Skip to Main Content

Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion


Databases are listings of items organized in a way that allows you to search them by keyword or by browsing. When a database is created, the producers must establish limits for its content.  For many databases, the choices are fairly obvious such as including all numbers from one location in a phonebook or including all items in a collection in a library's collection.  Database limits are set on varying criteria, some of which are:

  • subject
  • date
  • language
  • type of publication

It is important to know what a database covers so you can decide if it will suit your needs. For instance, a library  search box will include some  BUT not all of the journal articles in the Library's collection.  Therefore, a library may have an article you need BUT  you may need to access it by searching for the journal title.   

Other factors to be aware of include:

  • What sorts of subject headings do the articles have?
    Some indexes only have one subject heading per article while others have multiple subject headings allowing for easier subject searches. Also, some indexes assign subject headings that are too general to be very useful while others use more specific subject headings.
  • How much information does the database provide?
    Some indexes provide only the citation of a source (for example author, title, journal title, volume, year, pages) to allow you to find it, while others such as the Philosopher's Index,  include descriptive abstracts such as the Philosopher’s Index  and others provide citation and fulltext
  • What types of formats are included?
    ATLA Religion Database indexes journal articles, books, essays, and reviews, while Academic Search Premier indexes journal articles, US Supreme Court cases, newspapers, books and images. Be aware of what types of material the index includes and make sure it is the type of material you need.
  • Date Coverage  -  databases will vary in how up-to-date their content is and as to how far back in time their coverage goes.  For example Historical Abstracts only covers history back to 1450.

Being aware of content will be important for every database you use.