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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Availability of Sources

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.  Locating Sources section 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.


TIP - If the topic or research project that you develop is unusual, it is advisable to talk to your instructor and get approval, even if it is not required, before getting too far into your research. 'Unusual research' includes a project in which your experience acts as a primary source or for which you want to do interviews or field research. If you are using human subjects in any way in your research, it is necessary to seek ethics approval before proceeding.
[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.

Primary vs Secondary Sources


Primary and Secondary Sources

These terms are sometimes understood from an historical perspective, where primary sources are contemporary documents such as diaries, letters, speeches, etc., while secondary sources are analyses of these firsthand accounts. While this distinction may apply if you are doing research in religious studies from a historical perspective, it is not always an adequate distinction for other methodological approaches.

In Religious Studies, as in much of the Humanities, primary sources are the original material that you are analyzing for your research while secondary sources contribute to your thinking with varied analyses of their own. If you were researching Hegel’s philosophy of religion then his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion would be considered a primary source, while Divine Subjectivity: Understanding Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion by Dale Schlitt would be a secondary source. However, Divine Subjectivity could itself be your primary source if your topic were an analysis of Schlitt’s interpretation of Hegel.