Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion
Why is there something, rather than nothing? Is there a God, and what kind of God, and how do we know? Who wrote the Bible, and what does it say? Do religious belief and scientific understanding always conflict? What do different religions believe, and how have their followers expressed their belief?
Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion explores the deepest questions about life, meaning, and purpose. It is not just for those who follow a particular faith, or who are considering religious ministry, but is a broad-based arts degree and an exciting opportunity to grapple with the Big Questions, pursue a wide range of interests, and learn useful skills and disciplines in critical thinking and expression.
The Cambridge course offers the opportunity to study the Bible and different Christian theologians and periods of church history, as well as the opportunity to study world religions (Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism), and specialist papers in (for example) Christian art and literature, metaphysics, and theology and science. A number of papers are ‘interdisciplinary’ – that is, they seek to make links between theology and other disciplines (such as politics, social science, philosophy, psychology, and ethics). The content of papers varies year by year, but theology undergraduates can study a broad range of topics while pursuing their interests in particular religions or themes.
In the first year, all undergraduates study a scriptural language (Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, Aramaic) at introductory level and at least one biblical paper (Old or New Testament). They then choose three further papers which are broad introductions to areas covered by the course (biblical studies, church history, Christian theology, social study of religions, world religions, philosophy of religion). Language papers are taught from the beginning; teaching assumes no previous knowledge of the language and there is no requirement for applicants to have a language qualification.
The second and third years offer the opportunity to study these areas in greater detail, often related to particular periods or set texts. Four or five papers are taken each year. Another scriptural language can be studied, or that studied in the first year pursued to a higher level.
Assessment is either by three-hour examination at the end of the year of study or by submitting essay(s), and some third-year students write a dissertation in place of one paper.
Magdalene has a strong tradition in theology and the study of religion. Each year we make two or three offers in the subject, and there are usually two or three postgraduate theologians studying for a masters degree or a PhD.
As well as the Director of Studies, Dr Philip McCosker, there are three other senior members in Theology at Magdalene. The Revd Nicholas Widdows is the College Chaplain and has research interests in Old Testament Studies in particular. Professor Eamon Duffy is Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity, and a leading authority on Early Modern Church History and the European Reformations. The Master, Dr Rowan Williams, is a former Archbishop of Canterbury and widely recognised as a leading Christian theologian of international standing.
Other Fellows with related interests include Professor Amira Bennison, who works on aspects of the History of Islam, and Dr John Munns, who works on medieval art, architecture, and ecclesiastical history.
Like any arts degree, a Theology degree places few restrictions on job possibilities. Recent students have gone into publishing, computing, finance, law, and university administration – as well as teaching and various forms of Christian ministry. The degree provides a student with a broad third-level education which seems to appeal to a wide range of potential employers.
Successful candidates usually exhibit native intelligence, an ability to deal with texts and ideas, and an enthusiasm for the subject. The interview is an opportunity for the candidate to show, through discussion, that they have these qualities.
It is not essential to have studied RE/RS or Philosophy at school. Far more important are a good critical intelligence and a lively commitment to the subject.
There are no set subject requirements for TRPR. Our typical offer condition is A*AA at A-level or 41-42 points in the IB with 7,7,6 at Higher Level.
Interviews, Written Work and Assessments
Most candidates are invited for interview in College, and are required to submit two written essays in advance. When they arrive for their interview, candidates will also be given a short passage from a theological text to discuss in one of their interviews.
Candidates will also need to take a written assessment. The assessment for Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion is an at-interview assessment and lasts for one hour. It takes the form of a recorded lecture (approximately 20 minutes) to which you are asked to provide a written response, in the form of answers to a number of comprehension questions.
More details about the format of the assessment, including some sample lectures, can be found here (under the 'Entry Requirements' tab). Please note that your performance in the assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.