Theology and Religious Studies

What makes the Cambridge Theology and Religious Studies course so special?

Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge is a wide-ranging and flexible degree course that attracts students from many different religious, social, educational and geographical backgrounds. The three-year course enables students to study five world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism) and their sacred texts and beliefs from a variety of perspectives: theological, philosophical, psychological, sociological, literary, anthropological, historical and linguistic.

Why choose Newnham for Theology and Religious Studies?

Newnham’s location makes it an ideal location for students studying Theology and Religious Studies; it is literally two minutes’ walk from the Faculty of Divinity and is just five minutes away from the University Library. More importantly, Newnham’s history has led to it evolving into a multicultural community of women where, because the College has never been linked to any one faith tradition, the importance and place of all faith traditions has come to be valued by theologians and non-theologians alike.

How many students take Theology and Religious Studies at Newnham and what options do they choose?

We aim to admit at least two undergraduate students to read Theology and Religious Studies in each year. This means that there will normally be five or six undergraduates studying the subject at any one time. Students choose papers from the wide range of options available. Because of the nature of study at Cambridge, all sorts of combinations of papers are possible. For example, a student can combine the study of philosophy of religion with the study of the scriptural texts of one of the major world religions; or the study of church history with that of religion in contemporary society.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

Teaching at Cambridge takes place in lectures, seminars and supervisions. Lectures and seminars take place every weekday in the Divinity Faculty. The modern purpose-built Faculty building is just across the road from Newnham. Supervisions (one-to-one or one-to-two teaching sessions) are usually held in colleges and, in this small subject, students are likely to have the vast majority of their supervisions in colleges other than their own. Supervisions play an important part in a Cambridge education, providing students with individual attention and a chance to discuss their work with a specialist. Since supervisions in humanities subjects are built around weekly student essays, they also help students to acquire and develop strong writing skills.

Can you tell me more about the Theology and Religious Studies Fellows?

Newnham’s Director of Studies in Theology is Hugh Shilson-Thomas, who is Dean of Chapel and Chaplain at Selwyn College next door. He is also responsible for chaplaincy at Newnham. As Theology and Religious Studies is a small subject, the Director of Studies is able to arrange most supervisions for each student in other colleges, with supervisors who have academic expertise in each particular paper.

What jobs do Newnham Theology and Religious Studies students go on to do?

The wide range of skills acquired by students of Theology and Religious Studies at Newnham – from languages and literary criticism to philosophy and history – makes them attractive to future employers in a wide range of fields. A few graduates move on to further study at Cambridge or another university at the end of their three years here, but most choose careers in publishing, the media, business and management, social services, civil service, PR and advertising, teaching, the law and many other spheres.

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

There are no specific entrance requirements, other than the College’s level of A*AA for conditional offers, although at least one subject at A2-level or equivalent that involves essay writing is ideal. Religious Studies at A-level may be helpful but is in no way necessary and, since all first-year students study a scriptural language, a language at AS-level or equivalent is useful but not essential.

Can I take a gap year?

Yes, taking a gap year is perfectly possible; although the Director of Studies will want to know what plans for reading and study you are going to build into the year.

How should I prepare for the interview at Newnham?

Newnham applicants will have two interviews. One will be with the Admissions Tutor and will be of a more general nature, the other will be a subject interview with the Director of Studies, sometimes together with another colleague from the Faculty. In this interview you will be asked to talk about your interest in the subject, and you will be asked to discuss a passage from a theological book or a journal article, which will have been given to you shortly before the interview. The best way of preparing for this is to spend time thinking about your reasons for wanting to study the subject and, in the days before coming for interview, to keep abreast of any news stories or reports you might hear or see which concern religion or theology and their role within society.

Where can I find out more?

More information about the College can be found on other sections of this website, particularly Student Life.

Information about the Faculty, including course descriptions and reading lists, can be found on the Divinity web page.

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