How to Find Sources That Will Allow You to Pass ADF Study Programs

How to Find Sources That Will Allow You to Pass ADF Study Programs

by Wayne Keysor on 6 August 2020

I. What is a Good Source?

Hello scholars, mystics, and seekers after the mysteries. Welcome to the world of ADF study programs. This is a handy guide to finding sources that satisfy ADF study program requirements, so that you do not get your coursework returned for revisions because of source selection. The ADF is a contemporary Pagan religious tradition that prizes scholarship; therefore, in answering study program questions, not just any source will do. You need to find sources that meet certain standards regarding accuracy and trustworthiness. So how exactly do you go about doing this? Well, we first must discuss what are the attributes of a trustworthy source, so that you can recognize one when you see it. But before we go any further, if you like videos, check out these two videos about understanding and evaluating sources. The first video is 15 minutes (more entertaining), the second one is 5 minutes (less entertaining, but at least it has an owl with human characteristics, so that’s cool):

Both are worth watching. Much of what I am going to say in the first part of this guide is in these videos, but I will also say some things here that are specific to the ADF, which are not in the videos, so it is worth reading the whole guide as well.

In deciding how useful any source is, there are three crucial aspects that bear on this question: authorship, purpose, and perspective. I will discuss each aspect individually.

Authorship

Every article, book, website, or video that you will encounter was made by someone. Even if it was compiled by a robot, which is now technically possible, the robot was made by someone. Ultimately. there is a human being beyond every source, whether it is a book, article, video, image, or tweet. In order to evaluate if a source will be useful, you must do your best to discover who the human being is who created it. In the case of books, this is easy. The name of the author is prominently displayed on the title page. In articles printed in traditional publications, like a journal or magazine, it is usually listed under the title. In other kinds of sources, however, this can be a much more difficult task. Websites and videos often do not have authors listed, so you may have to do some searching in the “about” tab or looking at the very bottom of the website or even looking at the URL. You also might have to do some lateral reading on other websites to get more information. (For more about this research technique, see Lateral Reading.)

The reason that you need to find out who the author is is to be able to decide if this person is a trustworthy source of information on the topic you are researching. This is where the concept of expertise comes in. You only want to use sources created by people who are widely recognized as possessing specialized knowledge or expertise on the topic that you are researching. This widely recognized expertise can be signaled in several ways. The author has specialized training in the subject about which they are creating content, like an advanced academic degree or a professional certification. Or their work on your topic is cited by other recognized experts in their field or their work on your topic is peer-reviewed (checked over) by experts in their field. Or they have some sort of specialized life experience that makes them experts on your topic; for example, a professional mountain climber would be an expert on mountain climbing. Experts do make mistakes, but they are much more likely to be right about their special topic than you or I. Your goal then is to find sources written by people who are experts on the subject that you are researching. One warning, do not fall into the trap of believing that because someone is an expert in one subject, that you should trust them in another subject outside of their area of expertise. Just because Dr. so-and-so is a world famous expert on human genetics does not mean you should trust their opinion on Indo-European linguistics.

In ADF terms, this most often means finding sources written by academics with advanced degrees in history, classics, linguistics, religious studies, archeology, and anthropology, who are writing books and articles on ancient religion. Later, we will get into where to find these kinds of sources. The other kind of expert that it is permissible to cite in an ADF context are those individuals within ADF that our community collectively has accorded expert status on questions of our own religious tradition. These include senior ADF priests like Ian Corrigan, Michael Dangler, and Kirk Thomas, as well as recognized ADF scholars like David Fickett-Wilbar (Ceisiwr Serith). This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and it will certainly grow as our tradition does. One thing I will point out about ADF sources is that the ADF has distanced itself from our founder Issac Bonewits because of credible allegations of wrongdoing on his part. Thus, if you can find other sources than Bonewits to cite, you should. However, if you cannot, it is permissible to cite his work in study courses as well. All these ADF sources can be found on the ADF website itself.

Purpose

What is the goal of the source? Is it meant to educate? Is it meant to persuade? Is it meant to sell something? Is it meant to entertain? All of these are legitimate purposes, but knowing why a source was created can help you evaluate its usefulness. The best sources for ADF study programs are those that are meant only to educate because they have no ulterior motive beyond providing a true understanding of a topic. Academic writing is often the closest to this ideal. Academic writing is usually done by people working at universities with advanced degrees, and is published by academic publishers like Routledge, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Harvard University Press, or Chicago University Press. (This list is far from exhaustive.) When we do research for ADF study programs, our goal is to try to find true information about a religious topic to the best of our ability, so in the case of a source whose goal is only to educate, our interest, i.e. learning true information about a subject, and the author’s interest, i.e. creating a true account, match exactly, which is the best situation one could hope for.

