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LSFY103: Reason & Relativity

The assignment - Indentifying and selecting a cultural practice

Databases to search - Where's the full-text? - Citing Sources - Questions?

The assignment

Select and then research an interesting cultural practice, or set of practices, that seem to express a very different set of moral values or beliefs than your own. Then, consider whether the results of your research provide evidence for descriptive relativism.

Your final paper must include at least three peer-reviewed sources that help you with the following:

  • A detailed description of the practice: what it is and how it works
  • Historical background on the practice
  • The cultural value(s) that underlie the practice

Identifying and selecting a cultural practice

There are two steps to this process: 1) identifying an interesting topic, and 2) confirming your topic is viable

1. Identifying an interesting topic

It is perfectly fine to use Google to develop topic ideas. Try searching "cultural practices" or "rituals"; you can even tack on words like "odd," "strange," "bizarre," etc. Or, if there is a particular country, region, or culture that interests you, you can search that too.

However . . . the many Internet sites that provide lists of strange things :-) don't necessarily have good information about those things. Once you identify an intriguing topic, get the "real story" about it to confirm it is viable and genuinely interesting.

2. Confirming your topic is viable

You don't have to do real research at this point. Instead, just look at a couple of library resources to determine whether there is information "out there" about your topic. If there is, then you know you can make your topic work for a research paper.

One good library database for this step is Credo Reference, an electronic collection of high-quality encyclopedias and dictionaries. If your topic is in Credo, you'll find information in other places, too. I recommend skimming any article you find here for reliable background information.

If you can't find your topic in Credo, though, don't give up right away! Try visiting the 2nd floor of the library and searching for your topic in a print reference book. Ask a librarian for help if you need it.

You might also do a quick search for your topic in a general library database like Academic Search Complete. Again, this is just to confirm there is good information available on your topic. We'll talk about a variety of other, subject-specific databases for the main part of your research.

Databases to search

Results of the library visit

The list of databases created by everyone in class is here. Consult this list for additional ideas about where and how to search for peer-reviewed sources as you continue your research for this project.

Assignment for the library visit

The purpose of the library visit is to identify subject-specific databases you can use for your research. Follow the steps and answer the questions in this Google form. You're recording this information for two reasons:

  1. To advance your own research. You'll have a useful database and at least one article to return to as you continue working on the project.
  2. To contribute to a list of databases that everyone in class can use. I will share the results so you can draw on each others' work to continue your research for the project.

Where's the full-text?

Not all of the good articles you identify will be full-text in the database. Here's what to do if that happens. Ask a librarian if you need help with these steps.

If you are looking for a journal article . . .

  1. On the library website, click "Journals and Magazines." Search the title of the journal in which the article you want was published. (Some databases label the title as the "Source.") The results will tell you whether Augustana has access to the publication, what date range we have, and what format so you can obtain your article. If you see here that Augustana does not have access to the journal and/or the date of the journal that you need, go to step 2.
  2. On the library website, click "Interlibrary Loan." Login (or create an account if you don't yet have one), choose "Article" from the menu, and fill out the form. In some of the library's databases there is a direct link to ILL along with the description of the article.

If you are looking for a chapter from a book . . .

  1. Search ALiCat to see if we own the book. If we don't, search I-Share and order a copy to read.
  2. If we don't own the book, you may also order a book chapter through interlibrary loan. Click the "Interlibrary Loan" link on the library website, login (or create an account if you don't yet have one), and select "book chapter" from the menu on the left. Then, fill out the form. Only the fields with a * are required.

Citing Sources

Online guides to citation styles, including MLA and Chicago Manual of Style, are here:

Library website --> Citing Sources


We'll talk more extensively about the research for this project during your library session, which is scheduled for Wednesday, April 8.

In the meantime, please feel free to email me ( if you have questions about the information on this page.

Or, you can get in touch with any librarian at the research help desk: in-person, or by phone (309-794-7206), text (563-223-TEXT), email (, or the chat box on the main library website.

Page created by Stefanie Bluemle, librarian for history, philosophy, and religion. Updated April 7, 2015.