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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Direct Quotes

There tends to be some confusion about the use of direct quotes in essays. Direct quotes should not be used to give authority to a point you are making. You must make your own argument “because he or she said so” does not make a very convincing argument. Rather, direct quotes should be used to introduce another writer’s thought, definition, or term into your own discussion. This might be done for two reasons:

First, you may want to use a direct quote simply because the wording of the original was so apt that paraphrasing it would simply not do it justice. This also allows you to convey the sense of rhythm or style of the original author’s work.

  • In Pure Lust, Mary Daly quotes Muriel Rukeyser to convey Rukeyser’s perspective clearly (style has been adapted to suit MLA formatting):

    For memories do come in ribbons/chains and, as we have seen, many of these—if a woman allows herself to really feel them—are excruciating. As Muriel Rukeyser has written, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open” (103). Many women are consciously afraid that if they tell themselves the truth about their lives they themselves will split open[1].

  • If you want to keep the poetic style of Ninian Smart, you might write:

    The struggle for understanding is never straightforward or simple. “Nature is mean about her secrets. The right questions have to be posed: and she is a great slaughterer of theories” (Smart 181)[2]. Not only must you begin with a theory, but you must be prepared for that theory to be destroyed.

Second, you may want to use direct quotes to emphasize a certain way that an author has presented his or her case or perspective. This allows you to begin debate with that author or open up a debate between multiple authors.

  • If you want to explore the feminist response to Plato, you might write:

    While Grace Jantzen is emphatic about Plato’s misogyny, arguing that “there is no doubt that Plato shared to the full the misogyny of his culture” (37) [3], some other theorists try to reclaim threads that they feel hold feminist promise.



[1] Mary Daly,  Pure Lust (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 172.

[2] Ninian Smart, “The Scientific Study of Religion in its Plurality,” in Theory and Method in Religious Studies: Contemporary Approaches to the Study of Religion, ed. Frank Whaling (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995), 181.

[3] Grace Jantzen, Power Gender and Christian Mysticism (Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 37.


This is very similar to paraphrase but a summary is much shorter than the original, usually capturing only the most salient points. Summarization is best when you want to introduce the main points of a much longer work or paragraph.

Consider the following paragraph by Youngsook Kim Harvey:

"Initially the government attempted to isolate shamans from the populace by banning them from cities and towns and penalizing government officials who failed to keep them out. Such government efforts to stamp out shamanism and replace it with neo-Confucianism resulted in merely driving it underground. In no small part, the program of eradication failed because neo-Confucianism could not minister to the emotional and religious needs of the people. Eventually the government recognized the futility of its program and shifted its policy from total eradication of shamanism to severe restrictions aimed at containing it. Although the government allowed shamans to exist, it licensed them for purposes of taxation and then officially ascribed the social status of outcastes to shamans and their families. This outcaste status had the effect of severely restricting shamans’ ability to use their influence and economic power for personal or family social mobility."[5]

To summarize, you might write:

Government officials originally tried to replace shamanism with neo-Confucianism by legalistic means. However, they only succeeded in driving it underground and so eventually settled for severe restrictions rather than full eradication (Harvey 60).



[5] Youngsook Kim Harvey, “Possession Sickness and Women Shamans in Korea,”in Unspoken Worlds: Women's Religious Lives, eds. Nancy Auer Falk and Rita M. Gross,(Canada: Wadsworth, 2001), 60.

Using People's Ideas

Sometimes you might want to cite only one word or a short phrase as distinctive of a certain author's work.

If you want to refer to Mary Daly’s term for a specifically female energy, you might write:

Daly argues that oppression can be ended through the creation of different “gynergy patterns” (279). [6]

You do not have to document your source for common knowledge. Though there are different ways of judging common knowledge, generally if something was repeated in every source you read or you found it in an encyclopedia, it is considered common knowledge.



[6] Daly, 279.