by Stephanie Sleeper, Ph.D. Candidate, School of Religion
Religion or religious studies is an interdisciplinary field encompassing many methodologies and writing styles. Many methods in the humanities and social sciences are represented in the field of religion, and it is important to understand the methology/perspective of the course or assignment you are writing for. Scholars of religion write in historical, philosophical, literary, sociological, anthropological, psychological, and cultural studies styles, or a combination of these, and this multiplicity of styles makes it difficult to identify with others in the discipline, to write in an area you are unfamiliar with, and to identify the style of articles or books you read. Over the course of your graduate career you may be asked to write in a number of different styles, depending on your coursework. This guide is intended to serve as a primer for those new to the field or interested in the different ways of writing and researching in the field of religion.
Introduction: The diversity of the field
As you will learn in Major Interpreters, or any history of the discipline course, and can see just from thumbing through the AAR/SBL annual meeting program, the contemporary field of religion is extraordinarily diverse. This diversity stems from a multiplicity of origins in philosophy/theology, the social sciences, and the humanities. Unlike many other disciplines, the "stuff" of religion can fit into many categories--textual, anthropological/ethnographic, philosophical, sociological, historical, and psychological, to name a few. This diversity of source material also leads to a diversity of writing styles and methodologies, and can engender a lot of confusion on the part of new students in the field who may not have been previously exposed to this diversity.
The following is a very over-simplified overview of the different religious studies disciplines represented at CGU and the methodological/writing styles to which they generally ascribe.
Philosophy of Religion and Theology (PRT)
This is perhaps the simplest to pin down: philosophy of religion has a very philosophical methodology, and uses philosophical language, research questions, styles of argument, and structure. Theological and ethical works also tend to draw from the philosophical field. You might find assistance on writing in PRT at one of the links below.
Scholars of the New Testament tend to follow either literary/critical or philological (linguistic) methods of textual analysis (hermeneutics/exegesis), as their primary source materials are the original texts of the New Testament and other early Christian texts. Scholars of the New Testament often write in a very literary style, making arguments based on textual analysis and using literary theory and methodologies. You might find assistance in writing in this style at one of the links below.
Alternately, scholars of the New Testament might use social scientific analysis, for example, anthropological theories of rituals, demographic data, or psychological theories. See our Writing for the Social Sciences page for more information.
History of Christianity & Religions of North America
HC and the new RNA program both embrace historical methodologies and style. See our page on Writing for History for more information.
Work in Islamic Studies involves the use of many methodologies, including historical study, textual criticism, literary theory, and translation. Depending on the assignment, refer to our pages on Writing for English, Writing for Cultural Studies, Writing for History, Writing for the Social Sciences, or Writing for Philosophy/Ethics.
Common threads: what holds us all together?
These are all academic disciplines, and as such, all religion papers offer a specific and original thesis, construct an argument based on analysis of evidence to persuade the reader, and offer a conclusion that is significant for the study of religion.
The convention in the field is to use either the Chicago/Turabian style (footnotes and bibliography) or the MLA style (in-text citations). Make sure you know what your professor prefers, or what the conventions are for dissertations or articles submitted for publication.
Types of assignments you might encounter
Research, or seminar paper
Textual analysis, primary source analysis, or critical reading
Book Review, or Review Article
Short Analysis paper (answers a particular question)