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*Religious Studies: Subject Guide: Is it Scholarly?

Search tips and research resources for topics in religious studies.

Determining Scholarly Sources

What is a scholarly source?

Scholarly sources (also referred to as academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed) are written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news. These resources will provide the most substantial information for your research and papers

What is peer-review?

When a source has been peer-reviewed it has undergone the review and scrutiny of a review board of colleagues in the author's field. They evaluate this source as part of the body of research for a particular discipline and make recommendations regarding its publication in a journal, revisions prior to publication, or, in some cases, reject its publication.

Why use scholarly sources?

The authority and credibility evident in scholarly sources will contribute a great deal to the overall quality of your papers. Use of scholarly sources is an expected attribute of academic course work.

How can I tell if a source is scholarly?

The following characteristics can help you differentiate scholarly sources from those that are not. Be sure and look at the criteria in each category when making your determination, rather than basing your decision on only one criteria.


  • Authors will be scholars or experts in their field and not paid journalists.
  • Authors’ educational credentials and university and/or research affiliation are almost always provided.
  • Contact info for authors will sometimes be provided.


  • Books and articles will undergo a peer-review process in which an editorial board of scholars evaluates and comments on the information before it is published.  The author then revises their work to meet the editorial board’s demands. The work is not published until the author has satisfied the editorial board.  The process is designed to prevent dissemination of irrelevant findings, unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal views.  Newspaper, magazine, and web articles do not undergo this process.


  • Scholarly sources are published by university presses, scholarly societies or professional organizations. Examples:
    • Oxford University Press, Duke University Press, American Academy of Religion, American Association of Political Science, etc.


  • The intended audience will be other scholars and not the general public.
  • The language will be technical and geared toward those with knowledge of a specific discipline.


  • The content's purpose will be to inform or educate other scholars on the most recent research in the field.
  • The information will be unbiased.
  • The sources used to write the work will be documented.
    • Look for a bibliography, a reference list, or footnotes.
  • Conclusions or claims will be based on the evidence provided.


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