How do I Write a Religion Research Paper?

L. Jablonsky

Writing a religion research paper for your academic institution or a publication can be a daunting endeavor. Extensive research and a wide variety of sources are necessary for a well-constructed research paper. The field of religious studies inspires research paper topics in a number of areas, such as philosophy, doctrine, and religious rituals. Some of the steps necessary to write a good religion research paper include choosing a topic and thesis, deciding what kind of paper you want to write, creating an outline, doing extensive research, and actually writing the paper, being sure to cite your sources. You may also need to create a proposal or abstract for your paper.

A religious studies student might research a specific religious tradition, such as the Muslim Hajj, when writing a paper.
A religious studies student might research a specific religious tradition, such as the Muslim Hajj, when writing a paper.

Start by choosing a general research paper topic. After selecting a general topic, you must narrow this down to a specific thesis. A good thesis includes a proposition that you can back up using original texts and academic resources. Simply writing about the events of the Protestant Reformation is usually insufficient for a good research paper. Arguing about the validity of Martin Luther's actions against the Catholic church or debating whether the goals of the Reformation are realized in Protestant churches today are more focused, narrow topics for discussion.

The Christian Bible can be used as a religious reference book for a research paper.
The Christian Bible can be used as a religious reference book for a research paper.

You may write this religion research paper in a number of ways. A historical paper analyzes different aspects of religious movements and other related events; historical papers generally draw on primary sources and other scholars' accounts or interpretations of historical events. A doctrinal paper attempts to compound religious texts or work pertaining to a specific concept, such as the pillars of Islam or the Holy Trinity in Christianity. A comparative research paper examines the similarities and differences between religions, revivals, doctrines, and other beliefs. An exegesis paper attempts to explain the original meaning behind a religious text or passage; the exegesis may either defend previous assertions about meaning or propose an alternative interpretation of the religious text.

You may need to create a project proposal or an abstract to publish a religion research paper. Although an abstract should be written after the paper's completion, the proposal can be re-formatted into a research paper abstract. A proposal and abstract should include a clear statement of the argument, research methodologies and a short summary of the paper's conclusion. Multiple proposals and abstracts may be necessary for different audiences, such as scholars, professors of other academic disciplines, or non-academics.

Creating an outline with the research paper structure will usually greatly facilitate your writing process. Most essays include an introduction, the body of the paper and a conclusion; some papers may also have endnotes or an appendix following the conclusion. An outline may include more categories, such as methodology and definitions, which you can include in the beginning of the research paper. After organizing information specific to the paper in the outline, you may write the paper in any order you wish. Some writers prefer to create a solid introduction before writing the body of the paper, while other writers may write the bulk of the paper before crafting an introduction and conclusion.

Incorporate as many sources as possible for the religion research paper. With the majority of research papers, you can utilize original religious texts, such as the Christian Bible or the Islamic Qur'an. While making an argument in religious studies, using these primary texts will lend credibility to the research paper. Consulting and citing the works of other philosophers, scholars, or religious figures can also provide a good foundation for your argument. Regardless of your emotional feelings and personal beliefs about the topic, avoid generalizations and keep your personal biases out of your writing.

Citations are an important part of a religion research paper, as readers may want to locate the sources you used for the essay. Consult the publication or academic department and ask about their preferences for citation. Some religion and philosophy departments prefer the Turabian or Chicago style of citation, while others prefer the APA style; libraries and academic departments have documents specifically providing examples for these citation styles. You may need to cite your sources in the form of footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations. Prepare a bibliography, a list of all of the consulted works, and attach it to your completed religion research paper.

The Qur'an may be used as a reference for a religion research paper.
The Qur'an may be used as a reference for a religion research paper.

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Discussion Comments


I'm doing a research on religion for the time, and I'm having a hard time narrowing it down to a specific thesis.


@Bakersdozen - If you aren't sure how to do a research paper properly then I think it's fine to use any resources you can. Of course you need to produce an original piece of work, but the aspects of religion that others have written about should spark some questions you feel you could answer.


Do other people generally find it helpful to look at research paper examples for inspiration? I'm studying religion for the first time at this level and could do with some ideas to get me started. I just worry that it would feel like I'm cheating in some way.


I remember writing a research paper on religion in school. At first I found it hard to avoid making emotional decisions, even choosing the initial topic was tough. One of my tutors told me it is better to focus on something that is quite far away from what I believe, which really helped.

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