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 1978)
A Guide to Information Sources for Social Work and the Human Services, by Henry N. Mendelsohn, 136 pages (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1987)
Religion Information Sources: A Worldwide Guide, by J. Gordon Melton and Michael A. Koszegi, 569 pages (New York: Garland Pub., 1992)
Theological and Religious Reference Material: General Resources and Biblical Studies, by G. E. Gorman and Lyn Gorman (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984)
In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to the subject of your research paper.
Selected Books and References
Dictionary of American Religious Biography, 2nd ed., by Henry Warner Bowden, 720 pages (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993)
This revised and enlarged second edition offers 550 biographical sketches, including 125 brand-new entries, of the most prominent religious figures in history “reflecting America’s cultural and religious diversity.” Each entry summarizes the subject’s personal history and his or her contributions to religious life, followed by a list of sources. Appendixes provide easy cross-referencing of subjects by religious denomination and place of birth.
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, edited by David Noel Freedman, 1,425 pages (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000)
Written by 600 leading scholars of all theological persuasions, this first-rate illustrated dictionary covers nearly 5,000 books, persons, places, and major terms noted in the Bible. Each entry critically analyzes each biblical book and related writings, as well as their “cultural, natural, geographical, and literary importance.”
Religious Sites in America: A Dictionary, by Mary Ellen Snodgrass, 508 pages (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2000)
Comprehensively explores some 160 worship groups and religious centers in the United States, including their origin, history, location, and purpose.
Encyclopedias and Guides
Encyclopedia of American Religions, 8th ed., by J. Gordon Melton, 3 vols., 1,253 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 2009)
This three-volume reference, updated in 2009, features descriptive essays on more than 2,300 prominent and obscure North American religious groups in the United States and Canada, from Adventists to Zen Buddhists, and 22 religious families. Entries focus on the origins and traditions of each religious group. Also available online and in an e-book edition.
The Encyclopedia of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch et al., 912 pages (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans; Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2008)
This five-volume set, an English version of the German edition, Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon, thoroughly surveys the 2,000-year history of Christianity from a global perspective. Articles discuss religions and their philosophies and include statistical information on other continents and more than 170 countries in context. Relevant social and cultural issues are likewise discussed, including armaments, genocide, and racism, as well as biblical and apostolic traditions.
HarperCollins Concise Guide to World Religions: The A-to-Z Encyclopedia of All the Major Religious Traditions, by Mircea Eliade and Ioan P. Couliano, with Hillary S. Wiesner, 320 pages (New York: HarperCollins, 1999)
Fascinating A-to-Z guide that explores 33 major religions and religious traditions around the world, from Buddhism to the religions of Africa and Oceania. Entries also cover religious figures, histories, mythologies, mystical techniques, and sacred texts in context.
Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, edited by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, 4 vols., 1,507 pages (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002)
Features core essays on major religious traditions and also 1,000 religious groups and 276 recognized nations and territories, principally focusing on the development and practice of those religions covered.
Contemporary American Religion, by Wade Clark Roof, 2 vols., 861 pages (New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1999)
This highly recommended reference features more than 500 well-written articles on contemporary religion, religious personalities, and other popular topics, such as fundamentalist Christianity, Feng Shui, Elvis cults, and temptation. Each article is followed by a list of references for further study. Approximately 200 black-and-white photos and graphics complement the text. An e-book version was published in 2003.
Selected Full-Text Article Databases
Academic Search Elite (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, indexing/abstracting: 1984– , full text: 1990– )
Provides access to full-text articles on current and past events and a broad range of academic disciplines. Abstracts are indexed since 1984, full-text articles from 1990 to the present.
ATLA Religion Database (Chicago: American Theological Librarian Association/Cambridge Scientific Abstracts/EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost/National Information Services Corp./OCLC, 1949– )
This premier online database—also known as the Religion Index Database—indexes more than 1.9 million citations, with some full text, of articles, book reviews, and essay collections from some 1,577 journals and 15,300 multi-authored works from the past 50 years in all fields of religion. Subcategories include religious research in such fields as anthropology, business, history, law, medicine, sociology, and psychology. Also available in compact disc form as ATLA Religion Database on CD-ROM, both versions correspond to the printed editions of Religion Index One: Periodicals, 1949– ; Religion Index Two: Multi-Author Works, 1960– ; Index to Book Reviews in Religion, 1949– ; Research in Ministry: An Index to D.Min. Project Reports and Theses, 1981– ; and Methodist Reviews Index, 1818–1985.
