types of assignments

Writing Assignments You Can Expect in Religion Classes

When you are given a prompt for an essay (whether you’re writing an analysis, comparative, or research paper), it will usually specify the page length and type of citation required. But just in case the prompt does not mention either of these, here’s a quick run-down of the typical religion assignment:

Length: A typical religion paper for an introductory class will be around 3–5 pages long. Research papers tend to be longer, spanning 5–8 pages. Professors will usually go by page length rather than by number of words when judging the length of an essay; however, for shorter responses of no more than 2 pages, professors will typically go by word count.

Citation Style: Professors typically specify whether they prefer MLA or Chicago–style citations. Most professors will accept either style of citation; however, MLA is generally the most common. For longer papers that cite multiple works multiple times, using Chicago-style is usually more practical and preferred. For shorter papers citing maybe three sources at most, MLA style makes more sense and is generally expected. Sheets on how to use MLA or Chicago–style citations are available in the Writing Center at Howe Library.

Reading Notes

  • Reading notes are frequently assigned in religion classes. They are normally 1-page in length and feature a summary of the reading and a reflection.
  • The reflection should connect the reading to the class in general or other class readings.
  • Personal opinions can often be shared here, but the reflection should be more than just a personal reaction to the reading.
  • Most professors have a format that they would like for your reading notes. Make sure you know what it is (it is probably described in your syllabus somewhere).
  • Try to use the language of the reading you are responding to where possible. Define any terms that are not common language terms.

Blog Posts

In addition to writing essays or reading notes, a professor may ask you to write a blog post. These assignments are usually found in more interactive classes that tend to discuss hotly debated issues surrounding religion. The professor will most likely review what a blog post is and how it should be written, but to give a brief summary here: A blog post is typically a 2–4 page response that tends to be more opinionated. This response is typically about the classwork or current events (the professor will specify). While blog posts have more room for an opinion, they should never be a manifesto. Try to find a balance between an analysis of and reaction to whatever topic you’re responding to.

A good blog post has a gripping introduction that really hooks the reader. Unlike many religion assignments, blog posts don’t require a firm thesis, but make sure you have an understandable flow of ideas and at least one or two main ideas that you analyze. Drawing in personal experience can also lead to a powerful blog post, but remember that you only have four pages maximum for this assignment so choose memories accordingly. Also, a blog post’s conclusion should be well thought out and thought–provoking. You want the reader to be left really ruminating on what you wrote. Don’t be afraid to add some emotion—make sure your post isn’t completely cold. I’ve heard of professors being moved to tears by some blog posts. But make sure that you’re bringing in these memories, personal experiences and emotions for a point: they have to connect somehow with the books and concepts you’ve been studying in class. For example, it would be a wise decision for a student to bring up her memory of singing in the church choir if she was studying music and religion in the class. On the other hand, it wouldn’t really make sense for that student to bring up that memory if she was studying Hindu texts like the Ramayana.


  • Analytical essays in Religion are normally comparative, theoretical, methodological, or source analysis:
    • Comparative papers compare two religions, religious tenets, rituals, monastic communities, texts etc. Beware of problematic assertions!
    • Theoretical papers involve explaining, arguing or comparing one or several theories of religion.
    • Methodological papers involve analyzing the methods that a scholar of religion or anthropology has used in their research.
    • Source analysis papers involve investigating what a specific source (document, object, etc) says about the culture that produced it. Beware of problematic assertions!
  • These assignments are critical and normally have a specific prompt—make sure you stick to the assignment!
  • Successful critical analyses should generate new information in their analysis, not just summarize or describe their subjects. Do your best to give the most concise summary you can and then try to “connect the dots” in an original, interesting way.
  • Quote when necessary and make sure to cite anything that you did not come up with on your own—including when you paraphrase! Try to use the language of the reading you are responding to where possible. Define any terms that are not common language terms.


  • Research in Religion is common and normally involves exploring a specific religion, practice, region, or theme.
  • Coming up with a good topic is crucial to being able to write a good paper. As an undergraduate student you shouldn’t try to research something too big. Looking through research already done in areas of interest before you pick a topic can help guide your research.
  • All of the religion professors are experts in various religions, regions, and schools of thought. Meet with your professor and discuss your topic early! If there is another professor in the department who may know about your topic, try to get in contact with them. They are often eager to help any student and will be able to direct you to sources if not give you a copy of a useful book themselves!
  • Also see the “Library Research Guides” by “Subject” for the Religion Department Research Guide. There may also be a guide by “Classes and Groups” for your specific religion class.
  • The most important databases to explore for sources are ProQuest, JSTOR and especially ATLA Religion (which should be linked on the Religion Research Guide). In general, it’s best to start your research with ATLA Religion. Avoid CatQuest.

Quote Analysis

A Quote Analysis is a type of assignment given in many intro-level religion classes. This type of assignment is meant to gauge your comprehension of a text, as well as see whether you can connect the central points or arguments of a given text to broader course themes.

  • Quote analyses tend to be around two pages (double spaced), so being concise and selective with your information is key.
  • Usually, the professor will allow you to choose any quote from the readings done for the class in a particular unit. It is up to the student to choose a quote that is representative of the broader discussions in the course.
  • Choosing a good quote is key to doing well in this kind of assignment, so taking the time to skim through the texts again and paying attention to what was brought up in class are good things to do before getting started.

Here are some other tips to help you with completing your quote analysis assignment:

  • Contextualize the quote. This is really important because it demonstrates to the professor an understanding of the material as well as an ability to pull out main arguments and ideas.
  • Explain the significance of the quote. Ask yourself questions like:
    • What does the quote mean?
    • How does the quote relate to the central argument the author is trying to make?
    • What kinds of concepts, language, or evidence does it employ?
    • How does this quote fit into a broader discussion about the topic?
  • Explain why you chose this quote. How does it relate to the broader themes of the course? Why is it significant to your understanding of the course material?