Research Resources Available Off-Campus
Higher education exists to help students learn, and to help them find the knowledge that others have recorded (i.e., how to do research). We at GCS want to teach, but we are also interested in helping you learn to do your own research by seeking out, analyzing, and using knowledge yourself. This skill is especially important for those engaged in Christian ministry.
Christian ministry takes us out of the campus-based academic setting and into many places in the world where instructors, libraries, and other traditional sources of information are not readily available. From small towns, to inner city neighborhoods, to the mission field, and many other places throughout the world, most of our Christian ministry takes place in environments where we will not have easy access to information.
Learning to use the resources that are available where we are, including internet-based resources, is an important part of preparing for Christian ministry as well as learning to be a good student. This paper is designed to help you get started in the process of learning to do research outside the traditional, campus-based, academic environment.
There are two
basic steps to research: 1) identifying sources that have the information you
need and 2) then accessing those sources.
Step one: Identifying
a source that has information I need: If I were writing a paper on Thomas
Torrance’s understanding of “covenanted response,” I might start by looking at
one of his books, Incarnation.
Torrance mentions this concept of “covenanted response” on page 40 of that book
and there is a footnote on that page that refers the reader to another book by
Torrance called The Mediation of Christ.
By reading Incarnation and looking at
that footnote, I have identified a source (The
Mediation of Christ) that has information that may help me. That is step
Step two: Accessing that source: Assume for this
example that I do not own a copy of The
Mediation of Christ. I will need to purchase it, borrow it from a library,
or, perhaps, access some of its content online. That is step two.
one of this paper offers advice on step one, identifying sources, and section
two offers advice on step two, how to locate and access those sources.
2. Identifying Sources
To begin your research you need to identify books and
articles that address the subject you are researching. You may already own, or
be aware of, some sources that can serve as starting points in your research.
As you seek to expand the number and quality of sources that you can access for
your research, the following strategies may be helpful.
At your local public library, or if you have access to an
academic library (see below, “Local Academic Libraries”), you can use the
library’s catalog to find books and articles on a given subject. Most libraries offer online access to their catalogs. Skimming through the titles of books
and articles within a particular subject heading will give you an idea of what
sources might be available, as well as which authors may have written
extensively on a particular subject.
WorldCat is an
excellent online resource for locating books in libraries near you. At their
website, www.worldcat.org, you can enter
your search terms (such as title, author, or subject) and it will return a list
of resources, and will tell you which libraries near you have that particular
resource. Worldcat will also give you correct bibliographic information for the
books. In the upper right-hand corner of a book page, click on “Cite/Export.”
That can help you give proper data in the Works Cited section of your papers.
If your local library does not have many sources on the
subject you are researching, you can access the online catalogs of other,
larger libraries and use their collections as a starting point for finding
sources of information. Most universities offer an online catalog of their collection. Using their
online catalog, you could identify sources that you would like to use, and then
find those sources using one of the methods described below in “Section 2:
Locating and Accessing Sources.”
Once you obtain a particular book or article, you can then
use that book’s bibliography and citations to lead you to more information on
Online booksellers such as www.amazon.com and www.bn.com can be useful for doing research and identifying resources that relate to your topic.
Online bookstores can be searched based on subject, title, and author (just
like library catalogs) and they also generate “suggestions” based on your
For example: If I
search for “Communion” on Amazon, it responds with thousands of products. I can
narrow that search by clicking on “Books” in the left-hand column. I can narrow
it further by selecting “Religion & Spirituality” then selecting “Christian
Books & Bibles” and then selecting “Sacraments.” I have now narrowed my
search to the word “Communion” within the section on Christian Sacraments. When
I click on a title in the list of books, I can scroll down the page describing
that book and see other recommendations that Amazon has generated based on my interest
in this subject.
Search engines such as Google,
Bing, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo can also serve
as starting points for finding information. As you go through the search
results, you may find references to books and articles that you can then locate
and use as sources. Google will often return the Wikipedia article on a given
subject as the first search result (for example, try searching “Constantine the
Great” on Google), so be sure to read the section below on Wikipedia before you
use a Wikipedia article in your research.
Theological Journals Search
This search engine is custom designed and hosted on Google
to allow searches that return results only from journals and magazines that
address theological and religious subjects. Depending on the access provided by
the particular journal that published the article, you may or may not be able
to access the article referenced in the search results. Even if you cannot
access the article, this search engine can help you discover the article’s
existence, and you can then use one of the techniques described below in the
section on “Locating and Accessing Sources” to obtain access to the article.
The website http://en.wikipedia.org
can be a good starting place for locating primary and secondary source material
on a subject. It is a free, online encyclopedia that is written and edited by people
who use it. Because Wikipedia is free and is not the work of a large publishing
house (as, for example, Encyclopaedia
Britannica is), it is often regarded as untrustworthy. In fact, Wikipedia
is produced by very dedicated amateurs who follow a rigorous system of rules
and peer review. As a result, it is more accurate and helpful than many people think.
