The quality of research depends very much on the quality of resources that are gathered. In times when information is so readily available, the critical thing is to distinguish between information which is good quality, reliable and applicable, and information which has little value, or may be entirely wrong and misleading. Resources may be divided into three types. It should be noted, however, that the three types are, in practice, not very distinct. Much printed literature and many databases are now accessible in electronic forms.
- Printed literature – books and journals
- Electronic resources – the Internet
A useful way of keeping references is through Zotero. Zotero is a free program developed by universities in the USA into which you can write or import all your references, be they printed or electronic. Zotero provides facilities for keeping notes on your references and allows you to build your own database of relevant references. Zotero contains macros for inserting references into a document you are writing, and, when you have completed the document, will format those references and create your bibliography. It can format those references and create the bibliography in a multitude of different ways, as required by different academic institutions, journals and publishers. Thus, your own Zotero library can be used in many situations.
In the literature search, the student should be seeking to identify what are the major theoretical structures that are used in the area of research, what is the state of current knowledge, and what are the major issues of debate. The literature search helps students to position their projects in relation to current world knowledge within their area of interest. It will also assist students in defining the major terms and concepts to be used in their project, to assess what methods would be most suitable for pursuing their studies, and what might be hypotheses that they should explore.
Printed Literature –
Books and Journals
Most research should begin with a search of the literature. It is the major way, although not the only way, in which researchers discover others have done and what others are thinking about their area of interest. Wide reading will help to focus attention on salient issues. It will introduce the researcher to the various theoretical frameworks which may be used to think through what is happening. It is critical in the development of hypotheses which form the heart of major research projects.
Browsing through relevant topic areas in a good library is one way of starting the process. Note that every library has its strengths and weaknesses. While the older theological libraries in Australia have excellent collections on theological and historical topics, they are often weak in relation to empirical research even in the area of religion. (For some reflections on Australia’s theological college libraries, see library.htm.)
Some university libraries have better collections relating to empirical studies related to religion, although this varies considerably from one university to another. Universities such as Australian Catholic University, LaTrobe, Macquarie, Monash, New England, Queensland, and Sydney have had or still have departments of religious studies, religious education or theology and have larger collections in these areas. However, these departments have had quite different orientations. LaTrobe has had one of the strongest focuses on the sociological study of religion. Sydney University probably has a much better collection in relation to phenomenological and anthropological studies of religion, for example.
Most university libraries can be explored freely using the Internet. For example, go to www.latrobe.edu.au and use the ‘Quick Links’ to go to the library. Click on the catalogue and you can search by keywords, by author, and title. You can note down or print off references (including call numbers or shelf numbers) of those books and other materials which look interesting. Then spend a day in at the library browsing the references you have found, and other books on the shelves nearby that also appear interesting. Unless you are a student or staff member at the university, you will not be able to borrow books, but most universities allow you to look at books in the library itself.
When searching by keywords, make sure that you use a variety of possible words. When you have found some authors who have written on the topics in which you are interested, search for other materials those authors have written.
Bibliographies are also useful. Most libraries will have a range of these including some related to religion. For example, in 1988, Peter Bentley compiled Australian Religious Studies: A Bibliography of Post-Graduate Theses 1922-1986, published by National Catholic Research Council and available in many university libraries. Michael Mason edited a bibliography entitled Religion in Australian Life: A Bibliography of Social Research, published by Australian Association for the Study of Religions and National Catholic Research Council in 1982. Another useful book is Lawrence D. McIntosh, Religion and Theology: A Guide to Current Reference Resources, published in 1997 by the Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.
There have been few bibliographies of books on religion compiled recently, perhaps because the number and range has become so vast. However, there are some bibliographies available on specific topics. For example, the Christian Research Association prepared a bibliography on youth spirituality which was published by Uniting Education. Another source of bibliographies on religion in Australia is the CD-Rom produced by the CRA: Australia’s Religious Communities. It contains a separate bibliography of each religious tradition found in Australia.
It should be remembered that most university and theological college libraries take time to purchase and process recent books. For the most recent books on topics, check the Amazon internet site (www.amazon.com) and use their search facilities.
