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Use Reference Sources, such as encyclopedias, to get a general overview of your topic. Reference sources are not intended to be read cover-to-cover, but rather provide you with more concise information as you begin to explore a topic. Reference sources generally provide several things:
- Background information about a topic.
- Brief, factual overviews of topics.
- Information about important dates, events, and people associated with a topic.
- Terminology and definitions of terms related to a topic.
- Articles written by authors with expertise in the subject matter.
- Bibliographies of sources for further reading.
Searching for Reference Sources
Different types of reference sources answer different types of questions.
These are common types of reference sources for research in Religious Studies:
- Atlas - Maps and geographical information.
- Dictionary - Definitions of terms, either general or in relation to a specific subject or discipline.
- Encyclopedia - Comprehensive summaries of factual information, providing more detail than a dictionary.
- Handbook - Concise explanatory information on a topic.
To find reference books on a particular topic, tradition, etc., try a search like this in GILFind, the library's catalog, using the Advanced Search option:
"Encyclopedia," "dictionary," and "handbook" are all terms that will point you towards reference books.
The ORs connecting those terms mean that you are asking for all results that include any of those three words.
If you had linked them with AND, you would only get results that used ALL of those three words.
The AND connecting the two search boxes means that you are asking for results that include
any of the three terms in the first box AND the term in the second box.
(Click on the image to see the results of this search!)
Online Encyclopedias & Dictionaries
The following online encyclopedias and dictionaries are available to you from both on- and off-campus. For off-campus access, use your University logon and password (the same logon/password you use to log onto the campus computer lab computers).
GALE Virtual Reference Library
Select "Religion" from the menu at the left. Provides access to numerous online encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia of Religion, the Encyclopedia of Buddhism, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Encyclopaedia of Judaica, and others.
The Catholic Encyclopedia
Contains articles transcribed from the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. Old, yes, but many articles are still relevant and informative.
Free online resource. Contains the complete contents of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, originally published between 1901-1906.
Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Encompassing over 5,000 A-Z reference entries, chapters from scholarly and introductory works, Qur’anic materials, primary sources, images, maps, and timelines, Oxford Islamic Studies Online offers a multi-layered reference experience designed to provide a first stop for anyone needing information and context on Islam.
Selected Encyclopedias/Reference Sources
Selected sources on specific religious traditions:
Oxford Bibliographies Online
Guides researchers to the best available scholarship across a wide variety of subjects. Guides available for Religious Studies include Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.