Religion Majors Research Skills

What Should Religion Majors Know?

Religion courses at Smith are critical and comparative, interdisciplinary, and cross-cultural. They examine the nature and function of religious phenomena in the past and present of many cultures. They provide opportunities to analyze systems of belief and patterns of religious behavior, the history of religious traditions, the functions of religion in society, and various forms of religious expression such as myth, ritual, sacred story, sacred texts, liturgy, and theological and philosophical reflection. (From the Religion Department Mission Statement.)

Click here for more information about the study of religion at Smith College.

A student majoring in Religion will gain a broad knowledge of different religious traditions in different geographical locations as well as a more focused understanding of a particular religion, or the religious traditions of a particular geographical area or discipline. She will also study the different methods and approaches to the study of religion. For more information on the specific content of a Religion major, click here.

How Will They Get There?

Information Literacy

Information literacy refers, basically, to the skills that used to be understood as “using the library effectively.” Such knowledge is important to the Religion major, for there are many potential sources of knowledge about religion. But the most effective and judicious use of them is not always clear. Information about religion can be gleaned from books and ethnography, fiction and films, television and websites, yet how can such knowledge best be used? A Religion major should learn to know

1) when information or documentation is needed;
2) what sort of information is needed;
3) how to locate the information;
4) how to evaluate its relevance and quality;
5) how to use it effectively; and
6) how to use it ethically.

It is expected that, as with all Smith students, Religion majors will have acquired basic information literacy skills before entering their major. Click here for a description of these skills, including information about the College-mandated writing intensive course. For more on the effective use of information, see “Standard Four” of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.

Within the major itself, students will be introduced to the sources important for the study of religion through content-specific “literacy” training sessions with librarians as well as through the normal course of assigned papers, exams, and projects. More specific training in the theoretical and methodological concerns of religious studies will occur in REL 200, a required departmental course that students are encouraged to take shortly after they declare their major. These skills are then exercised and honed through one’s class work and through departmental seminars, which function as a culmination of training in a particular tradition and approach to the study of religion.

Resources

An excellent survey of the important research tools for the study of religion is maintained by the Smith College research librarians and can be accessed on the Libraries' Religion Subject Page. In addition, the Religion Department website as well as individual faculty websites contain many resource links to informative websites.

Ethical Use of Information

An important aspect of information literacy is the ethical use of information. This means accurately citing the sources of your information and not committing plagiarism. See the statement on Academic Honor Code Infractions in the Smith College Student Handbook.

June 11, 2008