However, Wikipedia information should never be taken
as factual without checking it, and Wikipedia should never be cited as a source
in a research paper. Wikipedia’s facts need to be checked. Anyone in the world can edit the article,
and sometimes such people are simply trying to promote a particular point of
view on a controversial subject.
Wikipedia should never be cited as a source because tertiary
sources (such as encyclopedias) are not adequate for academic research.
Academic research must use primary and secondary sources. Therefore, even
reputable encyclopedias should serve only as a starting point for research and
should never be cited as sources in your research.
What, then, would be the use of Wikipedia? An article on
Wikipedia can serve as a general introduction to a subject. Most Wikipedia
articles are generally accurate and can thus point you to key issues, main
ideas, important persons, and recognized authorities on a given subject. You
can then take this basic, introductory information and use it to start locating
useful primary and secondary sources of information on the subject. You should then
use these primary and secondary sources to check the facts in the Wikipedia
The best features of a Wikipedia article are the “References,”
“Notes,” “Citations,” and “External Links” found at the end of each article.
Here you will find bibliographic information on primary and secondary sources
related to the topic of the article. For example, the Wikipedia article on
Constantine the Great cites scores of other sources that you could use to do
research on him (scroll to the bottom of the page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_the_Great
to see the sources the article could point you towards.)
The Internet Archive Library
The copyright has expired on books published before 1923,
and many of these have been scanned and are available for free in pdf form. If
you are dealing with an older book, go to https://archive.org/advancedsearch.php
to see if they have it. The Open Access Digital Theological Library is a good portal for theological research.
Princeton Seminary Digital Library
The Princeton Seminary Library has access to full articles
from their journals that are greater than five years old. Go to the digital
library site and start searching the subjects you are interested in: http://diglib.ptsem.edu/.
Review of Biblical Literature
The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) provides online
access to book reviews at its Review of Biblical Literature website (http://www.bookreviews.org). In an
academic setting, a book review is more than just a critique of whether the
book is well written. These reviews are designed to give the reader a good idea
of the content of the book including the issues addressed, the analytical
approaches taken, and the conclusions reached by the author. This could be very
helpful if you are aware of a book that you think might be helpful in your
research but you do not know for sure. By reading a review on this site, you
could determine whether the book is worth pursuing with one of the techniques
described below in the section on locating and accessing sources (such as
whether you should try to request it from your local library through interlibrary
Directory of Open Access Journals
Many journals and magazines require that you be a subscriber
in order to access their online content. The Directory of Open Access Journals
(www.doaj.org) is a list of journals that
allow open access to their content. The Directory lists many journals in the
subject area of Religion. If you are looking for an article on a specific
subject, you may be able to find it in one of these journals.
Religious and Theological Abstracts
Religious and Theological Abstracts (http://www.rtabst.org) is a website that
provides a searchable database of summaries of articles from journals of religious
and theological study. It costs $45 per year for an individual to have complete
access to the site, but this fee could be worth it. For any subject you search,
it will return results of hundreds of articles from many different journals.
Each search result includes a one-paragraph summary of what the article is
Using this highly specific search engine, you could locate
articles that are exactly on point for the topic you are researching, and then
use one of the techniques described below in “Locating and Accessing Sources”
(such as visiting a nearby academic library) to locate and access the article.
RTABST allows you to do five
trial searches for free, so you can see whether you think it will be useful
before you buy a subscription.
Religion Online (http://www.religion-online.org)
has a wide range of reprinted articles grouped by subject. If your topic is
included in one of their subject areas, you may be able to locate articles,
complete with the necessary bibliographic information, that address your topic.
Online Bible Commentaries
If you are doing research on a topic in the Bible or in biblical
theology, you may find online commentaries useful. Several Bible research and
Christian sites have commentaries available online. However, you should be
careful to use modern commentaries that incorporate newer research.
For example, the
website www.biblegateway.com includes
access to some of Matthew Henry’s commentary and the IVP New Testament
Commentaries on their commentaries page: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/
The Matthew Henry commentaries are too old to be used in research, but the IVP
commentary could be useful and is accessible through the Bible Gateway site.
Mark Goodacre’s website http://www.ntgateway.com/ is a useful
starting point for academic research in the New Testament.
One of the interesting features that Google offers is
“Google Books.” You can locate this feature by going to books.google.com. It enables you to
search online previews of some books that Google makes available through its
Here’s an example of
how this might be useful in research: Suppose I remember that somewhere in
his writings C.S. Lewis told a story about a girl he knew who was raised to
think of God as a perfect substance and as a result she ended up thinking of
him as a “vast tapioca pudding.” I would like to refresh my memory about this
story, quote it accurately, and be able to include a reference to it in my
paper with complete bibliographic information. In the days before Google, this
would require determining in which book Lewis told this story and finding a
copy of the book so that I can obtain the page number where the quote is found,
the publisher, the copyright date, etc.
I go to Google Books, however, and search for the phrase “vast tapioca pudding”
(with quote marks), the second search result that comes up is labeled by Google
as “Miracles – Page 117.” (Try doing the search yourself if you are having
trouble visualizing this.) When I click on that search result, Google shows me
an image of page 117 of Miracles by
C.S. Lewis, and there is the exact story I want to reference.