Why use online resources?
Online resources are a useful way to get a general idea of concepts and subjects and to identify any significant disputed questions. General sources (even including Wikipedia) may be useful here. However, study that is based primarily on these is likely to be weak.
Other more specialised resources can help in finding scholarly sources to inform and support strong argument and analysis, including:
- Primary sources (Church documents, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, etc.)
- Secondary sources (books, journals, theses, etc.)
- Audio-visual sources (lectures, public broadcast material, images, etc.)
- Specialist websites and gateways.
Evaluating what you find
As with all sources, you need to evaluate what sort of material you are reading. Questions you might ask yourself are:
- Who wrote it: e.g. a recognised scholarly author, a journalist, someone unknown?
- What is the style of writing: e.g. scholarly (with footnotes etc.), personal opinion?
- Who is it written for?
- Who published it? Academic websites with .edu or .ac domain names should generally be more reliable.
- When was it (originally) published? Note that this applies to primary sources too: newer editions and translations based on better scholarship may be available.
How to find online resources: suggestions, hints and some links
The resources listed below may help you identify sources to follow up. Some of these will be directly readable online; others won’t be, but they may be available in printed form in libraries, or even worth purchasing (second hand copies can often be quite cheap).
Specialist databases search directly for scholarly material. Some useful examples are:
- Google Scholar ranks material found by academic criteria, weighing author, publisher and frequency of citation, etc.
- Google Books searches for books! Some are fully readable online; some others allow a preview to see whether you want to follow up in printed form.
- ATLA (American Theological Library Association). This is a subscription-based service. ATLA also maintains ALTA CPLI (Catholic Periodicals and Literature Index).
- JSTOR Searching the archive is free. Some sources can also be read free online, others require subscription (but alumni of some institutions may have access to these).
Gateways give links to specialist sites on a particular topic. They should be assembled by a respectable scholar and refereed by other academics. Useful examples include:
Link Pages on websites also give a selection of relevant sites on particular topics (but don’t forget to evaluate who has assembled the links!). E.g.:
Library Catalogues allow you to identify possible sources for follow-up. You may be able to access libraries as an external reader, or find copies of texts elsewhere.
- COPAC (Consolidated Online Public-Access Catalogue), includes the catalogues of around 90 university and major British libraries.
- THUG (Theological Heritage User Group) combines the catalogues of several theological libraries in the UK. It can be accessed via Sarum College’s website here.
- M25 LIB is a consortium of academic libraries within or near the M25.
- Pontifical Gregorian University library. Use their OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue).
General search engines. Think carefully about what you search for: technical terms (e.g. hypostatic union) are more likely to give better targeted results than more general terms. Searching for a term plus “bibliography” can also be useful.
Journal websites sometimes allow free searching of their indexes. You can then follow up using printed copies.
Other useful things
- Sarum College maintains a list of full-text free-access electronic journals in religion here.