Research Methods for the Study of Religion

Conducting effective research involves being clear about how we have selected people or other sources to provide the data for our project, as well as why we have chosen to do it in this way. Our sampling decisions have an important bearing on the kind of knowledge-claims we make about our work, as well as how we think about its wider significance.

Discussion paper

Gordon Lynch explores different approaches to sampling for quantitative and qualitative research, as well as the implications of these for the kind of knowledge associated with these approaches.

Key reading

Alan Bryman (2008) Social Research Methods. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.164-190.

This chapter provides a helpful, clear overview of different concepts and issues in sampling.

Janet Ward Schofield (2002) ‘Increasing the generalizability of qualitative research’, in (eds.) M. Miles and M. Huberman, The Qualitative Researcher’s Companion, London: Sage, pp.171-204.

A useful perspective on what generalizability might mean in the context of qualitative research, and the implications of this for sampling approaches.


PDF version of this bibliography can also be downloaded.

Aldridge, A. & Levine, K. 2001. Surveying the Social World. Buckingham: Open U.P.

Babbie, E. R. 1992. The Practice of Social Research. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Brannen, J. Ed. 1993. Mixing Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Research. Aldershot: Avebury.

Bryman, A. 2004. Social Research Methods. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford U.P.

De Vaus, D. 2002. Surveys in Social Research. 5th Edition. London: Routledge.

Fink, A. 2003. How to Sample in Surveys. 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Gray, P. S. et al. 2007. The Research Imagination: An Introduction to Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.

Henry, G. 1990. Practical Sampling. 10th Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Kalton, G. 2007. Introduction to Survey Sampling. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Lee, R. 1993. Doing Research on Sensitive Topics. London: Sage.

Levy, P. S. 1999. Sampling of Populations: Methods and Applications. 3rd Edition. Hoboken: Wiley.

Robson, C. 2002. Real World Research. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Discussion questions

  • What approach to sampling have you chosen for your research project, and why have you chosen this approach?
  • What are the implications of the sampling approach that you have used in your study for claims that you might make about the wider significance of your findings?
  • What are the different ways in which research findings might reasonably be generalised to wider populations or theories?