Religion and Oriental Studies | University of Oxford
Theology and Oriental Studies
Buddhist prayer flags.
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Religion and Oriental Studies

The course in Religion and Oriental Studies enables you to learn in depth about a number of the world’s great religious traditions including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. To engage with all the different aspects of the course, you have to be something of a historian and a philosopher, a textual and literary critic, and a linguist. These disciplines together, not only enable students to appreciate the qualities of religions that can be radically different from those in Western societies, but also equip graduates to embark on a wide range of careers.

This degree offers the opportunity to study the major world religions and their primary languages. Students can also explore the relationship between religions and science, and the place of religious ethics in public life. Religion and Oriental Studies provides an understanding of the intellectual underpinning of religious traditions, and of the social and cultural contexts for religious belief and practice.

The Theology and Religion and Oriental Studies Faculties have between them more than 270 members, ranging from experts in the ancient languages and literature of the world’s religions to church historians and systematic theologians. Their reputations, together with excellent library facilities, attract scholars from all over the world.


Oxford graduates in Religion and Oriental Studies can expect to go on to careers as diverse as the law, social work, the media, journalism, publishing, banking, management consultancy, accountancy, personnel management, teaching, the police force and the arts. Employers look very favourably on applicants who have learned oriental languages, and Oxford graduates with such skills are among the most successful each year in finding employment. 

Related courses

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

A typical week

Work is divided between tutorials (usually one or two a week), lectures (up to six a week) and language classes (at least three a week in the first year). A large part of your week will be spent in private study to prepare for tutorials. Tutorials are usually up to three students and a tutor. Seminar and language class sizes may vary depending on the options you choose or the language you are studying, but there would usually be no more than around 10 students and would often be smaller. Lectures are normally around 15-25 students. 

Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subject. Many are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may also be delivered by postgraduate students who are usually studying at doctorate level.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

Terms 1–3


  • Religion and religions
  • One of the following languages:
    which have three assessment components each


First University examinations:
Four papers assessed by written and (depending on the option) oral examination.

Terms 4–9


Students specialise in the study of a religion (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism), particularly through the study of its texts in their original languages. Students take seven papers, three in Oriental Studies and three in Religion; the seventh may be chosen from either Oriental Studies or Religion. In addition, all students must prepare a 12,000-word thesis on a topic of their choice, which may be chosen from either Oriental Studies or Religion.

The options listed above are illustrative and may change; not all languages are available every year. More information about current options is available on the Religion and Oriental Studies website.


Final University examinations:
Seven papers (assessed either by written examination or by submitted coursework, depending upon the option), plus a thesis

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.)

Experience of studying a language, and a subject involving essay writing, to either A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent can be helpful to students in completing this course, although they are not required for admission. Students are not expected to have studied any Oriental Language before.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

Some candidates must also take the Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT) as part of their application.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)


These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2019.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)

For more information please refer to our course fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2019 are estimated to be between £1,058 and £1,643 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support


A tuition fee loan is available from the UK government to cover course fees in full for Home (UK)/EU students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your course fees up front.

In 2019 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of around £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less. This support is available in addition to the government living costs support.  See further details.

(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man


Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Religion and Oriental Studies

There are no compulsory costs for this course beyond the fees shown above and your living costs.

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

Written test

Candidates who intend to specialise in Hebrew/Judaism or Arabic/Islam must take the Oriental Languages Aptitude Test (OLAT) in their own school or college or other approved test centre on Wednesday 31 October 2018. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the tests at this time. Separate registration for each test is required and the final deadline for entries is Monday 15 October 2018. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for these tests. We strongly recommend making the arrangements in plenty of time before the deadline.

Everything you need to know, including guidance on how to prepare, can be found on the OLAT page

Written work

For Religion and Oriental Studies, candidates are required to submit one essay by Saturday 10 November 2018. Please see the Theology and Religion page for further details.

For more information, and to download a cover sheet, please see our further guidance on the submission of written work.

What are tutors looking for?

Admissions tutors will be keen to find out about your linguistic aptitude and your commitment to a wide-ranging course. They will be looking for an ability to think clearly, form sound arguments and to listen and respond to counterarguments.

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Theology and Religion and Oriental Studies websites.

Suggested reading

At present we do not produce a specific Theology and Oriental Studies 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.


Jonny Vaughan

Watch a series of short videos of students talking about some aspect of their time at Oxford.


'Religion and Oriental Studies is a rewarding subject if you like the combination of essay writing and language learning. You have the option to choose a broad range of topics offered by the Theology and Religion Faculty from history of early Christianity to mysticism to psychology of religion while the Oriental Studies Department provides you with a thorough learning of the religious language of your choice. For me, this is Sanskrit, for which I have five hours of tuition every week. I balance this with modules from Religion: Nature of religion and the Gospels and Jesus to name a few. The tutors also offer the chance to let you specialise in a topic of your own interest by offering tailored supervision for your dissertation. This can also be multidisciplinary as you have two faculties to explore your interests.'


'There’s a whole range of people with different faiths, beliefs, worldviews. That’s part of what makes it so exciting in tutorial - you don’t want to just hear people saying the same as you!'

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

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