Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion
Do you enjoy debating ethics and philosophy? Do you find history fun, or languages? Or maybe you’re tempted by the study of other cultures and their religious traditions? If you are finding it difficult to choose between all these different subjects, then the Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion Tripos could be the perfect subject for you.
Everyone who studies TRPR at Cambridge does a scriptural language (an ancient language in which the sacred text of a particular religion is written) in their first year. You can choose from Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek or Arabic. This is only a compulsory requirement in your first year, because you need to learn how different traditions embed truth in texts, and interpret them. Many students drop language study after the first year, but it is possible to continue any of these languages to an advanced level in your second and third years; or, if you are really keen, to start a second language in your second year. Some people worry about the language element of the course, but there is lots of support, and teaching is tailored to your needs in small classes, so even those who aren’t confident about learning a language can make excellent progress.
In the first year, you also do a Biblical paper: this is also important as a way in to studying how a religious tradition forms and develops.
Most of the language teaching is done at the Faculty, as are all lectures and most classes. The weekly teaching takes the form of supervisions in small groups (and sometimes one-to-one) for which essays have to be written and marked, to be discussed at the supervision with the supervisor, who will be an expert in that field of study.
TRPR is not taught from a Christian or other faith perspective: the emphasis is firmly upon religion, theology, and philosophy of religion as fields of intellectual inquiry. The introductory papers of the first year form a broad basis allowing second and third year students to go on to specialise, and study particular topics like 'Christianity in late Antiquity', ‘Islam’, ‘Theology and Natural Science’, or ‘Self and Salvation in indian and Western Thought’. With so much choice, the hardest part is deciding between the different papers. Most papers are examined by a three-hour written paper at the end of the academic year; some by the submission of two long ‘coursework’ essays. In the third year, some TRPR students decide to try their hand at independent research by writing a dissertation on a topic of their choice.
TRPR at Caius
Here at Caius we look for people with enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, who want to understand what kind of a thing religion is (cultural? intellectual? tribal? ethical?) and to use as many tools as possible to examine it. It doesn’t matter what your religious background is, nor does it matter whether or not you participate actively in a religious faith. People come to Caius to study TRPR who have different religious backgrounds, or none at all. What you will need is an ability to argue critically, question logically, and think flexibly.
Caius normally admits two or three TRPR students each year. This makes for a friendly and supportive group. New Testament Greek and early Christian History options are taught in College by the Director of Studies, Dr Cally Hammond, but Caius Theologians are completely free to choose the options they like best. The Director of Studies finds the best available supervisors to make sure all Caius Theologians get the most out of the courses they choose.
We don’t ask for any specific A-levels. Of course, Religious Studies, History, any languages are all especially useful, but people with Science A-levels are just as welcome – so long as you can show that you have an aptitude for the wide range of studies involved in TRPR, a questioning mind is what matters most.
You need to demonstrate high academic achievement in whatever you're studying at sixth-form, and beyond that it is vital to show an enthusiasm for relevant areas of study such as history, ethics or languages. If you apply to Caius you will be asked to submit some examples of your recent written work, preferably ones that show what fires your interest for particular subjects. Pieces of school work marked by a teacher are fine. We interview all suitably-qualified candidates. Candidates at interview will be asked to select from a choice of passages on various TRPR-related subjects and prepare (time is allowed) to discuss them; no prior knowledge whatsoever is expected or needed. Candidates are also required to take a written assessment at the Faculty of Divinity. This takes the form of a written response to a brief lecture; details and sample lectures are available on the University webpage for TRPR.