Religion and Literature

This section is limited to reference works of use to researchers seeking information on the relationships between religion (especially Christianity) and literature. Other reference works on religion are listed in Gorman, Gorman, and Breslauer, Theological and Religious Reference Materials (U6330); Guide to Reference (B60); and New Walford Guide to Reference Resources (B65). Some works in section U: Literature-Related Topics and Sources/Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies treat religion and literature.

For an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of literature and religion, see Giles Gunn, “Literature and Religion,” pp. 47–66 in Barricelli and Gibaldi, Interrelations of Literature (U5955).

Research Methods


The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology. Ed. Andrew Hass, David Jasper, and Elisabeth Jay. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 889 pp. PR145.H37 820.9′38261.

A collection of fifty essays intended “to provide a sense of what it might mean to engage in the interdisciplinary study of English literature and theology,” that is, the literature of Great Britain (although there is a chapter on James Joyce) and Judeo-Christian theology. Following an introductory chapter on “the relationship between literature and theology” (with an overview of twentieth-century Christian criticism and theory), the remaining chapters are organized in five sections: the historical tradition (with treatment of such topics as the Protestant and Catholic reformations, the influence of German criticism, and modernism); literary ways of reading the Bible; theological ways of reading literature (with chapters on selected major authors, the eighteenth-century novel, and feminist revisioning); theology as literature (treating liturgy as literature and such authors as John Bunyan and C. S. Lewis); and major themes (e.g., death and the afterlife, salvation, and feminism and patriarchy). A final essay considers the future of the study of English literature and theology. Rather than attempt a unified methodology, the Handbook offers aptly chosen essays that demonstrate historical perspectives, approaches, and reading strategies applicable to the interdisciplinary study of the two fields.

Guides to Reference Works


Gorman, G. E., Lyn Gorman, and S. Daniel Breslauer. Theological and Religious Reference Materials. 3 vols. Westport: Greenwood, 1984–86. Bibliogs. and Indexes in Religious Studies 1–2, 7. Z7770.G66 [BS511.2] 016.2.

  • Vol. 1: General Resources and Biblical Studies. 1984. 526 pp.

  • Vol. 2: Systematic Theology and Church History. 1985. 401 pp.

  • Vol. 3: Practical Theology. 1986. 388 pp.

An international, interdenominational guide to reference works in Western languages for the study of theology and religion, but with a decided emphasis on English-language works treating Christianity (the projected volume on Judaism was canceled). The entries are listed alphabetically by author, editor, or title in divisions for general reference works, biblical studies, systematic theology and ethics, church history, missions and ecumenicism, religious orders, practical theology, liturgy and worship, homiletics, education, counseling, and sociology; each division is subdivided by type of reference works (usually bibliographies, dictionaries, and handbooks), a system that does not allow for a sufficiently refined organization of many sections. The annotations are uneven: at their best they provide hints on uses, pointed evaluations, and cross-references to related works; many, however, are too brief to offer either an adequate description of contents or guidance on use. The lack of judicious selectivity leads to extensive lists that indiscriminately mix the scholarly and the popular, the authoritative and the untrustworthy. Moreover, several superseded works and editions are cited. Three indexes in each volume: authors; titles; subjects. Vol. 1 prints an introduction on the study and use of theological literature. Despite its faults, however, Gorman is the best guide to the extensive body of reference material on theology and religion.

Complemented by William M. Johnston, Recent Reference Books in Religion: A Guide for Students, Scholars, Researchers, Buyers, and Readers, rev. ed. (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998; 329 pp.), which evaluates about 300 reference works published since 1970 and, for the most part, in English. Apportioned among five headings (world’s religions, Christianity, other prophetic religions, Asian religions, and alternative approaches), works are listed under subheadings by date—beginning with the earliest but with later editions under the date of the first edition. Works published 1996–97 are relegated to an appendix. Each entry describes the scope, stringently assesses strengths and weaknesses, points out related works, and concludes with a summary comment. An appendix describes reference works that need to be written. Although virtually ignoring electronic resources and so poorly designed that skimming is impossible, Recent Reference Books in Religion is valuable for its trenchant evaluations and comparisons of works.

Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias

For a much fuller list of general dictionaries, see Gorman, Gorman, and Breslauer, Theological and Religious Reference Materials (U6330), vol. 1, pp. 123–53.


A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, gen. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992. 960 pp. PR149.B5 D53 820.9′382′03.

A dictionary of biblical names, common nouns, concepts, quotations, allusions, parables, and terms (in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin) that appear in literatures in English (primarily British and American). The approximately 900 entries by different authors describe how a term is used in the Bible and in exegetical tradition, trace chronologically its significant appearances in literature since the Middle Ages, and end with a selective bibliography. Concludes with three selective annotated bibliographies: biblical studies for the student of literature; the history of biblical interpretation; the biblical tradition in English literature (with sections for general studies and individual authors). Unfortunately, there is no index. Much information is taken uncritically from other reference works and, as David Jasper points out, the Dictionary represents an “unashamedly Christian” conservative evangelical perspective and includes a “paucity of contemporary authors”; yet it is a valuable guide to the identification, interpretation, and history of biblical references in English-language literatures. Reviews: Jasper, Literature and Theology 7.3 (1993): 306–07; Jay Macpherson, University of Toronto Quarterly 65.1 (1995): 147–51.


Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. 22 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2007. DS102.8.E496 909'.04924. Online through Gale Virtual Reference Library (I535).

An encyclopedia of persons, places, concepts, doctrines, sects, beliefs, practices, religious laws, rituals, and terminology associated with Judaism. The approximately 27,650 signed entries range from a few sentences to nearly a volume, and most conclude with a selected bibliography. The second edition revises more than half of the original 25,000 entries in EJ: Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM ed. (Judaica Multimedia, 1997), and adds more than 2,650 new ones. The online version uses the Gale Virtual Reference Library user interface (see I535), which does not allow for sophisticated searching. Before consulting Encyclopaedia Judaica users should read Shnayer Leiman, “The New Encyclopaedia Judaica: Some Preliminary Observations” (Seforim Blog 5 June 2007; 24 Sept. 2013; <>).


Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. 15 vols. Detroit: Macmillan-Gale, 2005. Online through Gale Virtual Reference Library (I535). BL31.E46 200′.3.

An encyclopedia of the theoretical, practical, and sociological dimensions of popular, primitive, and traditional religions throughout the world from Paleolithic times to the present. The signed articles by major scholars emphasize the history of religion in covering beliefs, archaeological finds, myths, systems, practices, rituals, symbols, traditions, deities, cults, areas of the world, and relationships with other fields (including, e.g., an entry for “Literature”). Each article concludes with cross-references and a selected bibliography. Besides an analytic subject index, vol. 15 prints a synoptic outline of contents by religion and religious phenomena. Impressive in scope and scholarship, this is the best general guide to religion.


New Catholic Encyclopedia. Ed. Berard L. Marthaler. 2nd ed. 15 vols. Detroit: Gale–Catholic U of Amer., 2003. Annual supplement (2009– ). Online through Gale Virtual Reference Library (I535) and Gale Biography in Context (J572). BX841.N44 282′.03.

An encyclopedia of the institutions, important dead individuals, history, places, terminology, religious orders, symbolism, canon law, theology, teachings, doctrines, and rituals associated with the Catholic Church, as well as philosophies, religions, movements, and scientific and intellectual developments that have affected Catholicism. Although international in scope, New Catholic Encyclopedia emphasizes English-speaking countries, especially the United States. The signed articles are by major scholars, several of whom are not Catholic; most entries conclude with cross-references and a selected bibliography. Indexed by subject in vol. 15. The articles, while Catholic in perspective, are rarely partisan.