Sources that are meant to persuade, on the other hand, have reason to distort the truth in order to change a reader’s mind. They may selectively choose some facts, while ignoring contradicting facts. They may intentionally obscure or downplay the strength of contrary arguments. They may exaggerate some facts or even outright lie to achieve their intended effect. They may even subtly or blatantly appeal to our emotions instead of our logic. In the situation of a source meant to persuade, our interest, i.e. learning true information, and the author’s interest, i.e. changing our minds, does not necessarily align. They could, if the author is trying to convince us of a true claim for example, but they might not because the author could very well care more about getting us to do something or believe something than they do about the value of truth. The situation is even worse for sources meant to entertain. Our interest, i.e. learning true information, and the author’s interest, i.e. entertaining us, are very unlikely to align because entertainment value will almost always outweigh truth in sources primarily meant to entertain. This is the classic case of movies “based on a true story.”

To identify whether a source is trying to persuade, ask yourself, is the source asking me to take a certain action, like buy a car, join the Army, or recycle, or is it asking me to change my perspective on an issue so that I will act differently in the future, like convincing me that lower taxes are better so that I will vote for a certain political party or getting me to believe that vegetarianism is good so that I will stop eating meat. If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then there is a good chance the source’s purpose is to persuade. To identify whether a source is meant primarily to entertain, ask yourself if the primary goal of the source is to get you to feel certain emotions just for the sake of the experience, not to persuade you to do something because of those feelings. If it is, then the source was likely created primarily to entertain. All of this does not mean that any particular goal is illegitimate. It just means that sources with purposes beyond only education must be used with special care in ADF study programs. Another important point to consider is that multiple goals can coexist in one source. Movies, for example, do this all the time. A Hollywood movie is clearly created to entertain, but through repeated product placement in its many scenes, it is also meant to sell certain products to its viewers. For this reason, sources can be complicated, and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Perspective

The final aspect of evaluating a source is understanding its perspective. We all have a perspective that comes from who we are, what our life experiences have been up to this point, and with whom we have spent our time. No one escapes having a perspective, and having one is not a bad thing. It shapes how we take in information and how we perceive the world. All authors have perspectives. They produce content based on those perspectives. By understanding how an author sees the world, you can be attuned to the unstated assumptions that inform their content and analysis, which will help you understand the limits of even good sources. Much of the information you will be researching in ADF study programs is religious in nature. This should come as no surprise to you. There are certain common perspectives towards religion and religious topics that you are likely to encounter in your research. Let’s talk about three of them:

  • The Historical Perspective: This perspective seeks to understand how people in the past thought about their religion and conducted their religious practices. It does not generally seek to establish if the religions of the past are “true.” A historical perspective usually takes no position concerning the truth or falsity of religious claims. It simply wants to understand how a religion functioned in the past and how it impacted people's lives. This perspective is usually taken by academic historians, classicists, and other humanistic scholars.
  • The Religious Studies Perspective: This perspective seeks to understand the phenomenon of religion itself as a human cultural artifact and how it affects living people. Unlike the historical perspective, it is mostly concerned with contemporary religion. The religious studies perspective comes in two main flavors. The first sees religion as a phenomenon that needs to be explained as the product of some other deeper, underlying phenomenon; like religion is an expression of human psychology (Sigmund Freud), or religion is a creation of human societies (Emile Durkheim), or religion is an expression of underlying economic forces (Karl Marx). This perspective usually reduces religion to solely a human creation that does not refer to real objects or beings outside of the human conceptual sphere. The second flavor attempts to see religion from the perspective of religious people, and is interested in understanding how that experience shapes their lives. It is not interested in reducing religion to underlying causes. Like the historical perspective, it generally makes no claims about the truth or falsity of religions. The 50-cent word for this second flavor is phenomenological. The religious studies perspective is usually taken by religious studies scholars and social scientists.
  • The Theological Perspective: This perspective looks at religious knowledge from an insider's perspective, from the point-of-view of someone who is actively practicing their own religion. The theological perspective assumes that the foundational claims made by their religion are true, and looks at religious experience through that lens. Pagan blogs, Oak Leaves articles, and religious books by Pagan authors are all generally written from the theological perspective, as are Christian and atheist critiques of Paganism. Each of these have a religious view point, including the atheist, who is actually making a theological claim by denying the existence of divine beings. This perspective is usually taken by clergy members, theologians, religious people in general, and anyone who is operating from inside a religious worldview.

