Non-Religious Resources

It is not unusual for researchers to ask questions that cross disciplines or involve interdisciplinary study.  Therefore, it is important to be familiar with the non-religious databases that your researchers might use and how they can conduct searches within these resources.  In this module, we will explore a variety of subscription databases that you might use in answering questions with an interdisciplinary focus. The goal is to make you aware of databases outside the immediate sphere of religion or theology that may be useful in answering religion-oriented questions.

In many cases, you can and often will use the ATLA Religion Database (with or without ATLAS serials) to answer questions that involve religion. While the interface may differ from one vendor to another, the basic indexing remains the same and the search syntax may not differ very much. In the examples below, I will occasionally compare results from the subject-specific databases to ATLA Religion Database to illustrate the bounty in non-theological databases.

Medical Questions

  • Where might I find information on Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions?
  • What are the moral implications of assisted dying for a Christian physician or nurse?

Questions like these are common especially in medical ethics classes taught in seminaries and theological schools.  One can search for information in the ATLA Religion Database and find some answers but one shouldn’t stop here. One can also search PubMed (free) or Medline (subscription) since both of these databases provide medical information although the latter can be more technical in nature than the former.  One might also consult Ebsco’s Religion and Philosophy Collection for answers. For example, for the first question above, I got the following results with the simple search “Jehovah’s Witness* and transfusion*” (bearing in mind that search syntax may differ from database to database):

  •  In ATLA RD w/ATLAS serials: 5 results.
  • In the Religion and Philosophy Collection: 13 results.
  • In Medline (via Ovid): 809 results.

Bear in mind that I did not evaluate the relevance of the results but clearly there were more results provided by the strictly medical database for our question. It is important, especially when using Medline, to be aware of the subject headings (MeSH) used by the editors of the database. Sometimes, the keyword term you are considering can be replaced with a more specific subject heading to get better results.

The biological database, Biosis, might also prove useful when researching questions dealing with the body or the physical world. A search of “Jehovah’s Witness* and “blood transfusion” resulted in 3 hits which is not many in comparison to Medline or PubMed but the results are relevant to the topic.

Government or Political Questions

  • What role did religion play in the 2008 elections?
  • What are the religious affiliations of my state legislators?

Political questions do arise at the reference desk, even in a seminary or theological library.  While they may not be as common as other questions we might receive, they do require us to be familiar with databases and online resources in the realm of political science.  There are many resources available to answer these questions: LexisNexis Academic (or one of its variants), PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service), and Political Science: A Sage Full Text Collection. By doing a simple search for “religion and elections”, I received 1000 results in LexisNexis Academic and over 2000 in PAIS &Political Science (a combined search in Proquest).  

Question b may require you to seek out statistical or demographic information. Sometimes this information is made available on your state’s government website or in a website like LexisNexis Congressional database may provide some general information on the affiliation of members of Congress but does not always provide individual information.


  • How do we know that God exists?
  • Can people be moral without being religious?

There are several databases that can be used to answer philosophical questions. One, mentioned earlier, is the Religion and Philosophy Collection provided by Ebsco. One might also search the Philosopher’s Index.  If one did a search for “morality and religion”, one would get about 1500 results in the Philosopher’s Index and 14,000 in Religion and Philosophy Collection.  It is worth noting that as in any search, choosing more precise terms for one’s search string would reduce those results significantly.


  • What role did the Roman Catholic Church play in the settling of California?
  • I need to find some articles about the history of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

The primary historical databases you will need to consult for questions like these are America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts. America: History and Life is primarily geared towards questions dealing with the United States and Canada whereas Historical Abstracts deals with non-US/Canada World History. In Historical Abstracts, for example, there are 75 results for the search, “Presbyterian Church and Scotland.”


  • I need a description of the religious practices of the people of Borneo.
  • What is the difference between the taboos of indigenous persons and the “abominations” in the Old Testament?

It is not unusual for researchers to seek information about religion as a cultural phenomenon, whether it is about religious rites and practices or sects and cults. There are several databases to which one can turn for answers to these questions. Three possible choices include: Anthropological Index Online, Anthropological Literature, and Anthrosource. 

For the second question, AIO provided 1 result to the search “taboo and abomination”; AL and Anthrosource provided no results. The ATLA Religion Database with ATLAS serials provided the same result as AIO. By changing our search to “Bibl* and taboo”, we get the following results: 37 in ATLA, nothing in AIO, 3 in AL, and no results in Anthrosource. As we can see, Anthrosource may not be the best choice for searches that deal with religion.


