Philosophy and Theology
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Philosophy and Theology

Philosophy and Theology brings together some of the most important approaches to understanding and assessing the intellectual claims of religion, and in particular of Christianity. It fosters intellectual capacities that you can apply across both disciplines, and develops skills which you will find useful for a wide range of careers and activities after graduation.

 

The study of Philosophy develops analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically. It allows you to apply these skills to many contemporary and historical schools of thought and individual thinkers, and to questions ranging from how we acquire knowledge and form moral judgements to central questions in the philosophy of religion, including the existence and nature of God and the relevance of religion to human life.

The study of Theology brings together a wide range of skills and disciplines, historical, textual, linguistic, sociological, literary-critical and philosophical. It provides a grounding in the theology and ethics of early and of modern Christianity, along with a wide range of options in the academic study of religion, including non-Christian traditions.

Philosophy and Theology at Oxford

The degree is constructed in the belief that the parallel study of these related disciplines provides new perspectives on each, leading to deeper understanding.

The Philosophy Faculty is the largest philosophy department in the UK, and one of the largest in the world, admitting more than 500 undergraduates annually to read the various degrees involving Philosophy. Many faculty members have a worldwide reputation, and library and other facilities are acknowledged as among the best in the country.

The Theology and Religion Faculty has more than 100 members, covering almost every possible branch of the discipline, ranging from experts in the ancient languages and literature of the world’s religions to church historians and systematic theologians. Its reputation attracts scholars from all over the world as visiting lecturers.

Careers

Philosophy and Theology graduates enter careers including academic teaching and research, school teaching, commerce, banking and financial services, journalism and communications. Recent graduates have secured positions as authors, writers, newspaper and periodical editors and teachers, and include a student at the Royal Academy of Music, a journalist and a marketing executive for a philanthropy adviser. The Theology and Religion Faculty’s website has further information about careers for theologians at.

Marc, who graduated in 1981, went on to take an MSc in Computing at Bradford University and now works as Consultant Manager at international services provider Sword Group. He says: ‘The transition from the fascinating, inspiring but unworldly dreaminess of a non-vocational degree to the more mundane but equally exciting world of IT is quite possible. I warmly recommend the transition via a vocational postgraduate course such as I took. I am less technical but more articulate than some of my whizz-kid colleagues, and my more rounded education has given me a broader vision which has been genuinely useful in my career.’

Related Courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Classics, Theology and Religion, or Theology and Oriental Studies.

A typical weekly timetable

Your work is divided between tutorials (usually one a week), lectures (typically six to eight weekly), and perhaps some classes, for instance for first-year logic, or for modern doctrine. A large part of your week will be spent in private study to prepare essays for tutorials.

Terms 1 and 2

Courses

Philosophy:

  • Introduction to philosophy: General philosophy; Moral philosophy; Logic

Theology (two or three taken):

  • The Christian doctrine of creation; The study of religions; Old Testament set texts; New Testament set texts; Church history; New Testament Greek; Biblical Hebrew; Classical Arabic; Pali; Sanskrit

Assessment

First University examinations (taken after the second term): Three or four written papers (one in Philosophy, two or three in Theology)

Terms 3–9

Compulsory core subjects:

Philosophy:

  • Either Early Modern philosophy, or Plato’s Republic, or Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; Philosophy of religion; either Knowledge and reality, or Ethics

Theology:

  • The Gospels and Jesus; God, Christ and salvation; either Development of doctrine in the early church, or Christian moral reasoning

Further Options:

  • Two further subjects (one may be an extended essay), either both in Philosophy, or both in Theology, or one in Theology and one in Philosophy

Assessment

Final University examinations: Eight written papers (either five in Philosophy and three in Theology, or five in Theology and three in Philosophy, or four in each). A thesis may replace one written paper

A subject involving essay-writing to A-level, Advanced Higher, or Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent can be helpful to students in completing this course, although this is not required for admission.

All candidates must also take the Philosophy Test as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

For Theology, candidates are required to submit two essays by 10 November 2014. Please the Theology and Religion page for further details.

Written test

All candidates must take the Philosophy Test, normally at their own school or college, on 5 November 2014 and the deadline for final entries is 15 October 2014. Separate registration for this test is required. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. Further details about registration will be published here as soon as they become available.

What are tutors looking for?

During the interview, tutors are looking for interest in the proposed fields of study, a critical and analytical approach to abstract questions and the ability to defend a viewpoint by reasoned argument.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Philosophy and for Theology.

Suggested reading

There are many introductions to philosophy: Myles Burnyeat and Ted Honderich’s ‘Philosophy’ as it is a very useful collection. Martin Hollis ‘An Invitation to Philosophy’ and Simon Blackburn’s ‘Think’ are also recommended but feel free to pick up any introductory or beginners’ text.

At present we do not produce a specific Theology reading list for people who are considering making an application, though we always advise prospective candidates to read beyond what they are reading in school and to explore areas that interest them.

Tom, 3rd year

'The course itself exceeded my expectations, not only in the way it was taught, but in the extraordinarily wide range of topics that it was possible to study. It is a course that allows the study of Byzantine church history alongside the philosophical problems of the mind and of language, to name just a few diverse areas. This has really allowed me to follow what I found I was genuinely interested in. The freedom the course gives me to follow my passions in the subject is a massive boost.'

Edward, who graduated in 1980

He is now a senior solicitor and currently Deputy Head of the Legal Department in an overseas affiliate of Royal Dutch Shell. He says:    

‘Studying at Oxford has provided me with the necessary analytical skills to thrive as a practising lawyer. To my mind, I am at a distinct advantage when pitting my legal skills against an opposite number who lacks the intellectual discipline which an Oxford-taught course provides you with.’

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college