Skip to Main Content

REL C303/R532 Superheroes and Religion

A guide to help students in Prof. Candy Brown's Religion C-303 - Superheroes and Religion class

Task: Finding & Evaluating Sources

Task: Finding & Evaluating Sources

Our task today is to find sources for your research project. Your goal is to find two new scholarly sources on your final research topic.

What criteria is needed to be considered a scholarly source? (see tab under Academic Paper Writing to your left)

The sources should have a particular relationship with each other, namely you should find the second source within the first!

Main points:

  1. Scholarly writing is very different from writing designed for a popular audience. It is written for other researchers and has been vetted by experts who attest to its validity. Relevant scholarship is very useful for you: it will teach you more about your research topic and, potentially, support your thesis.

  2. Academic writing is a type of conversation, and you need to listen for the different scholarly voices. The conversation could be a heated argument disagreement, a friendly argument, or scholars nuancing each other’s points. If you only hear one voice, be wary! Perhaps you are looking at poor scholarship or something that is not scholarship at all (e.g. a magazine article) or it isn’t relevant to the other scholarship you’re reading or you aren’t listening closely enough.

  3. Most research requires you to listen to multiple conversations, not just multiple voices. You can approach any topic from multiple perspectives, each of which has its own scholarly conversation. If you are researching Wonder Woman and her sacrificial love as an empowering model for women, you may or may not find a scholarly conversation specifically about your topic, but regardless, you need to listen to the more general conversations about Wonder Woman as an empowering model for women and about sacrificial love in religion.

Where to Start?

A good secondary source should almost always be 1) scholarly and 2) relevant to your topic. How do you find these sources? By “asking” people/sources that would know. “Asking” here does not mean literally asking your professor or librarian to do your research for you (though you should ask for help if you are stuck), but scanning citations in related books and articles, looking at research encyclopedias, or strategically searching in databases.  For more in-depth information, see Religious Studies LibGuide in the left-hand column.

Research encyclopedias and other reference works

Religious Studies Research Guide (or other guides, e.g. folklore, gender studies, history, media studies, media services online streaming titles)

Databases with scholarly articles

  • Why use it: get started with your research right away and many let you limit to peer-reviewed/scholarly articles 

  • Examples:

    • JSTOR (mostly scholarly journals/books, both old and new; easy-to-use)

    • Project Muse (similar to JSTOR but with different sources)

    • ATLA (focusing specifically on religion)

    • Academic Search (covers a wide range of disciplines; both scholarly and not, can limit searches to scholarly articles)

    • OneSearch@IU (cross-searches across hundreds of databases; can get unwieldy, but a good place to start if you don’t know where to go)

IUCAT (see also: this page in the religious studies guide

  • Why use it: millions of books and journals available to you, often with subject headings, book summaries, and chapter titles

  • Note: Just because it is in IUCAT doesn’t make it scholarly. IUCAT includes all sorts of information

  • Suggestions:

    • Keep track of subject terms and click on relevant ones

    • Browse call numbers

    • Use IUCAT information and Google Books/HathiTrust to quickly assess books

    • Put book titles in OneSearch@IU to search for book reviews

Google Scholar is an excellent source to: "search all scholarly literature from one convenient place, explore related works, citations, authors, and publications, locate the complete document through your library or on the web, keep up with recent developments in any area of research, check who's citing your publications, and create a public author profile."

Student Exercise


  1. Choose an empty set of questions below and claim it by writing your names and research topic.

    1. Note that a research topic is different from a research question. A topic can be a bit more general and usually stems from an area of interest. Your question should be framed as a question to which your thesis provides an answer.

    2. If you need help picking a research topic, here are some options:

      1. Magical powers, comics, and religion/religious opposition

      2. Black Panther as a liberation theology

      3. Buddhist symbolism in x film/comics

      4. Wonder Woman and the power of sacrificial love

      5. Superman or Ironman (or some other superhero) as savior

      6. Toxic masculinity in comics and religion

      7. Violence as heroism in x religious tradition

  2. Decide what you’re searching for?

    1. Note: This is related to your research topic, but often more general than your topic. If your topic is the center of a Venn diagram, your searching will be one of the circles that make up the diagram. 

  3. Pick a starting point among the options above and insert additional keywords if necessary.

  4. Once you find a source, quickly assess its quality. Below are some questions to ask.

    1. Is it substantive (if it is only a page or two, the answer is no)? 

    2. Is it scholarly (does it have citations, is the author an expert, is there an argument, has it been peer-reviewed, etc.)? 

    3. Is it relevant to the topic?

  5. If you are happy with Source A, look through Source A’s citations to try to find Source B

    1. If Source A is an older source, you might also put it into Google Scholar and then click “cited by” to see what sources cited Source A since its publication.

  6. Ask questions in #4 regarding Source B.

Time to Explore! (Divide into groups of 2-3); use your own Word Doc to fill in the blanks:

Group #1

Names: Connor, Aiden, John

Research topic: Buddhist Symbolism in Film/Comics

Source A: 

  • Title: The Dharma of Doctor Strange

  • Link:

  • Why do you think it is a good source?: It is a peer reviewed journal on religion

Secondary Source B: 

  • Title: Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture

  • Link:

  • Why do you think it is a good source?: It was in the bibliography of Source A and is a book published by Oxford University

Group #2

Names: Lilli and Ellen

Research topic: Wonder Woman and the emphasis of female purity in religion and culture

Source A:

  • Title: "Manipulating the Messenger: American: Wonder Woman as an American Female icon"

  • Link: 

  • Why do you think it is a good source?: review and accepted by a knowledgeable panel of scholars

Secondary Source B: 

  • Title: "Gender and Purity in the Protevangelium of James"

  • Link:

  • Why do you think it is a good source?: Scholarly source that was a doctoral dissertation

Group #3

Names: TJ Feitl, Amanda Foster, Izzy Blazey

Research topic: Ironman as Savior

Source A: 

  • Title: Avengers: Endgame

  • Link:

  • Why do you think it is a good source?: It is a movie that demonstrates Ironman making the ultimate sacrifice.

Secondary Source B: 

  • Title: Avenging American Arrogance: Joss Whedon's Filmic Post 9/11 Superheroes in "The Avengers"

  • Link:

  • Why do you think it is a good source?: It is a scholarly article demonstrating how Ironman can save not only America, but also the world.

Additional Resources

The main catalog of books at Indiana University is IUCAT. Watch the video below if you need help finding e-books in IUCAT.

Search IUCAT:

If you are just starting a research project and need to know some basic information to get started, encyclopedias and historical dictionaries are great tools.

Most databases allow you click a box with a name like "scholarly articles," which does a reasonably good job of limiting your results to high-quality, academic articles.

Although IU has access to newspapers from around the world, most of our large collections of newspapers center on the United States. Check out the "Old News" link below for non-American newspapers.

There are countless options for primary sources. In addition to all the physical collections at IU (including the Lilly Library and University Archives), IU has paid for access to hundreds of online databases that include primary sources from all over the world and all periods of human history. Finally, libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions have digitized many of their collections and made them freely available. For most research, at least through the undergraduate level, you can likely find the sources you need right in Bloomington. Contact me if you need help.