Brendan Rapple
23 June, 2009
Simmons College
Very Broad Discipline
• “A scholarly inquiry into the religious aspects of human societies and
the cultures associated with them.”
• Obviously, it’s a very wide ranging discipline.
• From psychological and artistic expression to ritualistic and creedal
Often Distinguished from Theological
• Theology suggests a confessionally based study of God (most
commonly the Christian or Jewish God) or other deity(ies), with the
goal of becoming an advocate, or minister, of that religion.
• There is nothing “religious” about the academic study of religion.
• “Studying religion does not mean becoming religious, no more than
studying racism means becoming a racist” [Will Deming]
"Study of Spirituality"
• This is perhaps a more appropriate term for referring to the study of the
religion of such groups as native Americans and followers of Buddha,
for example.
• These have a quite distinct notion of deity.
Variety of Approaches
• “Religious studies is a multiform subject-field within which a variety
of disciplines are employed to treat a multiplicity of issues, interests,
and topics. Religious studies has no single subject, nor does it sanction
any one method of approach. Rather, the subject is multiple, and the
methods of approach are numerous” [Capps, 1950].
• “Religion is one thing to the anthropologist, another to the sociologist,
another to the psychologist (and again another to the next
psychologist!), another to the Marxist, another to the mystic, another to
the Zen Buddhist and yet another to the Jew or Christian. As a result
there is a great variety of religious theories of the nature of religion.
There is, consequently, no universally accepted definition of religion,
and quite possibly there never will be” [Robert Crawford, 2002].
Many Facets of Religious Studies
“The religious studies curriculum has become, increasingly, a crazy quilt
of courses encompassing many disciplines, eras, regions, languages, and
methods of inquiry.”
Cultic institutions dedicated to religious ends
Charismatic figures
Sociology of religion
Christian history and theology
Biblical studies
Anthropology of religion
The Bible as literature
Philosophy of religion
Psychology of religion
Islamic studies
Jewish studies
Women and religion
Comparative religion
Religion and literature
Religion and the arts
Religion and science
Church history
Geography of religion
History of religions
Religious ethics
Near Eastern languages and literatures
East Asian, African and Indian religions
Religion and society
Religious education
Contemporary religious thought
– and others!
It might be argued, however, that
• “. . . religious studies is not the sociology of religion, or philosophy of
religion, or history of religion, or anthropology of religion, and so on,
but is comprised of the cooperation between all of these. A religious
studies that has become history of religions, say, is no longer religious
studies but is history of religions. Similarly, a religious studies that has
become philosophy or sociology or psychology of religion is not
religious studies either, but is philosophy of religion, sociology of
religion, or psychology of religion. What distinguishes religious
studies from any of its component parts is its composite nature: it
consists of all these methodological operations, and all of these
selective foci of interest, working together” [Capps, 1995].
No Unique Methodology
Still, a number of techniques or modes of inquiry tend to predominate, e.g.:
• Historical
• Theological
• Philosophical
• Sociological
• Anthropological
• “The typical graduate student in religious studies is, in fact, trained in a
multidisciplinary environment where diverse methods of inquiry –
philosophical, historical, literary-critical, sociological – are used in the
study of religious traditions, beliefs, and behavior” [Benson].
Treats the historical development of religion.
Often compares development of one religion with another
History of religion developed in 19th cent.
 Originally based on evolutionary idea from false to true
 Originally often compared other religions with Christianity to show their limitations
 Such an approach is unacceptable today.
 Derived from THEOS, Greek word for God.
 Attempts to explain and validate God’s existence and revelation.
 Doctrines are established which form the basis of the ministry,
sacraments, authority and organization of a religion.
• Philosophy can
 consider methods employed in study of religion
 evaluate the evidence
 arrive at truth or otherwise of belief statements
Of course, philosophy has traditionally asked ultimate questions about
 purpose in the world
 existence of God
 evil
 mortality, immortality
 and so on.
• Stresses that the understanding of religion requires knowledge of the
culture influencing religious belief and behavior.
 How does religion function in society?
 Does it bind together or cause division?
 Will it last?
 Many other questions
• Close to sociology of religion.
• Focus of the anthropological approach is generally ethnographic.
Changes in Study of Religion
Religious studies have made strong progress as an academic discipline from the
19th century.
Since WWII, in particular, the academic study of religion has generally prospered
in American colleges and universities.
And has changed dramatically.
