Which resources are essential for a religion writer to own?

Laurie Goodstein is national religion correspondent at The New York Times, and before that covered religion at The Washington Post. She has won numerous top awards for her religion coverage. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.

By Laurie Goodstein
The New York Times

Speak softly and carry a long letter opener. You’re going to need it. Being on the religion beat means being snowed under by mail, magazines, public relations paraphernalia and books. The challenge is to make sure you’re reading the genuinely useful, and avoiding the clutter. Subscribe to, or ask for complimentary subscriptions, to magazines that cover the religious spectrum. (Many are also available on the Web). There are hundreds, but here are a few on which religion writers rely:

In the Protestant world, Christianity Today is excellent on evangelicals; Charisma covers Pentecostals and Charismatics; Christian Century is more representative of the mainline Protestant outlook. If you need in-depth coverage of a particular denomination, many publish their own national magazines.

For Catholic issues, read National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal for the liberal perspective, National Catholic Register for the more conservative; and the Jesuit-run “America” for opinion and analysis. Also you’ll likely need to subscribe to your local diocesan newspaper.

On Jewish affairs, most metropolitan areas publish a local Jewish newspaper. National publications include Forward, a provocative read on news and culture; Tikkun from the left; Reform Judaism published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; and, if you need daily national and international reports, subscribe to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

There are fewer resources available for other religions. A quick sampling: On Islam, “Minaret,” published by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles; or get on the e-mail list for the Council on American Islamic Relations regular roundup of “American Muslim News Briefs.” On Hinduism, the essential publication is Hinduism Today, and on Buddhism, Tricycle. And don’t overlook any one of the dozens of “New Age” publications that are ripe with ideas.


You should have a few essential references on your bookshelf, such as: The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (prepared by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA); Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions; The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion; The Catholic Almanac (published by Our Sunday Visitor Books); the American Jewish Year Book (prepared by the American Jewish Committee); The Complete Guide to Buddhist America (by Don Morreale, Shambhala Books); and one of many good Bible dictionaries available. Many denominations also publish annual directories and almanacs that list clergy, houses of worship, lay groups and missions.