1. Goal: To find out something you didn't already know.
Re-stating information you learned in Sunday school or dimly remember from another class is not a fact-find; it's a recycling, and possibly not accurate.
2. Goal: To learn to use sources well in this quest. In this search remember these key points:
a. Internet sources should be used with extreme caution. Offical web sites of various churches are fine, such as the online Catholic Encyclopedia or the official website of the Church of Latter Day Saints or the Lutheran Synod.
b. Individual church web sites, such as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wherever, Wisconsin, should not be used as an authority unless you can back up their claims with more authoritative sources.
c. Any kind of forum by definition is not a source of factual information. It's a bunch of regular folks writing what they think. Do not make the mistake of thinking all opinions are equal. If you're trying to find out something about Christianity, the opinion of Joe Sixpack in Palo Alto is not comparable to that of a papal encyclical.
3. Goal: To create a web of knowledge for the whole class to use as a base.
If you don't cite your sources or are not careful with the way you look up information, then no knowledge base is being created. Part of this seminar is the novel idea that you can be a source of knowledge for other students. Take that responsibility seriously. If you're unsure as to how to find a good source, ask the reference librarians or email me.
4. Goal: To interrogate the whole concept of "authoritative" and "factual".
What makes some information factual and some opinions? What gives some people the right to be spokespeople for their tradition while others are not? Who has access to the knowledge of their traditions? Why is Mel Gibson less an authority on Christ's Passion than the pope? Or an academic like myself who might not even be Christian? Learning to make those kinds of differentiations will help you figure out where you stand on these complex issues.