Theology and Religious Studies

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

Cambridge is at the international forefront of excellence in teaching and research. If you believe that religious ideas and beliefs are still a central part of human life, or are fascinated that other people believe they are, then this course, in which one can study the bible and other sacred texts, church history, doctrine, science and religion, philosophy of religion, ethics and much more, may well fascinate you. Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion (TRPR) at Cambridge is a wide-ranging and flexible degree course that attracts students from many different religious, social, educational and cultural backgrounds. The three-year course offers opportunities to study any of five world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism) and their sacred texts and beliefs from a variety of perspectives: theological, philosophical, 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 TRPR; 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. The College has never been linked to any one faith tradition, and 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 TRPR 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. Further details are available on the faculty webpage.

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 (opened in 2000) 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, Religion and Philosophy of Religion is the Rev’d Canon Hugh Shilson-Thomas, who is Dean of Chapel and Chaplain at Selwyn College next door. He is also responsible for chaplaincy at Newnham. As TRPR is a small subject in terms of numbers of students, but wide ranging in terms of subject areas, the Director of Studies arranges most supervisions for each student in other colleges – all close by – as is most appropriate for them, with supervisors who have academic expertise in each particular paper. As the current Director of Studies has been in post for nearly ten years, he is very experienced in placing students and choosing supervisors with the intention of leaving them best placed to thrive academically and achieve their potential.

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

The range of skills acquired by students of TRPR 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, 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 A-level or equivalent that involves essay writing is ideal. Religious Studies at A-level may be helpful but is not necessary and, since all first-year students study a scriptural language, a language at AS/A-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?

You will have two interviews in the college, should you decide to apply to Newnham. One will be with the Admissions Tutor and will be of a fairly general nature, and the other will be a subject interview with the Director of Studies and another colleague, in which you will be asked a range of questions touching on several of the areas covered by the Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion course at Cambridge. 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 the interview 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 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.

The Religious Studies Subject Overview on the ‘My HE+’ website also provides information and resources for exploring your subject.

Recommended reading

Look at the website for full paper descriptions, especially for the first year of the Tripos and choose introductory books on the subjects which most interest you.
David Ford’s Theology – a very short introduction would be a good place to start.

The Faculty’s online resources also include a sample lecture and student perspectives.

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