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Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion

Spending time to develop a critical understanding of the way religious traditions shape human communities, institutions, and ideas in our contemporary context remains an extremely vital and worthwhile endeavour, with myriad applications. Students of Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion (TRPR) at Cambridge are invited to explore major questions about human culture, human values, and human practices, and the development of these phenomena through time.

Theology: the study of faith tradition(s) from within. Students are invited to analyse the major texts, thinkers, teachings and practices of particular religious traditions, and to apply their knowledge of these theological issues in discussing wider topics, eg. politics, literature, aesthetics, hermeneutics, and ethics.

Religion: our degree enables students to consider sociological, anthropological, textual, and historical approaches to the study of religion. Students have the opportunity to consider how social scientists, historians and anthropologists—each using different methodologies particular to their disciplines—analyse and account for religion as a force in the world, both today and in the past. Students can pick from papers which look at the interface between religious life and social, political, familial, national, and global structures. Students will also study a scriptural language in the first year of their degree, and will be introduced to the critical study of biblical texts and themes.

Philosophy of Religion: the philosophical study of religious traditions, concepts and practices from the ‘outside’. Students will analyse and explore a series of problems concerning language, being, and knowledge. They will develop a knowledge of major thinkers, theories and ideas, and the critical insight to discuss these in detail.


The TRPR Tripos: Structure and Teaching

The TRPR course offers students a great deal of freedom when planning their degree. The range of papers in the first year includes one from each of the major sub-fields taught in the faculty, so students are exposed to a variety of approaches to the discipline. In their first year, students take a paper in a scriptural language (Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit or Arabic), one paper in the Bible (either Old Testament / Hebrew Bible or New Testament) and three further papers, chosen from the history of Christianity, Christian theology, social-scientific approaches to religion, world religions and the philosophy of religion. In their second year, they take four papers, either deepening their knowledge of subject areas they worked on in their first year, or diversifying into new areas, such as religion, literature and the arts. In their third year, students take two broad survey papers and either two additional papers, which may be special interdisciplinary topics, or one further paper and a dissertation. Some students specialise in just a few areas during their three years in the faculty, whilst others choose to cover a number of sub-fields.

Due to the wide range of papers and subject areas available, it is expected that students will receive most of the one-to-one teaching (supervisions) from supervisors outside their own College. Supervisions are arranged by the College’s Director of Studies (DoS), who is responsible for overseeing the students’ programme of studies and selecting those who will supervise them. At Corpus, our philosophy is to secure the best supervision possible for each paper; accordingly, students are sent to the most expert subject specialist available. As a result of the flexibility and rigour of the Tripos, our students are able to enter a number of stimulating professions after graduating from the University. Former Corpus theologians have gone into law, accounting, international development, the civil service, business, acting, the diplomatic corps, as well as the more traditional professions, such as teaching or the ministry. A number of Corpus theologians have progressed to graduate work in one of the sub-fields they studied as undergraduates.

Employers value extremely highly the rigour of the Cambridge degree, including our requirement that students study an ancient language, but also its breadth. Our students learn to analyse a wide variety of different kinds of information, and this diverse skill-set is increasingly important in the modern workplace and appreciated by prospective employers.

Why study Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion at Corpus?

Corpus has a long and distinguished tradition in theology and religious studies, a tradition that is currently stronger than ever. We provide a supportive and stimulating atmosphere in which to study the diverse range of sub-fields and approaches that make up this inter-disciplinary subject – one of vital importance to understanding the contemporary world.

Corpus is one of the most supportive colleges in Cambridge at which to study TRPR: we can admit up to four theologians in any given year. Our students thrive academically, but we stress not only individual academic excellence, but also mutual encouragement. Corpus theologians frequently comment on the supportive atmosphere of the College generally, but in particular, the friendly, family-like atmosphere. They have the advantage of being close to a significant number of other students in their own subject area, whilst also benefiting from the intimacy of a small College, which encourages the formation of friendships with students in other subjects as well.

Corpus offers a beautiful setting in which to study theology, including a stunning new undergraduate library, located close to the centre of Cambridge and to the Divinity Faculty, with a friendly and stimulating group of undergraduate theologians. We nurture our students academically by offering booster work in languages or exam technique when required, but we also challenge them, inviting them to strive and do their best, offering book and travel grants to allow them to reach beyond the parameters of their course in Cambridge. In this atmosphere, our students flourish. Overall, Corpus is one of the most congenial and supportive Colleges at which to study theology.

We currently have two Fellows in TRPR: Dr Andrew Davison, the Starbridge Lecturer in Theology & Natural Sciences, and Prof William Horbury, a Professor of Jewish & Early Christian Studies. The Parker Librarian, Dr Philippa Hoskin, is also a member of the Faculty of Divinity and has research interests on the medieval English Church, and Dr Ruth Jackson Ravenscroft, a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, directs studies for our students.

What do we look for in applicants?

There is no typical applicant for TRPR and certainly no ideal one.  Corpus theologians come from all kinds of backgrounds and schools and have all kinds of interests: some are highly focused on a specific religious tradition, such as Buddhism, Judaism or Christianity, while some are primarily interested in philosophy, and some deliberately choose a diverse range of papers. Some have strong personal religious commitments and others have none. All are welcome at Corpus. Most applicants have a background in Arts subjects: English, ancient or modern Languages and History can all be particularly useful for studying this subject area. However, we also admit students whose A Levels are in Mathematics or the Natural Sciences, and they have thrived as well. We do not require applicants to have an A Level in Religious Studies. A typical offer to study TRPR would be A*AA or the equivalent (IB 41-42 with 776 HL). Candidates who are selected for interview will sit a college registered written assessment as well as submit at least one piece of written work (a normal A-Level teacher marked essay). Read an interview with one of our recent graduates, Hina Khalid, giving her perspective of the course

Visit the Faculty of Divinity website to see the resources developed for our 2020 online Open Day, and visit the Faculty of Divinity’s You Tube Channel for sample lectures and applicant Q&A videos.

We warmly encourage prospective applicants to visit us by attending one of our College Open Days.