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Religion in the American South: Getting Started: Reference: Encyclopedias & More

Reference Sources

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!)

Selected Reference Sources

Handbook Series

Oxford University Press and Routledge Press both publish handbook series that give overviews of a wide range of topics, including Religious Studies topics. Examples include (but are not limited to):

Oxford Handbooks

Routledge Handbooks

Oxford in particular has many handbooks on Religious Studies topics.

To find more, try this search in the library catalog:

  • Click on "Library Catalog" on the library's homepage
  • Select "Advanced Search" 
  • Try this search: 


Religious Studies Librarian

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Laura Carscaddon
Library South 542 (Subject Librarian suite)

Handouts for Religious Studies

These printable handout provide information on library resources and searching strategies for Religious Studies topics.