For ADF study programs, sources that take historical and Pagan theological perspectives on religion usually make the best sources because they attempt to see Pagan religion from inside the Pagan worldview. We are most interested in sources that take our religious experiences and those of our ancestors seriously. Perspectives that reduce our religion to mental aberrations or fantasies of various sorts do not usually contain the kind of information that the study program courses are asking for. Outside of an ADF study program context, I urge you to engage with these kinds of perspectives on religion, but they will not serve you well while doing our study programs.

Additionally, consider the perspective that results from the period when an author was writing. Certain ideas are fashionable at certain points in history, but then later fall out of fashion. For example, racist theories of culture and religion were very popular in European and American academic scholarship from the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. After around 1950, this perspective was rightly criticized and it subsequently declined when it became clear that the fruits of this kind of scholarship were the horrors of World War II. Thus, if you read sources from this earlier period, you will encounter racist ideas. Plus, knowledge simply advances on as people do more research into topics and learn more. Thus, you probably should steer away from sources older than 1950 for these reasons, and the more recent a source, the better. Not every perspective is valid.

To conclude, the best sources for ADF study programs are those written by an expert on the topic that you are researching, who is attempting to educate more than persuade and who is writing in a way that takes the Pagan worldview, either ancient or contemporary, seriously. These sources should be as contemporary as possible, except in the case of primary sources, which we will discuss later. And even in the case of primary sources, you want to get the most recent translations of primary sources that you can.

II. Where to Find Good Sources

Now that we have a sense of what makes a good source for ADF study programs, the next step is to figure out where we can find them. I will divide sources into books, articles, audio and video, and primary sources. I will address each topic individually.

Books

Books are the most traditional place to find information in Western societies. Books have been around a long time and they are a very familiar technology at this point. They are traditionally found in libraries; however, the places that you can find books now have expanded beyond these physical spaces. My advice to you, in general, is try to get as many of your sources for free as you can, which includes books. If you can avoid it, do not purchase a source unless you find that particular work to be extremely relevant to your religious practice, and you are likely to return to it again and again, or if money and physical space are not serious limitations for you. If you purchased every source, ADF study programs would get very expensive very quickly.

For free physical books and e-books, hands down, the best place to go is your local public library. Most towns and cities have one, and they are staffed by trained people called librarians whose entire job is to help you find information. Use this free resource, I literally beg you. Public librarians should never ask you why you want to know something. They might ask you a series of clarifying questions to understand what precisely you want to know, but they are not supposed to question your motives, so if you feel self-conscious about asking a non-Pagan to help you research Pagan topics, don’t. If a librarian is unprofessional enough to ask you these kinds of questions, a safe answer is always research for a paper, which is completely true in your case. Librarians can help you acquire books from other libraries, called inter-library loan, which is awesome because some of the volumes relevant to study programs are on very specialized topics that are not held in every library. Librarians also have training locating books through the use of specialized academic databases. In fact, librarians are masters of research, and they are paid to answer your questions. And did I tell you, in a public library, all these services are completely free to you!

The other option for libraries is university libraries. You may not be near a university or college library, but if you are, they can be a tremendous resource. They often have programs that allow people from the community who are not enrolled in the school to use their resources. You should search your local university library website for more information about this type of program or call them up and ask them if they have a program for community borrowing. If they do not have free access, many times you can pay a one-time fee of $50-$100 to get borrowing privileges for the year. This may seem like a lot, but think of it this way. How many books can you buy for $100 versus the potentially thousands of books you could check out over the course of a year? Plus, university libraries have access to vastly more academic books than public libraries because of the population they serve. And once you get access to borrowing privileges, you also get access to their librarians and their services for no extra fee, and interlibrary loan at university gives you access to books from across the world. This is quite a value as far as I am concerned.

Outside of libraries, the other main place to find free books is Google Books. Google has a massive ongoing project to digitize all existing books, which is quite ambitious. This site lets you search their collection of digitized volumes. The problem with this collection is that most of the digitized books are not free because of copyright laws; however, you often can see free samples consisting of about 30-40 pages of the text, usually selected from the beginning of the book. Sometimes, this sample is enough to answer study program questions. Even if it is not, the sample can give you an idea if the book will be useful to you. In Google Books, you also can do keyword searches, which is incredibly valuable. It will highlight where your search term shows up in the book and take you directly there. You can type in key terms from the study program questions, and see what, if anything, comes up. The other place you can look for free books online is the website Project Gutenberg, which has 60,000 titles. These are books whose copyright has expired, so they tend to be old, but you might find something of value. However, before using these sources, review my earlier discussion of the potential dangers of old sources.

