Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion
The first few pages of any newspaper will inevitably contain a significant number of stories which are incomprehensible without an understanding of the place of Religion in the modern world. Often the writers of these articles seem to be struggling to make sense of the most basic and well documented religious concepts and beliefs. By bringing believers and non-believers together for an academically demanding and rigorous degree, Theology , Religion and Philosophy of Religion (TRPR) enables students to understand the Religions, whether as a personal quest, or as a focus for public policy.
The course is one of the widest available in the University, and draws on and builds intellectual skills in a range of disciplines. It is possible to take various tracks within the degree, so that you can do courses mostly in Christian Theology, or mostly in History, or mostly in Religious Studies. Whichever track you take through the degree, you will end up with a developed understanding of how Religions work in the world, an unusual capacity for evaluating different kinds of evidence, and a deeper understanding of Faith – your own or other people’s.
TRPR is strong at Pembroke College. We usually admit two students for TRPR each year, and we provide good support for their studies. The Library is updated regularly, the tutorial and supervisions system works well. The College has a number of Graduate students in Theology, and we aim to meet all together once a term to eat and talk. James Gardom is Director of Studies, and is always happy to meet possible candidates and can be contacted by email. James Gardom teaches the paper on World Christianity in the Faculty, and runs reading and discussion groups in the area of suffering as a problem for believers.
Who should apply to do TRPR?
No personal faith is required or assumed, but students need a keen sense of the importance of the questions, and their impact on individuals and societies. No particular subjects at A-level (or equivalent) are required for TRPR, and it is not necessary to have studies Religious Studies at AS or A-level. Subjects such as Religious Studies, History, English and modern languages can be helpful, but so can any other subjects that encourage clear, logical thinking and careful analysis of evidence. Students with a completely science background study Theology and Religious Studies and do very well. We are looking for interest, engagement, and an awareness of how Religion is important in the world.
What is it like doing TRPR?
A recent student has written a useful piece for a recent open day, which may give you an impression.
- What preparation you did for the application and interview? ‘I did a lot of reading, choosing roughly three specific areas of interest and going into considerable depth in each. (NB I think it’s preferable for the most part to focus on topics which lie outside the A-level course to show a wider interest.) However, ultimately, I’m afraid that most people found that very little of their pre-interview preparation proved all that useful. It is definitely important to do it as it means you go into the interview that little bit more confident and also that, at the end of the day, you feel as prepared as you can be, but, I’ve always been of the opinion that, if you’re interested in and passionate enough about your subject, additional reading should be a given – it shouldn’t be a chore. Rather, it should be something that you really enjoy….If it isn’t,then you won’t enjoy the course if you do get to Cambridge! You need to have the self-motivation to read around the subject not because it’s required but because you truly take pleasure in it…However nerdy that is!’
- How you chose a college? ‘When I came to choosing a college, I was told not to deliberate over my choice for months on end, simply because a significant percentage of people are often pooled. For this reason, my choice of college was relatively arbitrary.’
- If you came on the open day, what was it like? ‘I went on the Faculty open day and really enjoyed it simply from the standpoint that it’s a great opportunity to listen to some of the leading academics talk about their field of expertise. In fact, I went to the open day simply to hear the lecturers, with no real intention of applying, let alone going, to Cambridge. However, after five minutes of lectures, I realised what an amazing opportunity I’d be missing out on if I didn’t apply. So even if you’re not sure about applying to Cambridge, go along and then you can make an informed decision afterwards.’
- What it felt like to be interviewed? ‘I went into the interview with, what I consider to be, probably one of the best attitudes to take: even if you don’t get a place, you have the fantastic opportunity of arguing with a Cambridge don on a subject you love! Of course, it can’t be denied that the interview is a scary experience, but ultimately most people come out of it feeling quite satisfied. Ultimately, the interview (as far as I can tell) is supposed to mimic a supervision and therefore you should be prepared to be challenged continuously – in fact, this is usually a positive sign.’
- What does a typical week look like? ‘Any arts subject is inevitably going to involve a lot of reading – on average I’ll be dipping into/reading 8-12 books a week. Once again, though, this should not be a chore, but something you genuinely enjoy doing, because if there’s any skill an arts student requires, it’s unfailing self-motivation. Whilst this may sound very daunting (it did to me – especially since I’m dyslexic and have always been an excruciatingly slow reader) it is in fact perfectly manageable, so don’t be scared. It is very different from school, because you have so much ‘free’ time. For example, I only have 7 lectures a week and one supervision, with the rest of the week spent researching an essay for the supervision. This leaves time for other activities as well, provided you manage your time effectively – and there’s SO much to do in Cambridge, it’s mind-boggling…and inevitably leads to quite a rushed but extremely exhilarating life!’
- Are you involved with Faculty societies or social events? ‘The Faculty is good in that it provides numerous seminars and talks for those very keen students – as do other faculties, whose seminars you may also attend an interesting way to broaden your perspectives. Other than academics, though, there are also things such as ‘Theoluncheon’ which are quite interesting just as a discussion group for both Christians and the token atheist (i.e. me!).’
How does admissions work?
The admissions process takes into account all the available evidence, including your examination results, your references, your personal statement and your written work. In addition to these you will have three interviews. There are two interviews in College, one with the Director of Studies, and one with the Admissions Tutor, or another fellow involved with admissions. Then there is an interview at another college. If we have too many strong candidates for Pembroke we use the pool system to ensure that the best of those we cannot take are placed at another college. A great deal of effort goes into making sure that the best candidates get in to do the course, so you can feel confident in applying to Pembroke despite the competitive nature of our intake. Applicants will sit an at-interview written assessment and will be required to submit two school essays; these do not need to be on a theological topic. Details about the written assessment can be found on the University website: www.cam.ac.uk/assessment
The range and diversity of the Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion Tripos at Cambridge makes our graduates very attractive to employers. Recent graduates have gone on to work in Law, teaching, fund management, civil service, charity work.
For further information about the course please see the page about Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion on the University website.