The more conservative Protestant colleges have tended to retain an exclusively Christian
However, mainstream Protestant institutions, responding to ecumenical and secularizing
forces, have broadened their programs.
This has also been true to a certain degree for Catholic schools.
At the same time there have been diminishing enrollments in more narrowly focused
theological/religious programs.
The amalgamation of Philosophy and Religious Studies are quite common.
Generally, the recent tendency has been away from a sole focus on the Judaeo-Christian
tradition to more global perspectives [Benson].
Cross cultural dimensions of religious studies are increasingly popular approaches.
Teachers of Religion
• Today, as such areas as Jewish studies, African religion, eastern
religion, religion and women, etc. are increasingly taught, more often
than not they and other religion courses are taught by non-clerics (and
by women).
Feminist Studies and Religion
• Now, there’s more emphasis on how women’s identity affects the
understanding of religion.
• Patriarchy and matriarchy are being studied within numerous religious
• Religion’s ability to give voice to women as well as to thwart that
voice are being examined carefully.
Comparative Religion and History of Religion have
Grown in Prominence
This is understandable as an accurate depiction and genuine comprehension of,
say, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity etc. can only be
attained through an acknowledgement of the multifarious ways in which each
tradition has been shaped in its contact with other social, cultural, political and
above all religious traditions and influences.
In short, the religious experience of all cultures is now the object of scrutiny.
• Liberation theology has also been very popular.
Role of Dance in Religion
In most cultures around the world, save Western traditions especially
Christianity, religion and dance are practically synonymous. From the
ancient Bharata natyam of South India to Hopi Kachina dances, from
Jewish wedding dances to the Sufi whirling dervishes religion is not
only expressed, but enacted, through dance. For many religious
traditions, religion without dance is Christianity (and to a lesser extent
other Western religions) and given the influence of Christian (and other
Western religious) studies on the academic study of religion, dance,
and to a somewhat lesser extent other forms of physical movement and
ritual, have received almost no attention by students of religion. It is
astonishing that the academic study of religion has been so little
attentive to the religious forms by which most religious people identify
their own religiousness [Sam Gill, 1994].
The Diversity of Studies is Huge
• Is there any common point between examination by a biblical
archeologist of the water system in ancient Turkey and the examination
of the impact of Vatican II on ecumenical theology? [Benson]
Library Inadequacy
Recent growth of Religious Studies have left many, even large, libraries with very shallow
collections in the field, particularly with respect to primary source documents as well as
interpretive works now out of print.
Think of such areas as: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
Ideally, library holdings should be both multidisciplinary and cross-cultural.
Arguably, they must have a Global Perspective: “Only by locating Western traditions in the
total history of humankind can one truly appreciate the commonalities these share with other
religions as well as the uniqueness and integrity of each religious tradition.”
But achieving such global perspective is not always easy for a library – budgetary constraints/
“Innovative” Resources Now Common
Scholars often make use of materials not hitherto within the purview
of the study of religion:
myths and folktales
poetry and devotional epics
psychoanalytic tracts and case studies
popular journals and journals from other disciplines
studies and theoretical works from the social sciences
the published writings of feminists, Third World commentators, and so on.
Libraries Collections are often Scattered
 It’s often difficult to categorize religious materials neatly or easily:
• In LC, for example, most religious materials are in the BL-BX
classification, but religious ethics is in BJ, religious dance and aspects of
primitive religions in GV, religious music in M, and religion in literature
and religious drama in PN.
Great Need for a Collection Policy Statement
• While a policy is of course needed to ensure the integrity and
comprehensiveness of the collection, it will also help safeguard against
undue pressure from specific “difficult” groups or individual patrons.
• Example at Boston College
Factors in Building a Religious Studies Collection
• Size and type of the institution
• Level of academic program (undergraduate or graduate)
• Current curricular needs of the institution
• Anticipated needs due to curricular changes
• Should be close cohesion between different collection developers and
different budget lines.
Types of Religious Literature
• Of course, the major types may be conveniently considered
– Primary
– Secondary
Another Way of Classifying the Literature
• Source Literature
• Critical Literature
• Historical Literature
• Documentary Literature
“Popular Literature"
• Includes the fiction, inspirational works pamphlets, sermons, music,
and self-help materials produced by many religious and secular houses
as well as by local congregations and other groups.
