Since when does Bibliography take an exclamation point?! Since the commandment to include one in most research papers and theses. But the ! also marks the excitement there can be over discovering a particularly relevant bibliography. Bibliographies are one of the few remaining graces in a copyright obsessed world. They are the traces a scholar freely leaves of her thinking and research, for others to follow at will. They symbolize the scholarly world at its collegial and cooperative best. And they sometimes contain gems that do not turn up on even the most thorough searches of databases and catalogs.
In our digitial age, “bibliography” is a misnomer, since it implies that the resources we list as informative on any given topic are all books (biblos=book). But a bibliography will typically include digitized journal articles and possibly webpages, blog entries, or online videos as well.
Most academic theses (D.Min, M.A., Ph.D) and research papers for courses require a bibliography of items consulted during research. It is wise to begin keeping a record of these at the start of research. An excellent place to begin: subject encyclopedias on your topic. A subject encyclopedia (as opposed to a general encyclopedia like the Britannica or Wikipedia) comprises short-ish articles on a specific topic (e.g. Spirituality, Pastoral Counseling, the Reformation) written by specialists in the field. Each article typically includes a bibliography of items that the author considers essential reading on the article’s subject. It is like calling up a friend you trust and know to be an expert on something and asking them, “What should I read on this topic?”
Some online encyclopedias, such as the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (find it here) provide clearly identified links to bibliography. Others, like the Encyclopedia of Religion (also here) comment on the books in their bibliographies, identify classics in the field, or recommend translations of key texts originally written in Latin, Greek or another language other than English.
Some books in the library collection consist of nothing but bibliography. Find these by joining to any keyword search you initiate in the catalog the expression su bibliography. For example, if you search for spirituality and su bibliography, a record for this book appears: On Spirituality: A Feminist Perspective, by Clare Fischer. which is simply a list of books on its topic, categorized by various subdivisions (Goddess Spirituality, Feminist Theory, etc.).
Annotated bibliographies are especially useful finds, as they summarize and often evaluate the books they list. Students of Hebrew Bible should enjoy the engagingly written and delightfully opinionated annotations in the British publication, Book List, which is found online through the library catalog. For the most recent example, search for the periodical Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, follow links to the online version, and select the issue for July 2010.
To find bibliographies in the ATLA Religion Database (here), add to whatever search you are doing the term, bibliography, in a separate search box and select from the drop-down menu to its right, Subjects. This search will retrieve articles on your topic that are nothing but bibliography. For example, a search for Spiritual Life, as a topic, and Bibliography, as a subject, retrieves a lovely article from the May 9, 2009 Christian Century comprising recommendations of scholars and pastors on the best books to read on spirituality. The article is simply called, “Books to Start With.”
The folks who actually index articles for ATLA Religion Database are trained in religious studies and attuned to the needs of researchers. If they come across an article or essay that includes a particularly rich bibliography in it, they make a note of that. To find these notable bibliographies within articles, add to your subject search, in a separate search box, the term: nt bibliography. The “nt” here does not stand for New Testament, but for Note. This search will retrieve articles on the subject you are searching that contain significant bibliographies. For example, if within ATLA we search for Spirituality as a subject, in one search box, and nt bibliography in another, this article appears: “The Body Between Religion and Spirituality,” by Giuseppe Giordan. This article discusses the importance of the body to any discussion of spirituality. And the database notes that it has a 2-page bibliography, on pages 234-236. For a guide to searching ATLA Religion Database generally, click here.
Once you have a list of sources, be sure to arrange them for your paper or thesis in prescribed bibliographic format, which is often according to Turabian or the University of Chicago (which are the same). There are many online guides to Chicago style, click here for one. For especially challenging cases of citation, consult the online Chicago Manual of Style, which files alphabetically here.
In despair, consult with your theological librarian.