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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Locating Journal Articles

The most efficient way to find scholarly articles on religious studies topics is to use article index databases. Article indexes are databases of articles that often share a particular subject focus. An article index will help you find articles that are relevant for your research.  As with all databases, the content and fields of an article index are set by the database producers. Most but not all of the article index databases contain fulltext for some or all of the indexed articles. Many of the search skills highlighted in  Searching Basics are also important for effectively searching article indexes. 

Other sources for locating academic articles are:

  • Library Search Box - discovery tool that provides access to books in the library collection as well as to journal articles, dissertations, newspapers etc in a single database.  NOTE currently this tool is not indexing the major religious studies databases such as ATLA  Religion Database.
  • Search Engines such as Google Scholar (remember to use the link off the Research Database so that you will be authenticated as a U of C student so that you can get access to the full-text that we subscribe to).         
  • Bibliographies -  separately published as entire books, articles or websites and found at the end of books and articles.
  • Academic Social Networks like Mendeley   not only help you organize and share your research but also help you discover resources (currently over 30 million articles are listed in Mendeley).
  • Directory of Open Access Journals  -  over 10,000  free, fulltext academic journals

NOTE things you can do with library databases that you CANNOT currently do with Google Scholar or Mendeley:

  • limit by type of material (book review, article etc.)
  • subject specific databases automatically limit retrieval to journals in a certain subject area (psychology, medicine, religion etc.)   Google Scholar advanced searching will only allow you to limit to very broad subject areas.
  • search using standardized subject headings to pick up material focused on your topic



If you do need an article in a hurry, a few 100% full-text article indexes are:

  • Library Search Box  - limit results for Full Text Online or select Advanced search and limit Item Type to Articles
  • JSTOR (note there is a 3-5 year embargo on most titles, so while JSTOR is 100% fulltext for older material, it will only provide citations for more current works).
  • Project Muse

If you are having trouble finding articles on your topic: 

  • Read help screens
  • Ask at the reference desk
  • Contact your liaison librarian

 N.B. Never assume that 0 results in a search means there is nothing on your topic.



 TIP- You can use alert features of various databases to notify you when new articles have been published on your topic.  Check out current awareness page prepared by our Education librarian for more information.

Browsing for Relevant Databases



Once you have determined  which subjects areas are relevant for your topic select  Databases on the Library website. This list will direct you to a  ranked  listing by subject of the key databases.

Also consult the subject guide for Religious Studies for an extensive list of databases organized by Religion. 

While you can use the Library search box to help identify journal articles in your subject area,  it is  best to use the broad subject categories on the Databases list to navigate to specific  subject databases.

Once you are familiar with the different article databases, you can select them directly  through  the  alphabetical list  or key word search by name.  NOTE it is most helpful to consult with your librarian to get referred to most appropriate databases for your topic, including  some excellent free resources.


Keep in mind that other subject areas may be useful to you. Doing a paper in religious studies doesn’t mean you need only use religious studies indexes. If you are doing a paper on Buddhism, try Asian Studies and perhaps even Chinese Language & Literature and Japanese Language & Literature. If you are doing a study of Christianity during the Middle Ages look at History and for a paper on women and religion check Women's Studies. For current events, use the newspaper indexes. Remember the different ways of approaching your topic and ask yourself which disciplines it overlaps. Other subject areas that might be useful depending on your topic are:

  • Philosophy
  • Art
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Anthropology
  • and many others...

The next step is choosing an actual index appropriate to your research.  Ask yourself:

  • Is it a general index or a subject focused one?
    For instance, Academic Search Complete is a broad index, covering archaeology, classical studies, fine arts, literature and religious studies among many others, while the ATLA Religion Database is more focused on topics for religious studies and Index Islamicus is very focused on Islam and the Muslim world. However, all of these indexes could be useful for your research, depending on your topic.
  • What subjects are covered? Does it cover your time period?
    Once you have decided whether an index is general or subject focused, you need to be aware of the subjects and time periods it covers. If you are doing a paper on the Jesus Movement then the New Testament Abstracts database would be much more useful than the Index IslamicusHistorical Abstracts can be very useful for religious history, but it only covers history back to 1450.
  • Does it have retrospective coverage of material or does it cover only works published in the last few decades?
    It is important to note from what time frame articles are available. Sometimes your research will need only the most up-to-date material while at other times you will want more historical coverage of a topic. JSTOR is an excellent resource for older articles.
  • Does the index offer full-text articles?
    Some databases offer some full-text articles while others are full-text only.  Limiting results to full-text can be very handy when you need to find an article in a hurry, but remember that some excellent articles on your topic may only be available in print or may only be available digitally through a different platform.


Cross Database Search

Cross-Database Searching 

The  Library search box is a search engine that searches the collections of Libraries and Cultural resources for books, journal articles, manuscripts, works in the collection of the Nickle Arts Museum, archival material and locally digitized collections on your topic.  Note not all the library databases (for example ATLA Religion Database) are currently searched.

 Additionally,  many of  the vendors will allow you to cross-search databases on the same platform.  For example on EBSCOhost you can search ATLA Religion Database, SocIndex with Fulltext and Academic Search Complete at the same time.  From ATLA Religion Database select  Choose Database just above the search box.