A useful book summarising the research scales that have been developed in religious research is Peter C. Hill and Ralph W. Hood (editors), Measures of Religiosity, published by Religious Education Press, Birmingham, Alabama, 1999.
Another important source of information is journal articles. Journal articles are usually highly focussed. However, they often include useful summaries of the literature and are usually up-to-date in what they present. It is important to distinguish between journals of different quality. Some journals are little better than newspapers containing loose collections of highly unreliable opinions. Newspapers have little academic value except as pointers to what research has been done. Usually newspapers, including religious newspapers and magazines, pick up research that happens to catch the interest of a journalist or editor. If you find something of interest in a newspaper or magazine make sure you check out the original source to get the true story.
Some journals, on the other hand, represent the very forefront of research. Look especially for journals which are peer reviewed, that is, journals in which articles are sent to reviewers for their assessment of their worth before being published. Among the major journals dealing with empirical studies, religion and ministry are
- Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion published by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion,
- Review of Religious Research published by the Religious Research Association,
- Social Compass published by the International Society for the Sociology of Religion,
- Religion published by the Academic Press, London, and
- Sociology of Religion published by the Association for the Sociology of Religion.
- Journal of Pastoral Care – contact via the website: www.jpcp.org
- Journal of Pastoral Counselling
- Journal of Health Care and Chaplaincy – contact via website: www.healthcarechaplaincy.org/research.html
- Pastoral Psychology – contact via website: www.kluweronline.com/issn/0331-2789/
A major journal which published materials about empirical research in religion in Australia is the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, which grew out of the Australian Association for the Study of Religions Review. There are many theological journals published in Australia, and occasionally some of them carry articles which include accounts of empirical research.
For articles to do with ministry, the major peer-reviewed Australian journal is the Journal of Contemporary Ministry which is a product of the Christian Research Association.
Another journal which contain materials on ministry is St Mark’s Review, which is produced by St. Mark’s Theological College, Canberra.
Journal of Religious Education is published in Australia and contains some reports of empirical studies relating to religious education.
The Christian Research Association publishes Pointers on a quarterly basis. Pointers is not a full academic journal. Rather, it attempts to be a clearing-house for research related to religion and church life in Australia, summarising relevant studies. It is a useful starting point. Many past Pointers articles are available on the Internet: www.cra.org.au. The articles on the internet site are organised in terms of subject areas and there is a comprehensive index which can be used to search through the articles.
Indices are useful for identifying articles and books that are relevant to a particular topic. The Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association and Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University publishes annually the Australasian Religion Index. It indexes books and periodicals by author, book review, subject and scriptural passage.
Many journal articles and indices for journal articles are now available on the Internet, although most of them require a subscription fee or a link through a university with password access. Ask your theological college or university library about access to indices such as:
- Proquest Religious Periodicals
- Social Sciences Plus
- Sociological Abstracts
- Orere Source – which is subscription service which provides abstracts of materials relating to pastoral care and practical theology. It can be contacted via the Email: email@example.com
In these indices, you can search by title, keyword, or author. Many indices contain short summaries of the various articles, books and book reviews that they index. Some contain full-text versions of journal articles which you can then save on to your own hard-disk or print out.
This section is not about bibliographical databases. For information about those see the section on Printed Literature. It is about survey databases.
There is a vast amount of information, available in surveys that have already been conducted, which has never been analysed. For any large survey, there may be a million ways in which the information could be analysed. Rather than conduct a new survey, it may be more helpful to look at surveys that have been conducted and see whether the information one needs is available there.
In terms of the empirical study of religion in Australia, there are three types of databases.
