When I first started seminary, I had to take a class on research methods. It was only a credit hour, and in addition to the Turabian style manual, one of our textbooks was Nancy Vyhmeister’s Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology. There may have been a second edition available at that point, but my original copy is the first edition. I barely remember reading it, but judging from the internal highlights, I pretty clearly did.
Now, roughly 7 years later, there is a 3rd edition of the book that is about 60 pages longer. The basic material is more or less the same, though the structure is updated. In the newest edition, the opening chapter lays out a definition of research and is then followed by the first formal part of the book which is comprised of 9 chapters on 9 different kinds of theological research:
- Biblical exegesis and interpretation
- Literary research
- Descriptive research
- Program development
- Case studies
- Action research
- Writing for publication
- Academic theses and dissertations
- The D.Min project
New to this edition are the chapters on literary research and writing for publication, the latter of which I found particularly helpful. Also, compared to the first edition that I read in seminary, it is much more helpful to have the different kinds of research laid out and explained at the beginning of the book rather than the end like the original edition (which also did not separate the material of the book out into separate parts).
Having gone through some basics to differentiate these different kinds of research, the following section, which is the heart of the book, is about actually carrying out the research. Here, readers are guided through the entire process, beginning with developing research thinking and choosing a topic, through gathering and evaluating resources, and eventually to organizing and writing the actual paper. New to this edition is a very needed chapter on evaluating on using internet sources. The final section of the book focuses on formatting and explains briefly the ends and outs of presenting the final product of the research project.
Though not an exhaustive word on the topic, this book is fairly standard for seminary preparation. I had to read it at Dallas starting the Th.M program and it is also part of the opening Ph.D seminary on research methods at Southern. If you are considering seminary or are already planning on attending in the near future, you could get a jump start by reading this book now.
That being said, the book is not the final word and so shouldn’t be treated as definitive. At Southern for instance, several other resources on research methods are required reading (books like How To Write A Lot, They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through The Information Fog, and Stylish Academic Writing). While Vyhmeister provides a good general overview of the process, other more detailed works should be consulted to round out your research abilities.
Nancy Jean Vyhmeister &Terry Dwain Robertson, Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2014. 304 pp. Paperback, $19.99.
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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!