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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Boolean Operators

Once you have defined keywords and understand truncation and wildcards, you can learn to control how to best create search statements. Boolean operators are words that indicate how you want your search terms to relate to each other. They are used to broaden or narrow a search by combining keywords using AND, OR, and NOT.




Keywords joined by AND will retrieve records that include ALL the keywords. e.g. Women AND religion AND politics will retrieve: Women Who Live Evil Lives: Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemalaand The Heritage of Islam: Women, Religion, and Politics in West Africa but it will not retrieve Journal of Women and Religion or Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion.

Use AND when you only want sources that include both keywords 


Don't use AND when you want records that contain either keyword but not necessarily both.
e.g. If you want to look at the British impact in India, you don't want to enter Colonialization AND Imperialism as you will miss any record that only uses one keyword or the other.


Keywords joined by OR will retrieve any record that has ANY of the terms.
e.g. wom?n OR female will retrieve: The Religious Imagination of American Women and Some Wild Visions: Autobiographies by Itinerant Female Preachers in 19th Century America

Use OR when you want to capture all possible ways of referring to one idea or when you are looking at multiple ideas that do not have to be related.

Do not use OR when you only want sources that deal with the relationship between certain keywords.
e.g. If you want to know colonialization’s impact on the relationship between Islam and Hinduism don't use Colonialism OR Islam OR Hinduism as you will retrieve many records that only deal with one or the other.


Keywords joined by NOT will exclude the keyword following NOT
e.g. Buddhism NOT China will retrieve Buddhism and Science but not The Renewal of Buddhism in China

Use NOT when you have already done a search using a particular keyword and want to find records you may have missed.
e.g. You searched Britishalready and now want to search Britain. Entering Britain NOT British will return all records with the term Britain but not the term British, thereby excluding any records you already found.
Also use NOT when you find a term that keeps coming up which you don't want in your results.
e.g. If you enter British and keep getting records on British Columbia try entering British NOT Columbia



Video on Boolean Operators (University of Aukland)