- General Population Surveys which have contained some questions about religion. The World Values Survey was conducted in Australia in 1983 and again in 1995 and annually since then. It contained a range of questions on religion. Several organisations were involved in the analysis of the first World Values Survey and articles were published by Zadok and a book, The Religious Factor in Australian Life, by Gary Bouma and Beverley Dixon in 1986 by MARC, Australia. Little analysis of the religion questions has been done of the second World Values Survey which was conducted by Edith Cowan University in 1995. The World Values Surveys are available for purchase from the Social Science Data Archives of the Australian National University –ssda.anu.edu.au. Other general population surveys include the National Social Science Surveys which have been conducted most years since 1983 and is now known as the Australian Survey of Social Values and conducted by ACSPRI. These surveys have included a component which has been developed by an international consortium and run in many countries around the world. Each year, there have been some religion questions, but in some years such as 1993, the focus of the international component was on religion and thus a wide range of questions about religion were included. In 1993, the Christian Research Association paid for two extra pages of questions on religion to complement the international selection. Material from this survey was used in Philip Hughes, et al, Believe It or Not: Australian Spirituality and the Churches in the 90s, published by the Christian Research Association in 1995. The National Social Science Surveys are also available from the Social Science Data Archives of the Australian National University –ssda.anu.edu.au. The most detailed questionnaire about religion in the Australian population was designed by the National Church Life Survey team along with Edith Cowan University. The survey, known as the Australian Community Survey, was conducted in 1998. It included eight different versions of the questionnaire and a total of more than 600 questions. Some questions were asked in all eight versions, while others were included in only one version. The questionnaires were sent to a random sample of the Australian adult population (18 years plus) drawn from the electoral rolls and 8500 questionnaires were completed and returned. Numerous articles based on this survey have been published. One book, written by John Bellamy, et al, Why People Don’t Go to Church, was published in 2002 by the National Church Life Survey. Another book, Building Stronger Communities, is currently being written. A few questions from that questionnaire have been included on this CD-Rom. The other major source of data about religion in Australia is the National Housing and Population Census which is conducted every five years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This contains only one question about religion: what is your religion? It provides details about the religions with which people identify but nothing about their religious practices. However, it is the most important source for the numbers of people identifying with various religious groups. Census information about local areas and special cross-tabulations of information can be purchased from the Australian Bureau of Statistics: www.abs.gov.au. The Christian Research Association purchases data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, particularly in relation to religion, and is registered as a secondary provider. Details of information about those who identify with each denomination is available on the CD-Rom published by the Christian Research Association, Australia’s Religious Communities. Area reports are also available from the Christian Research Association designed specifically to meet the needs of local congregations and other church bodies.
- Surveys of Church Attenders. The National Church Life Survey has conducted surveys of church attenders every five years since 1991. The databases are huge, containing over 500,000 cases in 2001. Some questions, referred to as core questions, were included in every survey. Other questions were randomly distributed through a wide range of surveys. In 2001, more than 1000 questions on a wide variety of topics were distributed through 26 different versions of the questionnaire. Another extended questionnaire was sent to clergy and church leaders. A great variety of books has been published based on these surveys. A random selction of about 10 per cent of the sample of the core questions from the 1996 National Church Life Survey has been included on this CD-Rom. The National Church Life Surveys are not currently available for general use. However, researchers may purchase data from the National Church Life Survey organisation and churches may purchase information about their own local areas. For details, go to www.ncls.org.au.
- Specialised Surveys The Christian Research Association has conducted many specialised surveys for church organisations. These include surveys of Christian bookshops, of individual congregations about worship, of students about their experiences in schools, Anglican and Seventh-day Adventist clergy and so on. A large survey was conducted of Uniting Church attenders on Christian Education. Most of these surveys have been commissioned by organisations who then own the data. Contact the Christian Research Association for more details.
A major collection of data about religion can be found on the American Religion Data Archives. More than 190 surveys are included on this website, including the 2000 General Social Survey and the National Congregational Study. These surveys can be down-loaded from the site and can be explored using your own statistical software. Most of these surveys contain information about religion and church life in the United States of America. However, they are useful for comparison and for looking at the sorts of questions that are asked. The site is www.thearda.com.
There is endless material on religion on the Web. The most important task is distinguishing what is valuable and what is not. Many articles on the web are no more than one person’s opinion and of little value to those who are interested in serious research. In order to distinguish what is worthwhile:
- use what is posted on recommended and recognised websites
- check the authorship, the origins and the review details of materials
- evaluate carefully the articles you read, looking at the evidence that is cited and the sources that are provided.