ATLA Serials Online (Chicago: American Theological Librarian Association, 1924– )
Offered individually and as part of the ATLA Religion Database, this full-text collection covers 50 religion and theology journals, including more than 50,000 articles and book reviews, from 1924 to the present in the fields of archaeology, Bible study, ethics, missions, pastoral ministry, philosophy, religion, society, and theology. Journals include Arts, Archaeology, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Christian Century, Eastern Buddhist, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, and many others.
InfoTrac Religion & Philosophy (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, indexing: early 1980s– , full text: 1983– )
Updated daily, this Web database contains more than 1.1 million articles discussing the impact of religion on culture throughout history, including arts, literature, and language, culled from more than 250 academic journals and magazines covering all aspects of religion and related disciplines, among them, anthropology, archaeology, and philosophy.
International Medieval Bibliography (IMB) (Leeds, U.K.: University of Leeds; Turnhout, Belgium: International Medieval Institute, 1967– )
Indexes full-text articles from more 4,000 periodicals and 5,000 miscellaneous volumes, including conference proceedings, essay collections, and Festschriften, on the Middle Ages in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa from c. 400 to 1500. IMB online is the electronic version.
LexisNexis Academic Universe (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )
Current events database offering full-text articles on a broad spectrum of fields and subjects, including news, business, legal information, country and state profiles, federal case law, the U.S. Code, the Constitution, and court rulings.
ProQuest Direct (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest/UMI, indexing: 1971– , full text: 1986– )
This online database indexes citations and abstracts to articles from popular magazines and newspapers as well as general and academic journals in all fields of study, many of them in full text from 1986 to the present. Disciplines covered include culture, current events, history, literature, psychology, religion, sociology, and women’s studies.
The Philosopher’s Index (Bowling Green, Ohio: Philosophy Documentation Center, Bowling Green State University/Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, 1940– )
This online index cites journal articles, books, contributions to anthologies, and book reviews from nearly 570 journals of philosophy from 43 countries. Topics covered include aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, metaphysic logic, political philosophy, and the philosophy of law, religion, science, history, education, and language, with links to full-text where available. The Philosopher’s Index: A Retrospective Index to Non-U.S. English Language Publications from 1940 is the print equivalent to this electronic edition.
ProQuest Religion (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, 1986– )
Updated daily, this Web-based database—formerly called ProQuest Religious Periodicals—features a fully searchable index of more than 150 titles, including 130 full-text religious periodicals, including Catechist, Cistercian Studies Quarterly, Journal of Biblical Literature, Old Testament Abstracts, Spiritual Life, Theological Studies, and 85 other English-language religious publications. Indexing is for items published since 1986, with full-text material from the early to mid-1990s. Articles are available in different formats (text or image).
Religion and Philosophy Collection (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, 1975– )
This essential tool for researchers and students of theology and philosophical studies features abstracts and full-text articles from nearly 300 journals, including almost 250 peer-reviewed titles. Subjects covered include biblical studies, epistemology, major denominations, philosophy, religious history, and world religions. Journals indexed in the collection include Archaeology, Biblical Interpretation, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Catholic Historical Review, Christianity Today, Comparative Sociology, Ethics, Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Islamic Law and Society, Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, and many more.
Wilson OmniFile Full Text Select (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., Wilson Disc/WilsonWeb, January 1994– )
High-quality indexed and abstracted articles, all in full text on CD-ROM and online, culled from the following H.W. Wilson databases: Readers’ Guide Abstracts, Humanities Abstracts, General Science Abstracts, Social Sciences Abstracts, and Wilson Business Abstracts.
America (New York: America Press, Inc., 1909– , weekly)
Published and edited by lay Roman Catholics, this national Catholic weekly, founded by Jesuits of the United States in 1909, offers commentary and opinion from various standpoints on many social and political issues, written by well-known writers and theologians. Contents include timely and thought-provoking articles, book, film or art reviews, and special issues on crucial topics and prominent individuals. Articles from earlier published volumes are referenced in such major print and online indexes as Catholic Index, Guide to Social Science and Religion Periodical Literature, New Testament Abstracts, Old Testament Abstracts, and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Back issues of America are available online through ProQuest Religious Periodicals from 1988 to the present.
Christian Century: An Ecumenical Magazine (Chicago: Christian Century Co., 1884– , biweekly)
Established in 1884, this biweekly nondenominational journal has offered a moderate to liberal viewpoint on matters of religion, politics, and society. For more than 100 years, the publication has published articles by some of the most respected theologians, historians, and church leaders examining ethical and social issues, contemporary concerns, and religious and moral issues. In addition, the staff-written and contributed articles and editorials have focused on such topics as poverty, human rights, economic justice, international relations, national priorities, and popular culture from a religious perspective.
