Developing a good research question is impossible without doing some preliminary research. Preliminary research gives you background information on your topic, answering questions such as who, what, when and where. This research will also help you determine controversies related to your topic and determine if there are enough sources available to cover the topic effectively.
You will encounter and learn much more information than you will convey in your final paper. Background information will enrich your research paper but should not bog it down in trivia. For example, if you were doing a paper on Hildegaard of Bingen, you should know that she was born into a noble family in Germany in 1098 and entered a hermitage at the age of eight and became a Benedictine Abbess. This information will help you contextualize her work in your own mind but your research paper should not be a simple recitation of these facts. Your research question should take you beyond the common knowledge found in encyclopedias, but without that common knowledge your research will lack a solid foundation.
TIP - Doing the work of establishing in advance that your topic is viable will help you write a strong research paper and avoid a change of topic at the last minute, saving you time and agony in the long run. Make sure your topic is viable by keeping in mind its appropriateness to the assignment and its controversial nature, as well as the availability of adequate sources.
What follows is a list of resources that you may find useful for doing preliminary research in the field of Religious Studies. Keep in mind the type of information that you will need based on your preliminary topic and where your topic falls in the topic pyramid. Remember that the pyramid is a continuum rather than a series of discrete stages, so your topic likely will draw on both columns for some resources.