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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Selecting Article Indexes (Databases)

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What general subject does your topic fall under?
  • What specific areas apply to your topic?
  • What are my keywords for searching?
  • Do I need a specialized format of material?


The answers to these questions will help you make effective choices when selecting appropriate Databases for locating journal articles.  Remember, as always, to stay flexible. Keep aware of  alternative  keywords and alternative spellings, e.g. Truncation 


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.

To locate indexes to journal articles you can use tools to cross-database search or browse the 
Research  Database List. 


Evaluating your index isn't over yet! There are many more qualities and characteristics you can learn about an index once you have selected it and once you are already using it. When you are in the index, keep in mind the following questions:

  • 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 index provide?
    Some indexes provide only the citation of a source to allow you to find it, while others include descriptive abstracts such as the Philosopher’s Index and Historical Abstracts.
  • 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.


As you become familiar with the different indexes you will become more and more proficient at selecting the ones that suit your needs, however, don't be reluctant to try new ones as well. If there are a few indexes you find yourself using regularly, it is worth your time to figure out their different features in order to use them most effectively. A few indexes useful for religious studies will be covered later in this unit.