Santa Clara University

Religious Studies department

Research Strategies

Over the years some of the faculty in the Religious Studies Department have developed resources to help you conduct research in the field.

Currently, there are research tips for two of the three areas of religious studies: Scripture and Tradition (SCTR), prepared by Prof. Murphy, and Religion and Society (RSOC), prepared by Prof. Jonte-Pace. Individual professors may offer additional resources in their various classes.

Research Tips for Scripture and Tradition

1. Choose a Topic
Consider your interests and the scope of the course, and choose a topic that bridges both. For some courses, the professor will suggest particular topics. You might also glance at the syllabus topics or the topics in the table of contents or index of your course text books to see if anything sparks your curiosity.

2. Select Type & Number of Sources

2.1. Types of Sources
For any discipline, including religious studies, there are several different types of sources you might come across:

  • Professional - These are "substantial" sources that have passed through some process of review. The review process promotes a higher level of quality and a "seal" of some level of acceptance from the academic and publishing communities. These types of sources include
    • articles in professional journals like those abbreviated toward the end of this web site (see abbreviations)
    • books written by professionals in the field that had to be reviewed by other scholars and publishers before they could be published.
    • government documents
    • resources you would find in the reference section of the library (concordances, dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries, etc.)

  • Popular - These resources require either a modest level of quality-control or none at all. They include:
    • Newspaper or newsmagazine articles
    • Literature produced by an organization
    • Online resources (in general; there are some exceptions, such as online government publications)
    • Interviews and other primary data you would collect

2.2. Number of Sources
The number of sources you need will depend upon the topic you choose. The following guidelines will fit most papers, although those on more contemporary issues and topics may require online resources and primary data.

3. Find the Right Sources
The best way to locate sources is to find the resources that already have done this for you:

  • Periodical Indexes and Databases - These paper and computerized resources provide fast access to bibliographic references (books and articles) on topics you may be studying
  • Scriptural Commentaries - If you need resources on a particular book in scripture, find a good recent commentary on that book. It will include a comprehensive bibliography of recent publications.
  • Scriptural or Topical Dictionaries and Encyclopedias - These resources, usually found in reference areas of the library, may have articles related to your topic. These articles will usually have brief bibliographies.
  • Oscar, Santa Clara University's online library access database; choose a keyword search and type in terms related to your topic
  • "Professional" Journal Articles and Books - These will frequently include bibliographic references that may be helpful.
  • Online Search Engines - For online searches, use the meta-search engines, such as:
    • Academic Info, Religion: Subject Index - an annotated directory of internet resources for the academic study of religion; only works with Internet Explorer.
    • DogPile, which provides categories for searches, much like Yahoo.
    • Google, which ranks pages based on how many other pages link to it for a given topic (thus those most often linked are listed
    • Government Documents are available through several different search mechanisms:
    • Ixquick, which searches 12 search engines; given highest rating by Search Engine Watch and ZDNet's Search IQ
    • MetaCrawler, which searches the search engines
    • Regional Search Engines, like:

    ArabNet, which searches ArabNet's links to countries in the Arab world; only functions in Internet Explorer

    •, enables you to search educational sites and pages

4. Get the Sources
After you have located some sources, check Oscar to see whether our library has them. If our library does not, you can order books or chapters in books through  Link+ (the book will arrive in 2-3 working days). If the book you need is not in any of the Link+ participating libraries, or if you need to order a journal article or other resource, you can do so through Bronco Express, an interlibrary loan service (articles are faxed within a few days; books can take two weeks to arrive). All of these services are available from the Oscar Main Menu.

You may also want to interview people for your research, particularly if you are doing an Arrupe placement. For Arrupe Interviews, always write out your questions in advance and approach your on-site supervisor for approval of the interview and the questions before conducting it. If you do receive approval to interview a client, always ask the client for the interview before beginning. Tell them what the purpose of the interview is, what sort of questions you will be asking, and about how long it will take. Indicate that you will change their name when you integrate the interview in your paper. If they agree, proceed with the interview. Remember to change their names in your footnotes, bibliography and paper. If you conduct interviews with supervisors, employees or agents of the site, you can with their permission use their real names in your paper, and will also need to know their title and the name of the agency.

5. Check Source Credibility
Be aware that anything that is published comes from a particular person or agency with their own background, training, and interests. It is important to become as aware of these matters as you can in order for you to read the resource critically. Books and even some articles will provide not only the name of the author, but also sometimes some biographical information about that person on the dustjacket or in the preface, acknowledgments, or introduction. In addition, the publisher or the journal will usually have a certain profile: a particular religious denomination, audience, and niche. If the author is a faculty member at an educational institution, you can usually find out something about him/her through the college or university web site (use to search those web sites). Publishers maintain their own websites. A short-cut for finding out other people's views of an author is to read reviews of their work; for authors of articles and books on scripture, use Old Testament Abstracts and New Testament Abstracts.

