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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

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 in the book or article.


  • In academic publishing, the goal of peer review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal.
  • Before an article can be published in a peer reviewed journal, the article is evaluated by an editorial board of scholars (peer reviewers) in the discipline.
    • The peer reviewers check the manuscript for accuracy and assess the validity of the research methodology and procedures.
    • If the article is deemed appropriate for the journal, the article will either be published as submitted, or the peer reviewers may suggest that the author make revisions before the article will be published. If the reviewers find the article lacking in scholarly validity and rigor, they reject it.
  • Because a peer reviewed journal will not publish articles that fail to meet the standards established for a given discipline, peer reviewed articles that are accepted for publication exemplify the best research practices in a field.
  • Newspaper, magazine, and web articles do not undergo this process.
  • Books,for the most part, are not peer reviewed. To evaluate whether a book is a credible source,  you will need to rely on the credentials of the author (university/research affiliation) and the publisher.


  • 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.
  • Having said that, there are also  trade publishers that publish books on scholarly topics, such as: Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, Harper Collins. In this case you would need to check the credentials of the author (do a Google Search to determine their university affiliation) in order to determine whether the work is scholarly or not.


  • The intended audience will be other scholars and not the general public.
  • The language in which a book or article is written will be technical and aimed at those with knowledge of a specific discipline or subject area.


  • The content's purpose will be to inform or educate other scholars on the most recent research in the field.
  • Conclusions or claims made in a scholarly source will be based on evidence and not personal opinion. The information will be unbiased.
  • The sources used to write the work will be cited.
    • Look for a bibliography, a reference list, or footnotes. Keep in mind, though, that the presence of a bibliography, reference list or footnotes does not alone mean that the work is scholarly or credible. You would still need to check the author's credentials/affiliation and the publisher, as well as the content.


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