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Researching & Writing Literature Reviews in Religious Studies: Identifying Scholarly Sources

What is peer review?

  A peer reviewed journal article is an article that has been reviewed and chosen for publication by the author's professional peers. These peers are scholars in the field, who sit on the editorial board of a journal which is usually published by a professional organization or a university press. Peer reviewed articles can also be known as scholarly or refereed articles. 

Note, however, that just because an article is published in a peer-reviewed journal, does not guarantee that it is a work of quality scholarship.

See the Sokal Affair for more info.

View Sokal's article.

Evaluating Sources

Finding books and articles on your topic is just one step in the research process.

After locating a books and articles appropriate to your topic you should evaluate them to determine whether they are suitable to use for your research project. The following tutorial provides access to pages telling you how to do just that.

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.

Tips for critically evaluating your information resources.

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.


  • What information is provided about the author's credentials?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution or scholarly publisher?
  • Is the author mentioned or cited in another trustworthy source?


  • Who is the intended audience of the source?
    • Scholars? General public?
  • Is the language geared toward those with knowledge of a specific discipline or the general public?


  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can the information be verified in other sources?
  • Are sources cited? Are there references to other writings on the topic?
  • Are research claims documented?
  • Are conclusions based on the evidence provided?
  • Are bibliographies included?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, insitutional, or personal biases?


  • Is the date of publication evident?
  • Is currency of the information crucial to your research?


  • Who is the publisher of the information?
  • Is the publisher an academic institution (university press), scholarly or professional organization, a scholarly trade publisher, or a trade publsher? Examples:
    • Academic Publishers:
      • Oxford University Press
      • Duke University Press
    • Scholarly or Professional Organizations:
      • American Academy of Religion
      • American Psychological Association
    • Scholarly Trade Publishers:
      • Rowman & Littlefield
      • Routledge
    • Trade Publishers:
      • Macmillan
      • Simon & Schuster
  • Does the publisher make available their peer-review or editorial policy?


  • What is the purpose of the information?
    • Is it to inform, teach, entertain, or persuade?
  • Do the authors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?

Tips for Books


  • Is biographical information for the author provided?
  • Are author credentials provided?
  • Is the author's institutional affilation provided?


  • University press? Likely to be scholarly
  • Professional organizations and the U.S. Government Printing Office can also be indicators of scholarly content.

Date of publication and currency

  • Is the information current enough for your purposes?
  • Is a historical perspective important?

Are there any book reviews?

  • Check sources such as journal article databases to locate book reviews.

Beware of vanity presses! A vanity press is a publisher to which authors pay to have their books published.

Tips for Articles


  • Is biographical information for the author provided?
  • Are author credentials included? (i.e., PhD or MD)
  • Is the author's institutional affilation provided?


  • Scholarly press?
  • Don't let the name "Journal" influence your decision. Although the word Journal is often an indicator of a scholarly publication, it doesn't guarantee it.
    • Example: Ladies Home Journal

Article length

  • Articles in scholarly journals, particularly research articles, will often be in excess of ten pages.

For additional information regarding scholarly journals, see the Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals chart.