Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion
The study of theology and religion is increasingly important in a world where religious belief is a driving force behind social and political events. This fascinating course enables you to combine the study of world religions with philosophy, ethics, history, literature, languages, sociology and classics. It explores contemporary and historic thought, culture and texts.
The state-of-the-art Divinity Faculty building was opened in 2000, and the department is one of the largest and best-staffed centres of theological study in the UK. In addition to its own staff, it draws on the expertise of the Faculties of History, Philosophy and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, amongst others. This, coupled with the Cambridge supervision system, means that Theology students interact on a daily basis with experts in all the subjects studied within the discipline.
The Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion course is exceptionally open in the options it makes available to undergraduates. It enables you to either mix up subjects as you go or to carve out a specialist area of interest over the three years. Some students choose to focus on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion, and others on World Religions, and some home in on Christian Theology or Biblical Studies.
In the first year you take 'Part I' which is designed to introduce you to the basic concepts and skills needed in this area. There are two compulsory elements which are a) the study of a scriptural language (Hebrew, New Testament Greek, Qur’anic Arabic or Sanskrit) and, b) the study of Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) or the New Testament. The other three papers in Part I can be chosen from the five options available, covering the other subject areas studied in the Faculty (Doctrine, Philosophy of Religion, Church History, World Religions and the Study of Religion). A sixth option, Logic, is likely to be offered in the near future.
In the second year you take what is called 'Part IIA': you study four papers out of a choice of sixteen. The wide variety of subjects available allows you to develop a course suited to your own interests within the discipline. The final year, called 'Part IIB', also involves studying four papers from a wide range of options, including specialist and interdisciplinary papers. You can also choose to write a dissertation in the final year instead of one paper. Assessment is mainly by three-hour written examinations, but in each year of the Tripos there are some papers which are assessed on the basis of two coursework essays.
Although Theology has been studied in some form almost continuously at King’s since the College was founded in 1441, there is nothing old fashioned about Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion today! It offers opportunities to study subjects ranging from the sacred texts of the world’s major religious traditions to the most pressing questions in the philosophy of religion or the most recent developments in medical ethics. It explores the fundamental questions relating to good and evil, war and peace, religion and science. It examines the way in which human society has expressed and used its religious convictions.
To study Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion at King’s you do not need to be religious - undergraduates who study for this course come from all religious traditions and none. What you need to be is interested in asking basic questions about human existence, meaning, and truth. Recent King’s graduates in the subject have gone on into business, law, journalism, the Civil Service, music, charity administration, publishing, and teaching in both schools and universities.
Director of Studies in Theology at King's:
We welcome applications from students who look able to meet our entrance requirements from any kind of school, all over the world.
Basically, there are no subject requirements for this course. We warmly welcome applications from anyone who wants to engage with Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion at university level. There is no need to have studied Religious Studies or Philosophy at school, though an interest in religion and an appetite for intellectual enquiry are both important.
Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion is largely an essay-based subject, so if you enjoy working with words, and would like the opportunity to learn the basics of a Scriptural language, is it definitely for you. Most of all you will want to do theology because you are fascinated by some of the deeper questions that have faced human beings over the centuries, and want to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the various ways people have approached them. You will also be interested in understanding and how religious practice and belief are best evaluated and how they impact on societies and individuals.
There is no pre-interview assessment for Theology applicants, but all candidates invited for interview are required to take an admissions assessment whilst they are in Cambridge. You do not need to register for this as it will be organised by the College.
After you apply we will ask you to send a marked essay so that we can see how you think on paper.
Most candidates are invited for interview in King's, which take place in early December. Interviews are with the Director of Studies in Theology at King's and another academic in a related subject. In the half hour before the interview you will be asked to read some relevant material which we will discuss with you in the interview.
You will also be asked to go to another College for a second interview. This additional interview allows the other College to assess you so that, should King’s be unable to make an offer, the second college will be able to consider doing so or to offer more information to people in other Colleges should your application be placed in the pool.
Stephen Cherry has written a detailed page for prospective students about reading for Theology - see below. Of course, you should feel free to follow your own interests. There are no specific books that you must have read before making an application. If you are looking for further resources, the Faculty website includes online resources and a New Testament Greek website (all linked below).
Events which may be of interest in the year before you apply (year 12 in the UK) include the Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion Open Day, Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, and King's Open Days. Students from backgrounds where there is little tradition of entry to Higher Education might like to think about applying for the Sutton Trust Summer Schools or the CUSU Shadowing Scheme.