Researching the source of a web site can be a little more difficult. Back out of the url hierarchy "slash-by-slash" to see whether higher levels of the source provide background information about the author or the mission/purpose of the site. There are a couple of web sites that provide tips for use of online sources:

Brief Research Guide to Religion and Society

1. Getting Started

  • Fieldwork in the Library: a Guide to Research in Anthropology... (REF Z5111.W47 1994)
  • Introduction to Library Research in Anthropology (Z5111.W44 1991 GN42)
  • Library Research Guide to Religion and Theology (Folio BL41.K45 1984)
  • Research Guide to Religious Studies (REF BL41.W5 1982)
  • Sociology: a Guide to Reference and Information Sources (REF Z7164.S68 A24 1987)
  • Sources of Information for Historical Research (REF Z6201.S64 1994)
  • Writing and Research in Religious Studies (BL41.W75 1992)

2. Reference Resources

Check on your topic in specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries and handbooks, for example:

  • Anthropological Glossary (REF GN11.P43 1985)
  • Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology (REF GN25.C65 1994)
  • A Companion to Ethics (REF BJ1012.C62 1991)
  • Cultural Anthropology: a Guide to References and Information... (REF Z5111.K53 1991)
  • Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology (REF GN307.W56 1991)
  • Dictionary of Ethics, Theology and Society (REF BJ63.D45 1996)
  • Dictionary of Scripture and Myth (REF BL603.G3 1988)
  • The Encyclopedia of Ethics (REF BJ63.E45 1992)
  • The Encyclopedia of Unbelief (REF BL2705.E53 1985)
  • The Encyclopedia of Religion (REF BL31.E46 1986)
  • Encyclopedia of World Cultures (REF GN307.E53 1991)
  • The Encyclopedia of World Faiths (REF BL80.2.E495 1988)
  • Finding the Source in Sociology and Anthropology... (REF Z7164.S68 B75 1987)
  • Issues in the Sociology of Religion (REF Z7831.B55 1986)
  • The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Ethics (REF BJ1199.W47 1986)

Also check similar works in related fields such as psychology or folklore. Specialized bibliographies should also be consulted, as a sample:

  • A.H.A. Guide to Historical Literature, 3rd ed. (REF Z6201.A55 1995)
  • Bibliographic Guide to Anthropology and Archaeology 1987- (REF Z5111.B47)
  • A Bibliographical Guide to the Comparative Study of Ethics (REF Z5873.B48 1991)
  • Bibliography of New Religious Movements in Primal Societies (REF Z7833.T87)
  • International Bibliography of Social and Cultural Anthropology (REF Z7161.I593)
  • Judaism and Christianity: a Guide to the Reference Literature (REF Z6370.S78 1991)
  • Religion and Society in North America: An Annotated Bibliography (REF Z7831.R44 1983)
  • Social Science and the Cults: An Annotated Bibliography (REF Z7835.C86 S34 1990)
  • Sociology: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources (REF Z7164.S68 A24 1987)
  • The Sociology of Religion: A Bibliographical Survey (REF Z7831.H65 1986)
  • The Sociology of Religion: an Organizational Bibliography (REF Z7831.B54 1990)

3. Finding Books
Check OSCAR to locate books on your topic in University libraries. See Oscar/EAI Subject Searching Tips for further hints in using OSCAR. Use the 'Connect to another database' feature to identify books at other libraries.

Consult Z: Connect to Another Database handout for procedures

4. Journal Articles

  • Abstracts in Anthropology 1968- (REF Table R)
  • America: History and Life 1964- (REF Table X); On CD from 1982-
  • Anthropological Literature 1979- (REF Table R)
  • C.R.I.S.: Combined Retrospective Index to Journals in History, 1838-1974 (REF Table E)
  • C.R.I.S.: Combined Retrospective Index to Journals in Sociology, 1895-1974 (REF Table E)
  • Catholic Periodical and Literature Index 1930- (REF Table O)
  • Expanded Academic Index 1987- (Formerly, InfoTrac) (On Oscar terminals, select Z)
  • Guide to Catholic Literature, 1888-1967 (REF Z7837.G9)
  • Guide to Social Science & Religion in Periodical Literature 1965- (REF Table O)
  • Historical Abstracts 1955- (REF Table X); On CD, 1982-
  • The Philosopher's Index 1940- CD Workstation
  • Religion Index on CD (Coverage varies, includes the indexes below, also in paper)
    • Religion Index One - Periodicals 1965- (REF Table O); On CD 1949-
    • Religion Index Two - Multiauthor works 1970- (REF Table O); on CD 1960-
  • Index to Book Reviews in Religion 1949- (REF Table O); On CD 1949-
  • Research in Ministry (Not in paper; on CD, 1981- )
  • Methodist Reviews (Not in paper; on CD, 1818-1985)
  • Social Sciences Citation Index 1971- (REF Table C); On CD, Jan 1995-
  • Social Sciences Index 1966- (REF Table R)

Also check related indexes, such as PsychLit, etc.

5. Beyond Our Walls
FirstSearch Online access to several databases for books & journals, use especially

  • Sociological Abstracts, 1963-
  • Social Sciences Index, 1983-

UnCover Tables of contents of 10,000 current journals (On Oscar, select Z, 4)

Other institutions' library catalogs (On Oscar, select Z, 5); be sure to make note of exit command.

References to books and journal articles you find in bibliographies or other catalogs which are not available at SCU may be available through Bronco Express, our interlibrary loan service. Initiate your request on any Oscar terminal. Allow at least two weeks for delivery.

MORE HELP - Ask at the Reference Desk, or schedule an appointment with a reference librarian. GCARLSON/Socio.b 10/96

J. David Pleins and Chandra Campbell work on Darwin research
Evolution and the Problem of Evil

Chandra Campbell assists Professor J. David Pleins with his scholarship on Charles Darwin. Click on the image to read more.

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