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Citing classical and religious works

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Becker, D. (2021, April 5). Citing classical and religious works. Sdl.Web.DataModel.KeywordModelData. http://apastyle.apa.org/blog/citing-classical-religious-works

Citing classical and religious works

A classical or religious work is cited as either a book or a webpage, depending on what version of the source you are using. For example, an online version of the Qur’an would be cited using the webpage reference format, but a book version of Plato’s Republic—whether it be a print book or an ebook—would be cited using the book reference format. It’s pretty straightforward!

There are some special considerations to bear in mind for retrievability purposes, however, such as missing reference information for these works. Specifically, the original author and/or publication date of a classical or religious work might be unknown or disputed, in which case you should cite the work as if it has no author and use the date of republication for the version you’re citing, if available. In other words, the title of the work should be placed in the author position, followed by the republication date in parentheses (see the New American Bible and the Srimad Bhagavad-Gita examples later in this post).

When the original publication date of a republished work is known, add it in parentheses at the end of the reference list entry after the phrase “Original work published” (see the Alighieri reference in this post). For ancient works, place “B.C.E.” (short for “before the common era”) after the year. If the date is an approximation, place “ca.” (short for “circa”) before the year (or years if a date range is provided rather than a single year; see the Epic of Gilgamesh reference later in this post).

The translator, if known, should be listed in parentheses after the title, as shown in the Rumi and Alighieri references later in this post.

When directly quoting a classical or religious work in the text, the seventh edition Publication Manual says to use “canonically numbered parts common across editions (e.g., books, chapters, verses, lines, cantos)” (p. 303) instead of page numbers.

If you are using multiple versions of the same source, such as different translations, create a separate reference list entry for each version. However, separate entries are not needed for different formats of the same work (e.g., print and electronic copies). Both print and electronic versions contain identical text, so cite only one version.

Example references

Here are some example references for religious and classical works with corresponding in-text citations.

Alighieri, D. (2001). The divine comedy (H. F. Cary, Trans.). Bartleby. https://www.bartleby.com/20/ (Original work published 1909)


  • Parenthetical citation of a quotation: “My soul, disdainful and disgusted, sought Refuge in death from scorn, and I became, Just as I was, unjust toward myself” (Alighieri, 1909/2001, Inferno, Canto XIII, Lines 72–74).
  • Narrative citation of a quotation: Dante Alighieri (1909/2001) in Inferno recounts the plight described by one of many souls punished for causing self-harm: “My soul, disdainful and disgusted, sought Refuge in death from scorn, and I became, Just as I was, unjust toward myself” (Canto XIII, Lines 72–74).

The epic of Gilgamesh (M. G. Kovaks, Trans.). (1998). Academy of Ancient Texts. http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/ (Original work published ca. 2500–2750 B.C.E.)


  • Parenthetical citation of a quotation: “As for human beings, their days are numbered, and whatever they keep trying to achieve is but wind” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, ca. 2750–2500 B.C.E./1998, Tablet II).
  • Narrative citation of a quotation: The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2750–2500 B.C.E./1998), when discussing humanity, says that “their days are numbered, and whatever they keep trying to achieve is but wind” (Tablet II).

New American Bible. (2002). United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM


  • Parenthetical citation of a quotation: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (New American Bible, 2002, John 13:34).
  • Narrative citation of a quotation: Jesus says to his disciples in the New American Bible (2002), “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

Rumi. (2008). The Masnavi: Book one (J. Mojaddedi, Trans.). Oxford University Press.


  • Parenthetical citation of a quotation: “Please don’t request what you can’t tolerate: A blade of straw can’t hold a mountain’s weight” (Rumi, 2008, Line 140).
  • Narrative citation of a quotation: As Rumi (2008) advises in his story “The Healing of the Sick Slave-Girl,” “Please don’t request what you can’t tolerate: A blade of straw can’t hold a mountain’s weight” (Line 140).

Srimad Bhagavad-Gita. (n.d.). Bhagavad-Gita Trust. https://bhagavad-gita.org/


  • Parenthetical citation of a quotation: “One whose mind is not attached to external sense objects enjoys the happiness of the inner self” (Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, n.d., Chapter 5, Verse 21).
  • Narrative citation of a quotation: The Srimad Bhagavad-Gita (n.d.) says that “one whose mind is not attached to external sense objects enjoys the happiness of the inner self” (Chapter 5, Verse 21).

Why were these guidelines changed in the seventh edition?

In previous editions of the Publication Manual, APA Style guidelines treated classical and religious works differently than other types of sources. According to the sixth edition of the Publication Manual (2009), “Reference list entries are not required for major classical works, such as ancient Greek and Roman works or classical religious works; simply identify in the first citation in the text the version you used” (p. 179). This guidance was intended for general mentions of classical and ancient works that weren’t directly related to the paper.

However, APA Style has been increasingly adopted by writers in many fields outside psychology, including those in religious and classical studies, who often cite these types of works. We also heard from psychologists who write about religion, classical literature, and ancient philosophy as an essential part of their work. They pointed out that not including references for these sources could unintentionally minimize their importance.

When developing the seventh edition of the Publication Manual, we used this feedback to guide our primary goal: to make the APA Style guidelines clearer, more consistent, easier to use, and aligned with the citation needs of all writers. That’s why religious and classical works are now cited like any other book or webpage.