Christianity Today (Carol Stream, Ill.: Christianity Today, 1956– , biweekly)
Founded by Protestants more than 40 years ago, Christianity Today features in-depth news, articles, editorials, and reviews on Christian life of interest to ministers and other religious professionals. Each issue explores the major challenges facing Christians today, including education, family, life ethics, money and business, persecution, politics and law, sexuality and gender, and social justice, all written from an evangelical Christian perspective. Issues from 1994 to the present are accessible through the publisher’s archives page at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/.
Commentary (New York: American Jewish Committee, 1945– , monthly)
Adhering to its mission to “clarify public opinion on problems of Jewish concern,” this monthly journal focuses on major Jewish issues in United States and abroad. Published since 1945 by the American Jewish Committee, each issue provides commentary and opinion on political topics and problems of bigotry, human rights, and Jewish cultural interests. Full-text of the journal is available via the online databases PCI Full Text (1945–90), and Expanded Academic ASAP (1992– ).
Commonweal (New York: Calvert Pub. Corp., 1924– , 22 times yearly)
Reflecting a largely Roman Catholic perspective, this award-winning, independent opinion journal, edited and managed by lay Catholics, focuses on contemporary and social issues of interest to Roman Catholics. Each issue comprises columns, editorials, essays, letters to the editors, and reviews of books, movies, plays, and other media. Tables of contents with selected links to articles in current and past issues, from 1997 to the present, are retrievable online at http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/. Issues are also searchable back to 1924 but full-text articles require a nominal fee.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1933– , quarterly)
One of the top academic journals in its field, Journal of the American Academy of Religion features scholarly articles exploring a variety of theological issues. In addition to provocative and insightful articles, each issue includes a large section of reviews of current literature. The journal is indexed and abstracted in such popular databases as ATLA Religion Database, Guide to Social Science and Religion in Periodical Literature, Humanities Index, ISI: Current Contents, New Testament Abstracts, Religion Index One: Periodicals, Religious and Theological Abstracts, and Religious Periodical Index. To browse full text .PDF (2001– ) and HTML articles (2000– ) from past issues, visit the publication archives at http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/by/year.
Journal of Early Christian Studies (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press/North American Patristics Society, 1993– , quarterly)
The official publication of the North American Patristics Society (NAPS), this quarterly scholarly journal principally focuses on the study of Christianity and late ancient societies and religions from AD 100–700. Contents of each issue include engaging articles about traditional patristics scholarship, new themes, and methodologies, plus an extensive book review section. Previously published issues are indexed and abstracted in several leading databases, including Arts and Humanities Citation Index, ISI: Current Contents, Humanities Index, MLA International Bibliography, and New Testament Abstracts.
Modern Judaism: A Journal of Jewish Ideas and Experience (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981– , three times yearly)
This interdisciplinary scholarly journal discusses the modern Jewish experience. Articles address topics relevant to “the understanding of Jewish life today and the forces that have shaped that experience.” Modern Judaism is indexed and abstracted in a variety of online databases, including ATLA Religion Database, America: History and Life, Arts and Humanities Citation Index, Historical Abstracts, Humanities Index, Index to Jewish Periodicals, and many others. Full-text access of past issues is offered online through ProjectMUSE (1996– ).
Religious Studies Review (Hanover, Pa.: Council on the Study of Religion, 1975– , quarterly)
Published by the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion in association with Valparaiso University since September 1975, this scholarly journal reviews more than 1,000 publications annually in the field of religious studies and related disciplines. Each issue includes lengthy essays on recent books or single-topic articles. In addition, the journal publishes bibliographies and a registry of religious dissertations completed or currently in progress.
Selected Web Sites
Reportedly the second most frequently visited general religion site on the Internet, this independently operated Web site features 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations of published membership/adherent statistics and congregation statistics for some 4,200 religions, churches, denominations, and more worldwide.
Glossary of Religious Terms (http://www.religioustolerance.org/glossary.htm)
This Web page offers a helpful glossary of important terms for various religious groups around the world.
Religious Movements (http://www.has.vcu.edu/wrs/)
Part of the Religious Movements Homepage Project at the University of Virginia, this Web site offers an archived version of profiles about more than 200 different religious groups and movements in the world today, as well as essays, articles, and other valuable resources through 2003 following the passing of its editor Jeff Hadden.
Virtual Religion Index (http://virtualreligion.net/vri/)
Global directory cataloging a myriad of religion-related Web pages with links from the Rutgers University Religion Department.