Theology and Religious Studies (TRS for short) is about the ways people understand the whole of reality and give meaning to the whole of life. It is the most comprehensive of all University subjects, and approaches the largest, life-encompassing questions, with a huge range of tools. Here you can stretch your mind and broaden your knowledge in many different directions at once. You are bound to find lots of points of connection with what matters to you.
A subject with many names
Theology and Religious Studies is taught in a variety of forms at University level:
- Degrees focused solely on this subject may be called ‘Religious Studies’, ‘Theology’, ‘Religion’, ‘Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics’ or ‘Divinity’ – or something similar.
- Many Universities offer joint degrees, combining Religious Studies/Theology with studies in another programme, such as Philosophy, Politics, or English.
- You can also study Religion/Theology as part of a wider multi-disciplinary programme, in Liberal Arts degrees or in programmes that combine religion with politics, philosophy, anthropology, or sociology.
- Some Universities offer specialist programmes in Jewish Studies or Islamic Studies.
- At some Universities, the study of Islam or Buddhism, for instance, takes place within degrees which might not mention religion in the title, but may be called ‘International Relations’, ‘Middle Eastern Studies’, or ‘East Asian Studies’.
What skills will you gain?
The range of skills you learn in this subject area is immense. Depending on the course you choose, and the individual modules within it, you will learn to:
- analyse an argument, and assess its hidden premises and motivations
- understand perspectives completely different from your own
- observe and interpret the relationship between social behaviour and beliefs/values
- read texts closely
- (in some cases) master new languages (e.g., Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Arabic)
- debate a point of view, and disagree with respect
- summarise and evaluate information
- research a new topic, using a wide variety of sources
- present your work imaginatively, as an individual or in a group
The critical skills you learn will equip you throughout your life to present your point of view, challenge bad arguments, expose poor research, weigh up alternative points of view, and face the unfamiliar with confidence. They will also make you highly attractive to employers, in a huge range of careers.
In our graduate videos, Laura Capaldi and Jordayne Tooke talk about how the skills they developed writing essays as TRS students have helped them in their careers.
Laura Capaldi, a TV producer, says:
‘I see the documentaries I produce now as visual essays. Studying TRS I learned how to structure an argument and how to create a logical, progressive development of a story. In a documentary you interview a person with this opinion, you interview a person with that opinion, then you come to a conclusion. Essays have been really useful throughout my career!’
Ben Wilson, Head of Communications in the National Infrastructure Commission, says:
‘Religion can be a taboo subject and hiring employees who have the language and the confidence to talk about the place of faith is really valuable. Studying TRS marks you out as an individual who isn’t afraid to think for yourself – willing to think beyond the obvious – and as an employer now I would be fascinated to meet that person and find out what they can offer to my organisation.’
Jordayne Tooke, a global purchaser for the motor industry, says:
‘my degree taught me how to frame an argument and how to put my point across. A lot of what I have to do is to defend a position, put across a case, in a presentation to senior colleagues. … TRS is about learning about different people, cultures, and beliefs. It helps you to think about how other people think.’
Catherine Smith, a charity project worker, says:
I have always been interested in how Religion and culture influence people. I decided to study Religious Studies as it is so vital to understand people and I knew that working with people was something I wanted to do. Studying RS is so much more than just learning about religion. I have gained lifelong skills which have supported me in my career as a Children & Young Persons project facilitator for a Domestic Abuse Organisation.
Kavita Mahey explains why she enjoyed studying Religious Studies:
Studying religious studies has made me a rather open minded individual towards people in general. Many think religious studies is simply a study of ‘religion’ , but I would argue that the subject is one that develops one’s personality, critical engagement, and political understandings, with a twist of modernism.
I also understand the subject to be something that people are interested in but may fear that by studying religion it could restrict them from attaining a job. However, that is not the case, from teaching, to law, to social working, the subject may actually lead one to many paths.
What does it mean to study religion(s)?
Religion is a multi-faceted reality, which involves communities, practices, traditions, texts, and worldviews or beliefs. Thus there are a great many ways to study this fascinating and hugely engaging phenomenon. You might:
- analyse religious practices and claims with the critical tools of anthropology and sociology
- scrutinise religious beliefs with the aid of philosophical and theological concepts
- explore the historical development of religious traditions
- assess the representation of religion in film, art, and popular media
- interpret religious texts, in translation or in their original languages
- and apply all this to contemporary religious, ethical, political, economic, social, and environmental issues.
Universities who teach religion and/or theology will have different methods and emphases, so look carefully at the content of what each offers, before you make your choice.
Do you have to be religious?
No! You just have to be interested in religion, from whatever angle of interest. You might classify yourself as having ‘no religion’, or you might be a practising member of a religious community. Whatever your stance, you should come committed to learning what is new and to viewing what is familiar in new ways. Some degrees will enable you to look at religious practices, beliefs, and cultures from an ‘outside’ perspective, while others will explore what religious traditions look like from the ‘inside’ (whether you agree with them or not). But many mix and merge these perspectives, and all enable you to gain both an empathetic and a critical approach to the rich and highly diverse world of religion.