In many respects New Catholic Encyclopedia is an authoritative guide to Catholicism and related topics; unfortunately, though, most of the entries on writers and literary subjects have seen only minor revisions (consisting for the most part of inadequate updates of the selected bibliographies; see, e.g., the entries on Donne, Milton, and Shakespeare).

The most authoritative and balanced compact dictionary is The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F. L. Cross, 3rd ed. rev., ed. E. A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005; 1,800 pp.), which emphasizes Christianity in Europe.

Guides to Scholarship


ATLA Religion Database. American Theological Library Association. Amer. Theological Lib. Assn., n.d. 1 Feb. 2013. <>. Updated four times a year.

Religion Index One: Periodicals (RIO). Chicago: Amer. Theological Lib. Assn., 1952–2008. 2/yr., including annual cumulation. (Vols. 1–4, rev. and expanded ed., 1985.) Former title: Index to Religious Periodical Literature (1952–77). Z7753.A5 [BL1] 016.2.

Religion Index Two: Multi-author Works (RIT). 1976–2001. Annual. Z7751.R35 [BL48] 016.2.

  • Religion Index Two: Festschriften, 1960–1969. Ed. Betty A. O’Brien and Elmer J. O’Brien. 1980. 741 pp.

  • Religion Index Two: Multi-author Works, 1970–1975. Ed. G. Fay Dickerson. 2 vols. 1982. 1976–1980. Ed. Erica Treesh. 2 vols. 1989.

Index to Book Reviews in Religion (IBRR). Quarterly. 1986–2000. Z7753.I5 [BL1.A1] 016.2. Online.

  • Index to Book Reviews in Religion, 1949[–74]. 3 vols. 1990–93. (A revised cumulation of book reviews in Index to Religious Periodical Literature.)

Subject indexes to articles in periodicals (currently about 575) and collections of essays on religion, especially in the West. Indexed by authors and editors (with the indexes in vols. 12–18 [for 1975–85] of RIO, including abstracts) and by scripture passages. With vol. 18 (for 1985) of RIO, abstracts are discontinued and book reviews relegated to Index to Book Reviews in Religion. Religion Index Two: Multi-author Works, 1976–1980 cumulates and augments the annual volumes for those years, adds some publications from 1970–75, and cites in its preliminary list of titles and series indexed books in 1970–1975. A Retrospective Indexing Project is extending coverage back to the nineteenth century for selected periodicals. Although far from comprehensive, Religion Index is generally accounted the best serial bibliography devoted to articles on religion. The thorough subject indexing makes it an important source for identifying numerous literary studies in journals not covered by the standard serial bibliographies and indexes in section G. (See particularly the “Literature,” “Language,” and “Linguistic(s)” heads.) The best access to entries in RIT, IBRR, and RIO is through ATLA Religion Database (available through EBSCO [I512] and Ovid []).

Researchers should also skim the “Bibliography, [1957–c. 1988]” in each issue of Christianity and Literature 9.2–37.4 (1958–88). Books and articles—all but a few of which are in English and on American and British literature—are listed alphabetically by scholar in eight unclassified divisions: general studies, ancient and medieval biblical literature to 1500, ancient and medieval nonbiblical literature to 1500, and then by century. The accompanying descriptive annotations vary in fullness, and several are based on other abstracts rather than the works themselves. Highly incomplete and inconsistent, coverage seems dictated by what the compilers discover rather than by any clear principles of selection. Although the “Bibliography” is sometimes useful for isolating studies that treat aspects of Christianity in literature, the inconsistency in coverage and lack of indexing mean that users are in for an issue-by-issue search for discussions of authors or topics. Religion is also covered in International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (I519).

For other serial bibliographies, see Gorman, Gorman, and Breslauer, Theological and Religious Reference Materials (U6330), vol. 1, pp. 60–123.

See also

MLAIB (G335): See the headings beginning “Religion” or “Religious” in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

Woodress, Dissertations in American Literature, 1891–1966 (Q3320).