Part 1: Researching Your Religious Tradition
If you've selected a religious tradition an know very little about it, start with Oxford Bibliographies or an encyclopedia entry to first get some basic information about the tradition. This will make searching in the catalog and databases much easier.
Oxford Bibliographies This link opens in a new window
This resource is a mash-up of an encyclopedia and annotated bibliography. You'll get a basic overview of a topic followed by a list of general resources for that topic. It is then broken down into common subtopics with each followed by recommended sources.
Encyclopedia of Religion
Find an encyclopedia entry to learn more about a topic. Most entries also include a bibliography with a list of resources.
Learn More with Books and Book Chapters (We Like Books! Don't Forget Them!)
Next, use the library catalog to search for print and eBooks on your topic. Books are a great option as they will often have more general information about a religious tradition. For example you might find one that provides information about the tradition's history, common practices and rituals/rites, basic tenets, organization, etc.
They may also have chapters or sections that focus on specific aspects of that tradition. Remember, you usually won't read an entire book for a project but will pick and choose the sections/chapters that make the most sense with your research.
- Both in the catalog and in databases, you may have to do a couple of searches to figure out the preferred term for your tradition. In this examples Quakerism has two main terms in the catalog: Quakers and Society of Friends
- You can see in the search that “Society of Friends” is in quotation marks, so that it searches it as a phrase.
- The OR (which needs to be capitalized in the catalog) between the two search terms makes it so that if either show up in a result, that result will be added to the list.
- You can change the menu on the right to “Subjects”. This menu lets you select different parts of an item record to search such as an Author or Title. In this case, you'd only search the "Subjects" field. This is where the catalog lists the main subjects of the item. Basically, it’s telling the catalog that Quakers or “Society of Friends” need to be the main subjects of a book. This will only work if you are using terms officially designated as Subjects in the catalog, so you may want to wait and first do a couple of searches to figure out what terms work best.
- For some traditions we may only have a small selection of books while other traditions may have a very large number. If you start a search and get hundreds or thousands of results, go back and add search terms to the other search boxes to narrow it down. For example you could try to add terms like History or "United States."
Call Number Tip
You’ll notice that similar call numbers will appear for many of your results. The call numbers tell you where the book is located on the shelf, and they group books by similar subjects. So, if you find a couple of promising books on the shelf, many around them will be on the same topic. You can browse their chapters and indexes to see if there are other applicable sources.
If you need help using the call numbers, ask at either the Circulation Desk or the Research Help Desk on the first floor.
Focus on a Specific Subtopic with Journal Articles
Remember that the topics of journal articles will typically be very specific, so they are great to use after you've learned about a tradition and have a subtopic to research. There are two databases with a focus in religion, but there are other databases that may also be useful. If your research is multidisciplinary, you may also want to use a database from another subject guide.
- No matter what the tradition, in the databases you will need to have additional search terms to specify your search. What terms work best may vary, so try a bunch of different searches and look at the results list. The Subjects of each item will often be listed, so you may want to take note and try alternative search terms. In this example, "Decision Making" is an official subject term and proved useful when trying to figure out how Quakers organize their communities and make decisions among members.
- You can use many of the same search tips from the catalog in the databases including using the "OR" operator between synonyms or related terms, putting "quotation marks" around phrases, and searching different parts of an item's record like the "Subject" field to specify a search.
Part 2: Researching Your Local Religious Group
Take a look and see if your group has a website and/or Facebook group. Some may be more robust than others, but they will help you with research if you can find information like when the group was established, current or previous locations, and the names of religious figures.
Find Local News Stories
We do have access to databases with articles from local newspapers like The Saratogian and The Times Union. If your group has a more generic name that may be shared by other groups across the country, make sure to add search terms to specify to Saratoga or other local towns/ cities.
- Most databases give you a date limiter to narrow the publication date of articles in the results. For example, if your group was established in a specific year, limit results to that year. You may find articles about the founding.
- You may find and have to wade through a lot of results related to Calendar events posted in the newspaper that are sponsored by your group or held at their location. There isn't an easy way to eliminate these from your results list.
Find Historical News Stories
This final step will depend on the age of your religious tradition and how long they've been established. If you have a religious group recently established in the local area, skip this step.
We have several databases that allow you to find articles from newspapers from the last several hundred years. If you've selected a group that was established in the early 20th or 19th century in the Saratoga area, you may find articles about their establishment or important events.
NYS Historic Newspapers This link opens in a new window
Newspapers back to 1803 from throughout New York State.
ProQuest Historical Newspapers This link opens in a new window
This has some newspapers from the NY area. You will have less luck finding historical news articles about your group unless they were well-known at the time. It doesn't hurt to try though. You may find some articles!