Selected Basic Guides to the Literature
Our Humanities Textbook
John F. Wilson and Thomas P. Slavens' Research Guide to Religious Studies (1982) -Textbook p. 67
Robert Kepple's Reference Works for Theological Research: an Annotated Selective
Bibliographical Guide (3rd ed. 1992) -- Textbook 103
James R. Kennedy’s Library Research Guide to Religion and Theology: Illustrated
Search Strategy and Sources (2nd ed. Rev. 1984) Textbook 102
Titles in the G. K. Hall series, The Asian Philosophies and Religions Resource Guides
• Edward D. Starkey’s Judaism and Christianity: A Guide to the
Reference Literature (1991) Textbook 101
• G. E. Gorman’s Theological & Religious Reference Materials:
General Resources and Biblical Studies 3 v. (1984). V. 2 focuses on
systematic/doctrinal theology and ethics. No particular denominational
focus. Textbook 195
• Because the field is so large, no general index can provide access to
information on all the published material needed for scholarship in
Religion Index (ATLA Religion Database)
Textbook 135
• Produced by the American Theological Library Association (ATLA),
this work contains citations to books and articles on religion and
theology published since 1949 in a variety of languages.
• Available print and online
Catholic Periodical and Literature Index
Textbook 130
• 1967/68-present (print); 1981 - present (Online)
• Indexes more than 190 Roman Catholic periodicals as well as papal
documents, church promulgations, and books about the Catholic faith,
authored by Catholics or produced by Catholic publishers.
FRANCIS Bulletin Signalétique
Textbook 132
• An electronic continuation of the print index Francis Bulletin
signalétique 527: histoire et sciences des religions along with other
Francis indexes.
• Covers a wide range of multilingual, multidisciplinary information in
the humanities and social sciences, especially philosophy, religion, art
history, and literature.
• Coverage is 1984 to the present and 80% of records include an author
• New Catholic Encyclopedia. 19 v. 1967-1996. Also Online
English language work for all subjects in Catholic tradition including
theology. Textbook 174
• The Catholic Encyclopedia.
This is an electronic version of the standard 15 volume reference work
published during 1907-1913. The articles are still in the process of
being digitized but a great many are already available and still useful
despite the dated scholarship.
More Encyclopedias
• Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (1995).
4 vols. Textbook 190
• Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology: A
Compendium of Information (1996) 4th ed. 2 vols.
Textbook 193
• New Age Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Beliefs, Concepts,
Terms, People, and Organizations (1990) Textbook 196
Some Recent Encyclopedias
Betz, H. D. (2007). Religion past & present : Encyclopedia of theology and religion. Brill.
Eisen, A., & Laderman, G. (2007). Science, religion, and society : An encyclopedia of history,
culture, and controversy. M.E. Sharpe.
Hill, S. S., Lippy, C. H., & Wilson, C. R. (2005). Encyclopedia of religion in the south. Mercer
University Press.
Keller, R. S., Ruether, R. R., & Cantlon, M. (2006). Encyclopedia of women and religion in north
america. Indiana University Press.
Lewis, J. R. (2002). The encyclopedia of cults, sects, and new religions. Prometheus Books.
McMickle, M. A. (2002). An encyclopedia of african american christian heritage. Judson Press.
Merriman, S. A. (2007). Religion and the law in america : An encyclopedia of personal belief and
public policy. ABC-CLIO.
Neusner, J., & Avery-Peck, A. (2007). Encyclopedia of religious and philosophical writings in late
antiquity : Pagan, judaic, christian. Brill.
Religion past & present : Encyclopedia of theology and religion(2007). Brill.
More Recent Encyclopedias
Salamone, F. A. (2004). Encyclopedia of religious rites, rituals, and festivals.
Siker, J. S. (2007). Homosexuality and religion : An encyclopedia. Greenwood Press.
Taylor, B. R., Kaplan, J., Hobgood-Oster, L., Ivakhiv, A. J., & York, M. (2005). The
encyclopedia of religion and nature. Thoemmes Continuum.
Thiselton, A. C. (2002). A concise encyclopedia of the philosophy of religion.
Van Huyssteen, W. (2003). Encyclopedia of science and religion. Macmillan.
Verkamp, B. J. (2008). Encyclopedia of philosophers on religion. McFarland.
Yao, X. (2003). RoutledgeCurzon encyclopedia of confucianism. Routledge.
Encyclopedia of Religion
• An electronic version of a 14 volume reference work originally edited
by Mircea Eliade, the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Religion
includes almost all of the 2,750 original entries, many updated, as well
as approximately 600 entirely new articles written by an international
team of scholars.
Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an
• The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an is an encyclopedic dictionary of
qur'anic terms, concepts, personalities, place names, cultural history
and exegesis extended with essays on the most important themes and
subjects within qur'anic studies.
Encyclopaedia of Judaica
• Online
• The 2nd edition of the major English language encyclopedia of Jewish
life and knowledge from the time of Abraham to the contemporary
State of Israel. It features 2,600 completely new articles by top
scholars, representing all major universities and centers of research in
Jewish studies throughout the world.
• Textbook 182
Dictionaries, Handbooks, Companions
The Blackwell Dictionary of Judaica (1992) Textbook 181
The New Dictionary of Theology. Ed. by Komonchak, Collins, and Lane
(1987) Catholic emphasis. Textbook 175
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. 1997. Entries on
figures, movements, and events as well as themes and terms. Textbook 176
Historical Dictionary of Hinduism (1997) Textbook 186
Some Recent Dictionaries, Handbooks Etc.
An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies; edited by Orlando O. Espin and James B.
Nickoloff. Liturgical Press, c2007.
The Brill Dictionary of Religion / edited by Kocku von Stuckrad ; revised edition of Metzler Lexikon Religion
edited by Christoph Auffarth, Jutta Bernard and Hubert Mohr. Brill, 2007. 4 vols.
Aponte, E. D., & Torre, D. L. (2006). Handbook of Latina/o Theologies. Chalice Press.
Beckford, J. A., & Demerath, N. J. (2007). The SAGE Handbook of the Sociology of Religion. SAGE
Clarke, P. B. (2009). The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion. Oxford.
De Souza, M. (2006). International Handbook of the Religious, Moral and Spiritual Dimensions in Education.
Gottlieb, R. S. (2006). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Oxford.
Guinn, D. E. (2006). Handbook of Bioethics and Religion. Oxford.
Harvey, S. A., & Hunter, D. G. (2008). The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies. Oxford.
Haynes, J. (2009). Routledge Handbook of Religion and Politics.Routledge.
Juergensmeyer, M. (2006). The Oxford Handbook of Global eligions. Oxford.
More Recent Dictionaries, Handbooks Etc.
Lindley, S. H., & Stebner, E. J. (2008). The Westminster Handbook to Women in American
Religious History. Westminster John Knox Press.
Maier, Bernhard (1997. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. Boydell Press, 1997.
Miller, Mary Ellen. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the
Maya. Thames and Hudson, 1997.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, Geoffrey Wigoder, editors
in chief. Oxford University Press, 1997
Paloutzian, R. F., & Park, C. L. (2005). Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.
Guilford Press.
Prokurat, Michael. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church. Scarecrow Press, 1996.
Reese, William L. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion. Humanities Press International, 1996.
Religious Sites in America: A Dictionary. Mary Ellen Snodgrass. -- ABC-CLIO, c2000.
The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions; edited by John Bowker. Oxford. c1997.
The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion; ed. by S. Price and E. Kearns. Oxford,
Full-Text Web (Subscription)
Patrologia Latina
 The Patrologia Latina comprises the works of the Church Fathers
from Tertullian in 200 AD to the death of Pope Innocent III in 1216.
Patrologiae Graecae
 Coverage:100-1439
 Long a classic, this series of more than 160 volumes remains the most
comprehensive collection of Greek patristic material relevant to the
study of the history of the Christian Church from its beginnings
through the Council of Florence in 1439.
Acta Sanctorum
• Subscription database
• A principal source for research on the lives of the saints from the
beginning of the Christian era to the end of the sixteenth century.
The Bible in English
• Subscription Database
• Twenty-one versions of the English Bible from the 10th century West
Saxon Gospels to the Good News Bible (1976).
Luthers Werke im WWW
• Subscription Database
• The electronic form of the Weimar Edition, which is regarded as a
monumental work in the field of theology and the German language,
was first published in 1883 and includes 112 volumes in 117 sections.
Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts
• Subscription Database
• A collection of 1,500 works from the Reformation and postReformation eras in mostly 16th and 17th century editions. Works
include the theological writings of more than 300 Protestant authors, as
well as a wide range of confessional documents, biblical
commentaries, polemical treatises, and Bible translations.
• In addition to the usual search categories (author, title, keyword),
researchers can limit searches to specific theological topics,
social/cultural topics, theological tradition, place of publication,
publisher, and document type.
Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation
• Transcriptions and facsimiles of documents, including papal and
synodal decrees, catechisms and inquisitorial manuals, biblical
commentaries, theological treatises and systems, liturgical writings,
saints' lives, and devotional works by Catholic authors of the 16th and
17th centuries.
Index Islamicus
• Index Islamicus is a multidisciplinary index of the literature of Islam
and the Muslim world. It includes over approximately 250,000 records
of journal articles, books, chapters of books, conference proceedings,
monographs, multi-authored works and book reviews covering the
Accounting, Archaeology, Arts, Bibliography & Scholarship,
Economics, Education, Geography, History, Islam, Law, Literature,
Natural & Applied Sciences, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Social
Sciences, Theology, Travel and Zoology of the Islamic world and
particularly the Muslim areas of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. It is
produced by the Islamic Bibliography Unit of the Library of
Cambridge University and currently covers over 2000 journal titles.
Updated annually.
Index of Articles on Jewish Studies (RAMBI)
• Free (open access) Database
• A selective bibliography of articles in the various fields of Jewish
studies and in the study of Eretz Israel. Material listed in Rambi is
compiled from thousands of periodicals and from collections of articles
- in Hebrew, Yiddish, and European languages- mainly from the
holdings of the Jewish National and University Library. RAMBI Web
Catalog - Unicode Edition contains the entire Rambi database (1966 present) and uses a Unicode-based interface to facilitate display and
entry of Hebrew characters.
Index to Jewish Periodicals
• The Index to Jewish Periodicals provides citations to articles, book
reviews, feature stories, and other contents in English, appearing in
more than 190 periodicals devoted to Jewish culture and history.
Many Full-Text CD ROMs
For example:
• Thomas Aquinas (full-text)
In addition to Thomas's entire corpus of writings, this includes 61
other works contemporary to Thomas.
As a computerized Patrology, it covers the period from the late
second century to the fifteenth century -- Latin texts from
Tertullian to William of Ockham.
Print Serials with Good Bibliographies
• Religious Studies Review (1975-)
A quarterly publication established in 1975, offers abstracts
of recent books from the entire array of subfields in the
English titles predominate, although other languages are
also represented. It also includes recent dissertations, and
dissertations in progress.
However, its usefulness is limited by the lack of cumulative
volumes or indexes other than an annual one, and by its
emphasis on English-language titles.
• Critical Review of Books in Religion (annual) Textbook 131
• The Journal of Biblical Literature
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses vol.
1- (1924-)
• This Belgian quarterly publication is particularly useful for references
to the international monographs and articles that are crucial to research
in the field of religion, and includes Third World literature as well as
Current Bibliographies
Two European publications
• Theologische Revue (Munster), v. 1- (1902-); bimonthly.
– Roman Catholic focus, with emphasis on German materials, but
international coverage. Book review section followed by a
"Theologische Bibliographie" of new books and articles in
classified arrangement. Annual author index to books reviewed
but not to items in the Bibliographie; no subject index.
• Theologische Literaturzeitung (Berlin), v. 1- (1876-); monthly.
– Protestant German focus. Book reviews arranged by subject
areas, often with supplementary lists of articles, dissertations and
books on the same topics.
Biblical Studies
• Scholars of biblical studies and ancient religion rely on sacred texts in
many languages, including Syriac, Hebrew, Greek, NeoAssyrian,
Aramaic and Sumerian, plus secondary literature on them.
Abstracts (Biblical Studies)
• Old Testament Abstracts (1978-) 3 times a year. Textbook 246 Also
• New Testament Abstracts (1956-) 3 times a year. Textbook 245 Also
• International Zeitschriftenschau für Bibelwissenschaft und
Grenzgebiet (1951–) Annual. Textbook 243
Ancient Western Religion
The annual index L’Annee Philologique covers ancient religion.
Print and online.
Unpublished Material Creates Problems
Let’s take an example . . . . .
History of Religion among African
church minutes and records,
collections of sermons,
manuscript autobiographies,
pamphlets and religious tracts,
travelers' accounts,
oral histories,
personal correspondence
• and so on.
This information is often poorly documented and just as often very
Often, it is found in special collections
• For example:
• The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for
Research in Black Culture
• The Moreland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University
Microform Collections
• . . . large collections of otherwise unobtainable church and religious
history records available in libraries throughout the world -- a
drawback of many such sets is that no index or descriptive catalog is
readily available to inform scholars of the specific contents of the
Web Resources
• See for example Religion Web Sites

The Study of Religion