Most religious organisations have their own official websites. For Australian religious organisations, use the websites in the reference sections of the Christian Research Association’s CD-Rom, Australia’s Religious Communities. The Christian Research Association has made every attempt to ensure that every website in the reference section for each organisation is the official website for that organisation.
The two major church-related research organisations in Australia are the Christian Research Association and the National Church Life Survey. The Christian Research Association is responsible to a board made-up of representatives of most of the major denominations in Australia including: Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Catholics, Salvation Army, Seventh-day Adventists and Uniting Church. The National Church Life Survey organisation has a board constituting members of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the New South Wales Uniting Church and the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Both organisations work in close cooperation. The website for the Christian Research Association, which contains a wide variety of articles on religion and church-life in Australia, is www.cra.org.au. The National Church Life Survey website is oriented primarily to assisting congregations rather to academic research: www.ncls.org.au.
One of the largest and most comprehensive websites on religious research is the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The Institute is part of the Hartford Seminary in the United States. The website is www.hirr.hartsem.edu. There are many articles on line, useful links to other sites, and a range of other resources. It also contains a searchable bibliographic database of many of the major works in the sociology of religion.
Another site with good quality materials on the study of religion including many materials on new religious movements is the Religious Movements homepage of the University of Virginia: www.religiousmovements.org.
The website of the Christian Research Association in the United Kingdom does not contain many articles, but has some information about the research in which the Association is engaged. Its website is www.christian-research.org.uk.
There is a large amount of material on the Internet for social science research in general. For a few links, go to David De Vaus’ website, www.social-research.org. However, for a much greater range of links to articles, surveys, data, bibliographies and other materials, see David De Vaus’ book: Surveys in Social Research, 5th edition, published by Routledge in London and Allen and Unwin in Sydney, 2001. (Note that earlier editions of this book do not have that information on website links.)
He recommends the following sites:
www.vts.rdn.ac.uk – tutorials for students, lecturers and researchers on using the Internet to find appropriate materials.
www.sosig.ac.uk – Social Science Information gateway. Includes a section on the Sociology of Religion, and contains articles, papers and reports, links to data, organisations, journals and resource guides.
http://arjournals.annualreviews.org – annual reviews of anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology with many articles that can be down-loaded free.
http://copac.ac.uk – provides access to the online catalogues of university libraries in the UK and Ireland.
http://qb.soc.surrey.ac.uk – contains a wide range of national surveys (mostly British and European), but useful for the questions used as well as the data.
A further US site with some research material is:
The AHWCA (Australian Health and Welfare Chaplains’ Association) site is www.vic.uca.org.au/AHWCA,
and follow the link to research. This site includes links to other chaplaincy research sites and organisations.
Apart from looking at printed and electronic materials, it is often helpful to talk to people who are familiar with the field of study. One person who was doing a doctorate set out to do a range of formal interviews with key people in the field as an initial point of departure. Another way of meeting people and talking with others about research is to attend conferences. Organisations which run conferences are often keen to encourage young scholars and there may be concessions available. Many Australian academic conferences are relatively cheap to attend, unlike those conferences run by private or government organisations.
For example, there is an annual conference conducted by the Australian Association for the Study of Religions, held in different locations each year. The Australia New Zealand Society for Theological Studies and the Australia New Zealand Association of Theological Schools jointly hold an annual conference. See the ANZATS website: www.anzats.edu.au. TASA is the major network for sociologists in Australia and its conferences often include a section on religion. For details, go to the TASA website: www.tasa.org.au.
In terms of international conferences, there is an annual conference in the United States conducted by the Society for the Study of Religion (http://las.alfred.edu/~soc/SSSR/index.html) and the Religious Research Association (http://rra.hartsem.edu/). The International Society for the Sociological of Religion has an bi-annual conference, usually in Europe (www.kuleuven.ac.be/facdep/social/soc/sisr/english/aboutus.htm). There have been several conferences of people involved in church-related research which have been organised by the Christian Research Association of the United Kingdom. It is hoped that in 2003 an international association of church-related research organisations will be formed and that regular conferences will be an important part of the program for the international association.