CHR 270, Biographical Sketches for History of Christian Theology

by Theresa Rhodes last modified 2016-08-08T09:09:24-04:00

Note: This guide provides resources to assist you with your biographical sketch of a noted theologian in the history of Christian theology.  If you need more in-depth help, check out other resources available on the Christianity Subject Librarian page.  

Remember, your final project is a three to four page (double-spaced) paper that includes three major sections:  1) basic biographical facts (birth and death dates, education, family, career information), 2) social setting for the individual (what was happening in the world during their lifetime), 3) major works and ideas, and a conclusion that draws the material together and discusses their legacy/lasting influence and contemporary relevance.  You should use at least three sources.  Two of these may be online and one must be print.  This guide recommends print and online sources from a wide range of viewpoints to assist you in creating a balanced one-page summary on your theologian.

Know Your Context

Your theologian could have been active anywhere in the over 2,000-year span of Christian theology.  You may want to spend a few minutes establishing the context for your theologian before flipping through the recommended resources.  For example, looking for information on Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003) in a book focusing on ancient theologians would not be productive nor would looking for Augustine (354-440) in a book focusing on recent theologians.  Starting with a basic Google search is fine to establish the context for your theologian.  This screenshot for Dorothee Sölle gives us images, dates, and a starting point for identifying her work and/or legacy:

 

Tips: 

  • Names can be a bit tricky, so you need to be prepared.  For example, Thomas Aquinas is listed in some sources under "Aquinas, Thomas" and in others as "Thomas Aquinas."  Likewise, you may find Augustine under "St. Augustine," "Augustine," or "Augustine of Hippo."  Another interesting example is Peter Abelard who was also referred to as Peter Abeilllard, Peter Abailard, Peter Abaerlardus, and even Pierre rather than Peter!
  • Dates matter too and can help, especially with the older theologians who were known by place rather than having a traditional last name.  For example, "Basil the Great" was also known as "Basil of Caesarea."  Make sure that the birth and death dates of your selected theologian match whom you think you are researching in every resource you consult.
  • Read carefully and look for key terms.  In this example, pay attention to "liberation theology" and "Christofascism."  These key terms and dates may remove some resources while adding others.
  • Make a note now of birth and death dates, any religious affiliation, and any key terms.  Whether you put it on a post-it note, record it as a voice message, or take a picture with your phone, keep this handy for quick reference as you continue your research.
  • Make sure you get all the information you will need later for appropriate citations while you are searching.  Take a picture with your phone, or save the links in a document, or do whatever you need to make sure that you capture all the information now rather than having to scramble later when you compile your paper and citations.
Explore Resources

Your theologian may have entire websites devoted to them (for example, International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society), or you may have to dig deeper to find more than a few paragraphs. 

Print:

The following print resources are recommended.  Note the location, some of these are in Reference (they do not leave the building) and others have been put on Reserve for your class.  Links are provided to catalog records for easy access to bibliographic information, including publisher--more on that later.

Online:

Online resources should be carefully evaluated, and the following resources are recommended:

Tip: 

  • All resources should be evaluated, and we recommend consulting our Crap Test to make sure you are using appropriate resources.
Dig Deeper

In case you skipped the first tab (know your context) or did not notice the importance of attributing sources for the online resources, this portion of the guide reminds you to "know your source." 

Resources, books and websites, often reflect their publishers/organizers.  It is important for you to take note of the source information as well as the biographical information on your theologian.  For example, you will perhaps find a different bias in an entry on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the New Catholic Encyclopedia than you will find in A New Handbook of Christian Theologians.  The encyclopedia is edited by Thomson-Gale (now Thomson-Reuters) with assistance from faculty at the Catholic University of America while the handbook is published by Abingdon Press--a mainline Protestant (Methodist) company.  This difference is perhaps more marked in online resources.  For example, the "about" section for Theopedia plainly states that information on their site:  "... openly maintains a bias, or a Particular-point-of-view, that being "conservative evangelical Protestant Christianity." 

This guide provides more information on the four main categories of book publishers, doctrinal/denominational sources, and web resources.

While you must use at least three sources for your paper (two online and one print), you are not limited to the resources listed in the guide.  There are full-length biographies available for many of these thinkers, so you may want to use the online catalog to look for books written by or about your theologian. 

Remember these tips when using the catalog:

  • Search by subject to find books about your theologian.
  • Search by author to find books by your theologian.
  • Search by keyword to find books where the theologian might be the author or the focus of a single book or a chapter in a book.  These results are generally grouped according to relevance to bring the most likely titles to the top of the list.
  • The catalog includes items from all Mercer locations and many of the resources may be in Atlanta (Swilley).  You can limit your request to items that are only available in Macon, and you can request that an item be sent to you here in Macon from the Swilley library.
  • Westminster John Knox publishes a series on "armchair theologians," and the Swilley Library has a few of these.  You can use the request item feature in the catalog to have any of these sent to you  here in Macon.  IF you have enough time, you could also explore your theologian to see if they have a book on your thinker that could be requested through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).  Let Theresa know if you need help with this.
Reminders
  • Your reading and exploration on your theologian will inform your in-class reading and discussion.  As the era for your theologian is discussed, you will introduce your theologian to the class and will be prepared to discuss the theological, political, and economic issues of that time.
  • Your paper must conform to formal, scholarly standards as described by Dr. Lewis in this handout and also in the syllabus. You will be using a modified version of Chicago for your style.  This guide provides basic information.
  • Ask Jack/Research Services are available in person, by phone, or via IM.
  • Each of the theologians on the list has been researched by Theresa.  She knows that there is information available.  She is also available, if you need assistance in finding appropriate sources.  You may request an individual Research Consultation, send her an e-mail (), or give her a call.  Remember:  getting help several days in advance of the discussion for your theologian is highly recommended.
  • Dr. Lewis is the final authority on the subject matter.  My goal as your Subject Librarian is to assist you with identifying the information resources to assist you with your biographical sketch.