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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Religious Studies 235: History of Religion in America: Diversity, Discord, Dialogue

Course guide.

1. Why use the online catalog?

Use the online catalog to do a subject search for books or to find out where a particular book or journal is located in the Library.  If you need articles, you should search the article databases (see tab 2).

Books and journals are organized in the library by subject. Each item is assigned one or more subject headings and a unique call number. Subject headings are standardized terms from the Library of Congress. The call number is based on the Dewey Decimal Classification.

2. Why Bother with Subject Headings?

It’s true that you can find sources on a topic by doing keyword searches. But if you limit yourself to keyword searching, you are likely to miss important material on your topic that uses other terms. If you only need two or three books, you can probably find what you need by doing keyword searches, but if you are doing historical research, you can’t afford to miss critical material on your topic. For a comprehensive search on a historical topic, search with subject headings as well as keywords.

A good way to identify subject headings for a topic is to do a keyword search in the online catalog using terms you think describe the topic and try to identify a few relevant books. Look at the full record for those books to see what subject headings were used, then do another search on those headings.

As a rule of thumb, use fairly broad headings, as well as the specific ones that describe your topic, in order to make sure you haven't inadvertently eliminated relevant material that is contained within works of larger scope. Most likely you will find multiple headings to describe your topic, and you should use all of them. You can narrow your search in the online catalog by combining subject headings (as a phrase) with keywords, using the “Advanced Search” option.

3. Some examples of subject headings

United States--Church history

United States --Church history --20th century

Protestant churches --United States --History

Liberalism (Religion) --United States

Liberalism (Religion) --Protestant churches

Fundamentalism --United States

Evangelicalism --United States --History

Evangelicalism --United States --History --20th century

Evangelists --United States--Biography

Revivals --History.

Revivals --United States

African Americans --Religion


Pentecostal churches --United States

Pentecostalism --United States


Religion and culture --United States

United States --Religious life and customs

Religion in the public schools --United States

Universities and colleges --United States --Religion

Christian education --United States

Radio in religion

Television in religiion

Popular culture --Religious aspects --Christianity

Religious broadcasting

Christianity and politics --United States

4. Searching the Online Catalog

To search the online catalog, go to the Library Gateway and click on Library Catalog. The online catalog offers both “Quick Search” and “Advanced Search” options. Use “Advanced Search” to identify subject headings on your topic, to combine subject headings (or elements from subject headings) in a Boolean search, or to combine keywords from any part of the record with subject headings to narrow your search.

Use “Quick Search” to browse a subject heading, to search a title when you know exactly how it begins, to locate a work or works by a particular author, or to search by call number for a specific book.

5. Shelf Browsing

In order to browse the shelves, you need to know the “Dewey number” for your topic. At the UIUC Library, we use the Dewey Decimal Classification to organize our collection of more than 10 million items. In Dewey, the first three numbers indicate the main subject, and additional numbers are added after a decimal point to narrow the subject. Books and journals on religious topics are usually classified in the 200s. 277.3 is a good place to begin browsing for general works on religion in America.

Once you have identified a few books on your topic by doing a subject search in the online catalog, you can browse the shelf under the same general number(s) to find related works. For example, if you know that the book, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire, by Michael Northcott, has the call number 261.70973 N814a, you can go to the shelf in the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library Library or the Main Bookstacks and look at other books with the same Dewey stem. However, depending on their focus, other books on this topic may be classified under other numbers, so you'll need to have a few call numbers in mind when you go to browse the shelves.

6. Digitized Book Collections

In addition to the 10 million+ printed books available to you here in the Library, we also have a rapidly growing collection of digitized books. Most of these collections support full-text searching.

Internet Archive and Google Books.
Hundreds of thousands of books digitized from the collections of North American and British research libraries, including University of Illinois. These are the two largest digitized book collections that are free to use.
Archive of Americana
2 huge collections of books, broadsides, and pamphlets: Early American Imprints Series I: 1639-1800, and Early American Imprints Series II: 1801-1819, in addition to government documents and maps.
ACLS Humanites E-Book.
Over 2,000 in-copyright titles, chosen for their perceived importance to current humanities scholarship.
Pop Culture Universe
Collection of over 350 books and dozens of encyclopedias on pop culture.