Macdonald-Kelce Library

World Religions

A guide for researching religion, faith, or spirituality

What Is A Primary Source?

Primary sources are original written or physical items created at the time being studied. 

Examples of Primary Sources are:

  • Proclomations, speeches, and/or writings of religious figures or groups
  • Artifacts
  • Ephemera (theatre programs, leaflets, posters, broadsides, etc...)  
  • Government or Institutional Records
  • Photographs
  • Diaries 
  • Maps
  • Raw data (statistics)
  • Original scientific research
  • Correspondence
  • Original Works of Art (plays, manuscripts, paintings, musical compositions, etc...)
  • Personal records
  • Newspaper or Magazine articles published at the time under question

Locating Primary Sources

Primary Sources used in religious studies may include the original (or translated) religious texts, sermons, interviews, letters, artifacts, and video or audio recordings of religious rites, rituals, etc...Below are some possible sources for primary materials beyond the original religiuos texts.

Official website of the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, www.dalailama.com

Official website of the Vatican, www.vatican.va

Islamic Republic of Iran's Presidency Website, www.president.ir/er/

Judaism, Torah and Jewish Info - Chabad Lubavitch, www.chabad.org

Search YouTube videos for speeches, sermons, and interviews.

Religious Primary Sources

What is meant by a primary source can sometimes be misleading. Primary sources are typically associated with historical materials. In religious studies primary sources include original texts and scriptures whether in print or online, but a primary source may also be the website of a modern religious sect or movement, a video of a religious leader or group, a poem, an interview, and so on.

The primary or secondary status of a source is ultimately determined by the nature of the research question. A primary source is simply first hand information which you the researcher interpret for meaning in relation to your claim or thesis and not that of another author. 

Primary sources may or may not reflect objective truth but their value for the researcher lies in how they reflect a particular person or groups worldview and perspective.

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