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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Once you have an idea for a research question, you will have to make sure that there are enough sources available to write a paper on that topic. The Database Basics and Searching Basics sections of this Guide will give you intensive instruction in effective search techniques.

There are no hard and fast rules for how many sources are considered sufficient as assignments are so varied. If your assignment were to analyze “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism” by Steven T. Katz [1], his article might be your only source or it may be necessary to consult secondary literature on this important essay. In most circumstances, you will need multiple sources, including both primary and secondary sources.

Be particularly mindful that the secondary sources you are using to analyze your topic reflect current scholarship and are not all from the 1970’s. If there is no recent secondary literature available, you probably will want to modify your topic to reflect a more current issue.

Questions About Your Sources

Once you have developed your question you need to decide which types of sources are going to be most useful for you. Ask yourself:

  • How much research is needed?
    This will depend on the type of assignment. If it is an opinion piece, you may only need to read the source to which you must respond. However, if it is a larger research project, you will need much more.
  • How current do my sources need to be?
    Is your project historical research or an analysis of current events or theory?
  • Do I need more general information on aspects of my topic?
    Do you need more context for your topic?
  • Do I need public opinion, quantitative or qualitative research, statistics, or theory?
    What will best support your argument?
  • Do I need information on a particular person?
  • How many sources will I need?
    Make sure you end up with enough sources to support your argument and to cover a variety of material.
  • What types of sources will I need?
    Be sure to include a variety of sources, both primary and secondary.

Once you have answered these questions, use this chart   to identify which sources are most appropriate for your research.



 1. Steven T. Katz, “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism,”  in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis,  ed. Steven T. Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978) 22-74.