  • What role, if any, does religion play in addiction treatment with adolescents?
  • Should social workers utilize their spiritual beliefs in serving clients?

Like many of the other areas we’ve discussed, sociology of religion questions can be answered by using ATLA and other non-theological databases. In the area of sociology, there are many specialized databases as well as some that are more general. Examples of some of the more specialized databases include: Ethnic NewsWatch, Criminal Justice Abstracts, and Women’s Studies International. For the sake of this tutorial, we will focus on three more general databases: Sociological Abstracts, Social Sciences Abstracts, and Ebsco’s Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection.  There are other good databases including SocIndex via Ebsco that you might consider for these questions.

In searching for results to the second question, I was able to find 27 articles in SSA, no articles in SA, and 41 in P&BSC although there was overlap. By altering my search from “spirituality and (social workers)” to “spirituality and (social services)”, I was able to retrieve 34 results from SA. For the first question, using the search phrase “Religion and adolescent* and addict*”, I retrieved 93 records in SSA, 147 in SA, and 1231 in P&BSC. In comparison, conducting the same search in the ATLA Religion Database with ATLAS Serials yielded 403 results but many were unrelated to our question.


  • How does one teach religious literacy?
  • What role does the church play in moral development?

The two most common databases for educational questions are ERIC (US Board of Education database and free on the web at and Education Full Text (an HW Wilson product).  ERIC uses a specialized thesaurus which may assist you with conducting your searches—although most databases use subject headings or descriptors. For our first question, I just searched “religious literacy” as both databases are education-oriented and therefore adding “education” would be unnecessary. EFT provided 16 results whereas ERIC provided 18. The ATLA RD with ATLAS Serials provided 11 results for our first question.


  • I need to get some information on pastoral counseling practices for gay and lesbian teens.
  • Does having a religious affiliation help one’s mental health?

When one needs to answers questions about religion or spirituality from a psychological perspective, one needs to utilize databases in the social sciences. Among the databases one can choose are PsycInfo, Social Sciences Full Text, and Ebsco’s Psychology and Behavioral Science Collection. When conducting a search for information to assist with the first question, it is important to know that PsycInfo, like ERIC, provides a thesaurus to assist you with the selection of search terms. Using the descriptors provided, “pastoral counseling” and “homosexuality {allowing for sub-topics by using the “explode” option}”, I retrieved 25 results in PsycInfo. In SSFT, I got only 2 results using “pastoral counseling” and (gay or homosexual* or queer or lesbian). Just using the subject headings, “Pastoral Counseling and Homosexuality”, in P&BSC yielded only one result which was surprising. By removing the term, “pastoral”, the results increased to 13.

Creative Arts

  • I need articles about “La Pieta” by Michelangelo.
  • I need some information on Negro Spirituals.

Questions from students doing work in religion and the arts, whether they are art history students or church musicians in training, often require you to search outside standard religious databases.  It is important, therefore, to be aware of the databases you could use to answer questions like those above. For Art, you might choose Art Index or ARTBibliographies Modern.  For Music, you might choose Music Index or RILM. In Art Index, for example, a search for “Michelangelo and Pieta” yields 53 results. If we add Art Index Retrospective, the results climb to 122.  In Music Index, a search for “negro adj spirituals” (always be aware of the search engine’s syntax!) yields 36 citations. Turning to RILM, we retrieve 55 results with the search “negro spirituals”.

General Databases including Full Text services

There are several non-specific databases, many with full text, that you can also use to locate interdisciplinary information. Amongst them are the Wilson Web databases, some of which we have already spoken, such as Social Sciences Full Text and Education Full Text. It is also useful to consider databases such as JSTOR or Project Muse, both of which are primarily full text resources. Some libraries subscribe to mega-databases such as Academic OneFile or other databases by Gale or Ebsco.  General databases are useful in tracking down materials that may be more mainstream or current.

Review Questions

The following questions will require you to think about resources outside the field of religious studies or theology.  Each question will ask you to consider a religious question from an interdisciplinary perspective.

  • I need to find information that compares the understanding of homosexuality as proposed by Paul’s letters and the writings of Plato.
  • Does a doctor have an ethical obligation to provide services he or she disagrees with on a personal level? For example, can a physician morally deny services to someone with HIV?
  • What role do religious beliefs play in one’s attitude towards the death penalty?