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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Web resources

The Web is a vast network of Web pages linked through the Internet. Each Web page has a unique address called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Understanding certain characteristics of the Web can help make you a more proficient user.

Private vs. Public Web

The Web can be roughly divided into what is called the Private and the Public Web. Both types are still part of the Web but they are not equally accessible.


  • Subscription databases - often must pay to access
  • Uses the Web as a platform to deliver resources to a restricted audience
  • Not  often searched by  search engines
  • Is part of the Invisible Web 
  • Sites are free for anyone to access
  • Can be quite effectively searched using  search engines and/or directories (gateways to resources)


Many University of Calgary Library sources are considered private Web sources as they are only accessible to students and faculty.

Public Academic Web Resources

The public Web is best used to find reference material, primary sources, statistics, information on governments or organizations, policy papers and current events. While some academic articles can be located through search engines,  the private databases are often a better source for identifying relevant academic articles.

Resources that can be found through the public Web:

  • Insider texts, diaries, religious texts
    Be especially vigilant in checking the accuracy of translation before using
  • Religious organization Web sites
  • Articles
    See especially the Religious Studies Web Guide for access to freely available articles.
  • Reference Tools
    e.g. Catholic Encyclopedia. Many of these are older versions whose copyrights have expired.
  • Bibliographies
    Listings of books and/or articles. See the Religious Studies Web Guide for subject arranged links to numerous bibliographies.
  • Library Catalogues
    Individual libraries such as University of Calgary as well as joint catalogues such as COPAC (combined catalogue of a number of University Libraries in Great Britain).
  • Teaching and learning material
    There is a vast amount of teaching material available on the Web as university and college professors turn to the Web for sharing information with their classes. It is often easy to find syllabi of religious studies courses offered at both our university and other universities, which can be helpful resources for thinking of topics and discovering links to resources you may not have otherwise found. 
The Web can be a powerful time-saving search tool, if you use it effectively, or it can leave you empty-handed with lots of precious time wasted. With a clear vision of what you are searching for you can eliminate much directionless surfing.  Remember, however, to stay flexible. See Locating resources section of this guide for tips on effectively using the web.  


The main tools for searching the Web are search engines and directories.

When to use an Internet tool



Search Engine

  • have specific key words
  • have a specific topic
  • want to search the entire text of a Web page
  • are looking primarily for specific pages rather than the sites they are contained in

Meta-Search Engine

  • want to investigate results across a number of search engines
  • are unsuccessful in searching individual search engines


  • want an overview of a particular area
  • are looking for invisible Web sources or subject specific-directories
  • are looking for sites by topic rather than individual pages contained within them
  • want previously evaluated sites
  • need ideas for your area
  • are looking for distinctive terms to use in a search engine
  • want annotated listings

TIP - If a particular strategy or tool is not working try another one. Use all the tools available to you and switch back and forth between them all as your search becomes more refined and more informed.