Articles

Articles are another traditional place to find information, and there are a lot of them available on the internet. However, you should be wary of going to some random website for information on a topic unless you can verify that the author is a genuine expert on the topic. A better option is to gain access to academic databases that hold articles published in peer-reviewed journals. Peer review is a process in which experts read over the article before publication and comment on it, and then the author makes changes based on these comments. The process of peer review ensures the quality of the author’s research, and it serves as a sign that the author is indeed an expert on their topic because their work has passed the scrutiny of other experts. In academic research databases, you can select only journals that are peer reviewed. The best academic database for ADF study programs is probably JSTOR, but other databases like Academic One File will work as well. You want access to those databases that have articles from disciplines in the humanities, like history, classics, linguistics, anthropology, archeology, and philosophy. The problem is that academic databases are usually pay databases and the price can be quite high.

As with books, the first place to start for free access to articles is at your local public library. Ask the reference librarian on duty if the library has access to any of these databases. If it does, they will guide you on how to access them. I also would encourage you to read this 2017 article from Medium, which takes on this issue directly: You’re a Researcher Without a Library: What Do You Do?. It mentions numerous options including Google Scholar, which returns tons of academic content. Also, try googling “access to academic databases” and your state, if you are in the United States, and see what comes up. Some states have programs to help their citizens get access to academic content for free. If you are in another country, the same search might work by substituting the name of your country or region. You also might try to look at the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), which is a collection of free academic journals.

Audio and Video

There are a lot more quality audio and visual sources available than there used to be because of the internet, which I know is an understatement. But remember, you want to find experts, so be selective in your choices. Just because a website looks professional does not mean that it was written by an expert. Use your critical thinking and research skills. One thing that has been very cool in this area is the proliferation of universities that are offering free course content online. There are numerous ADF relevant college courses taught by university professors that one can access online for free. The websites edX | Free Online Courses by Harvard, MIT, & more | edX and 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities are two examples of online aggregators who are bundling these course offerings in one place so that they are easy to search. If you use information from free university courses, which I encourage you to do, remember to cite them. Also remember that you can look at the course outlines and go directly to the particular subjects inside the course that are relevant to your research. You do not have to do the entire course.

Primary Sources

And finally, we get to the gold standard of all sources, the standard upon all other sources are judged, primary sources. The Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston defines primary sources as “immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it.”1 In the case of ancient religion, this often means ancient or medieval literary sources like The Iliad, The Theogony, The Poetic Edda, The Rig Veda, The Mabinogion, or The Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions). These are ancient or medieval texts that address Indo-European Pagan religious or mythological topics that have been translated into English. They either are the direct words of ancient Indo-European Pagans themselves or they are later literature mediated by non-Pagans who had direct access to ancient Indo-European Pagan stories. Thus, they give us our most direct window into the thinking of ancient Indo-European Pagans about their own religion. The downside is that these works often lack context and require a considerable amount of expertise to interpret reasonably. Plus, the necessity to translate them introduces additional complexities and ambiguities.

The best place to find primary sources related to ancient Indo-European Paganism online is at Internet Sacred Text Archive Home. These are often old translations, as they need to be in the public domain in order to remain free, so one has to be careful. The English is often antiquated or difficult to understand, and the introductions are not always accurate or in line with more modern ideas about race and culture. It is also fairly economical to buy used, reliably translated and edited paperback copies of ancient literature from such high-quality publishers as Penguin Classics or Oxford World Classics. (For example, right now, a used copy of the Theogony on Amazon published by Penguin Classics is only $2.36 plus shipping.) The thing that makes these editions so great is that they have authoritative, incredibly informative, but easy to understand, introductions that will allow you to answer many study program questions without even reading the rest of the text. Reading the introduction will also aid you immeasurably in interpreting the text yourself. Investing in some cheap but high-quality primary sources will pay dividends over time, as these texts are used as sources over and over again in study programs. Plus, it is just interesting to read the thoughts and ideas of ancient Pagans directly.

III. Parting Thoughts

Other people are your best resource if I did not answer a question that you had or a problem you have encountered in this guide. One of the most important jobs of ADF preceptors is answering student questions, so do not be afraid to seek clarification and ask about sources before you start using them. Also, be aware that some kind ADF members have posted their answers to study program courses, including their bibliographies, online. A simple google search will uncover these in short order. It is not cheating to check those bibliographies and use those sources for your own work. I wish you all the best in your ADF explorations and studies. I hope they bring you deeper understanding, resonance, and coherence to your religious life. Vale! (Farewell)

Notes


  1. The Healey Library, “Primary Sources: A Research Guide.”

    <https://umb.libguides.com/PrimarySources/secondary>, 6 August 2020. 

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11 August, 2020
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