Theology, Religion & Philosophy of Religion

  • Intake: 1 - 5 
  • Offers: A*AA 
  • Essential Subjects: none 
  • Desirable Subjects: Theology/Religious Studies 
  • Faculty website: www.divinity.cam.ac.uk

Yes, the title is a bit of a mouthful, but the course itself is anything but sleepy or soporific.

TRPR is a wide-ranging interdisciplinary field of study which inquires into one of the most characteristic of all human activities – religion – in a broad variety of forms and with a palette of different methods. The options available in the course encompass disciplines as varied as philosophy, history, literature, social anthropology, and textual criticism. Like all Humanities subjects, TRPR is concerned with the pursuit of truth in matters where verification (i.e. proof) or if you prefer, falsification (i.e. disproof) cannot be reduced to experiment, measurement, and calculation. It is therefore about reading and writing, criticising and discussing, reasoning, learning and listening.

Humanities subjects in general aspire to equip students to understand their world and their place in it. TRPR engages directly with some of the most influential human attempts to grapple with such questions. Through specialist study of Jewish and Christian scriptures, of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions of thought and philosophy and practice, and of a range of other theist and atheistic traditions, including Platonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, TRPR investigates fundamental cultural phenomena that, however ancient they may be, have done so much to shape the modern world.

TRPR is not just a field of study but an intellectual formation. It trains you in the methods and skills needed to make a valuable contribution to society through a rewarding career. Employers value people who can scope, sift, and analyse substantial quantities of information, have highly developed research and critical capacity, and can express themselves clearly and effectively in person and on paper. Recent Cambridge graduates from this Faculty have gone on to careers in such varied contexts as philanthropic and charitable foundations, the Civil Service Fast Stream, investment banking, publishing, software development, teaching, and law. Others have stayed on to pursue graduate study here, or have gone to other universities for the same purpose. Some students take the course with a view to entering religious ministry, but the course is in no way restricted to believers and worshippers.

TRPR makes no prior claims or assumptions about the truth or falsehood of any particular tradition, so it privileges neither ‘insiders’ nor ‘outsiders’. If you have a real interest in the beliefs and practices that have shaped the lives of millions in the past and today, then, irrespective of whether you subscribe to any of them, you will find this an illuminating and stimulating course.

There are no specific subject requirements for entry to the TRPR course at Queens’ College. Religious Studies or Philosophy can be helpful, but are not in any sense required. The importance of writing both for weekly assignments and for exams is such that you should ideally be taking one or more essay-writing subjects at A-Level (or equivalent qualification). Maths or a science can contribute valuable intellectual rigour, and languages are also good, because there is still a compulsory scriptural language element (Hebrew, New Testament Greek, Sanskrit, or Qu’ranic Arabic) in the first-year course at Cambridge, as well as the opportunity to pursue any of those languages to a more advanced level. 

Tripos

Part I

In the first year, Part I, you take five papers designed to give you a broad introduction to the basic concepts, knowledge and skills required in the main areas of study. There are two compulsory subjects:

  • One scriptural language - Hebrew, New Testament Greek, Qur'anic Arabic or Sanskrit
  • A paper on either the Old Testament or the New Testament (but you can take  both these papers if you wish, by taking only two of the choices below)

Plus three other papers from a choice of five:

  • Christianity and the Transformation of Culture – focussing specifically on conversion and Christianisation in the later Roman Empire.
  • The Question of God – grappling with the implications of what Christians mean when they talk about God (in other words, when they ‘do’ theology).
  • Understanding Contemporary Religion - using the methods of the social sciences as a way to investigate religion as a social force in the modern world.
  • World Religions in Comparative Perspective - looking at the history, beliefs and practices of the main religions of the world and the problems of comparing them.
  • Philosophy of Religion and Ethics - debating questions such as the nature of metaphysics, arguments for the existence of God, and the objectivity of morals.

Part II

Part IIA in the second year builds on the knowledge and skills acquired in Part I. You choose a total of four out of a wide range of papers, enabling you to develop a course suited to your own interests.

You may continue to study any of the four scriptural languages at a higher level, but you can drop the study of languages at this stage. The other papers can be freely chosen from the diverse subject areas studied in the Faculty, such as:

  • Biblical Studies                            
  • Philosophy of Religion           
  • World Religions
  • History of Christianity
  • Christian Theology
  • Anthropology of Religion
  • Science and Religion

You can also choose to take the Part IA Logic paper from the Philosophy course.

Part IIB

Part IIB in your final year allows you to choose four from a wide range of papers, which includes advanced papers in the Part IIA subject areas as well as Special Subjects and interdisciplinary papers, such as:

  • Judaism and Hellenism
  • Topics in Christian Ethics
  • Imagination
  • Self and Salvation in Indian and Western Thought
  • Jews, Christians and Muslims before and after Muhammad
  • The Rise of Pentecostalism
  • Theology and the Natural Sciences

You can choose to write a dissertation of 10,000 words in your third year instead of one paper. 

Admissions interview process at Queens’

  • You will be requested to provide two marked essays following your application.
  • You will be required to take an at interview written assessment. More information can be found here.
  • Candidates attend one interview at Queens’ College and a secondary interview at another College.

Professor Richard Rex (Polkinghorne Fellow in Theology) Director of Studies