Religious studies as a subject will cover all the major religions – Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism – including their origins, their evolution, their belief systems and their specific cultures and traditions.
What A-levels do you need?
Not many unis will require specific subjects, so you don’t need to worry too much if you don’t have religious studies at A-level (although it obviously helps). A-levels in the likes of philosophy and ethics, English, languages, and history will also help, as will anything that demonstrates your essay writing and communications skills. Exact grade requirements will vary between unis – Leeds want AAB for their
theology and religious studies BA, for instance, while the University of Cumbria want 200 UCAS points for their religious studies BA.
What are your study options?
You can take a degree in theology (which will focus on Christian teachings) or religious studies (which will cover a mixture of different religions), or even – at some universities – a combination of the two. As theology and religious studies frequently cross over with other subjects such as history and philosophy, you can also find a number of joint/combined honours courses (mixing religious studies with philosophy is a particularly popular choice, for instance, as the two regularly overlap).
Theology and religious studies courses will typically last for three years and, although your contact hours won’t be particularly high, you’ll be expected to carry out plenty of research outside of your weekly lectures and seminars. You’ll probably find you do have a few exams, but the majority of your assessment will be essay-based.
Why study Theology and Religious Studies?
You don’t have to be religious to want to take a religious studies course – far from it, in fact. Whether you’re a devout Sikh, an atheist or a born again Christian, any religious studies degree will require you to objectively analyse a number of different faiths and belief systems.
And, regardless of your background and personal beliefs, it’s hard to deny that religion is a fascinating subject. If you’re interested in different behaviour patterns and cultures, and you enjoy learning about history and human interaction, then you could be well-suited to a degree in this area.
The degree will equip you with plenty of transferable skills, too – from being able to clearly communicate your ideas to being able to write in a well-structured and thought-out manner – all of which will come in handy when you’re looking for a graduate job.
“Religion is a phenomenon of global significance, and it encompasses every aspect of human existence from the personal to the political,” says Robert Song, Professor in the Department of Theology & Religion at Durham University. “Degrees in theology and religion enable students to explore the meaning of religion in a variety of social and historical contexts, and to investigate the validity of religious approaches to the questions of human existence. Most courses do not require a Religious Studies A-Level, and students of all beliefs and none will be found on courses in theology and religion.”
What kind of skills will you learn on the course?
“The Durham course is fairly typical of degrees in Theology and Religion, in that it provides an excellent all-round training in many key skills: linguistic, textual, philosophical, historical and social scientific. Students will develop the ability to read texts closely and analyse them critically, to learn about the importance of historical and cultural context, to develop intellectual and conceptual clarity, to engage with alternative perspectives on the world, and to articulate their thoughts with elegance and precision.”
- Robert Song, Professor in the Department of Theology & Religion at Durham University
What key modules can you expect to cover in your first year?
Our department is divided into three main subject areas: Theology – in its historical, philosophical, and cultural forms; 2) The Study of Religion; and 3) Biblical Studies – which includes languages. In the first year students are asked to undertake five compulsory modules which cover these areas: Introduction to Christian Theology, Christianity in Context, The Study of Religion, Introduction to the Old Testament, and Introduction to the New Testament. Students may also undertake an optional module from within or outside the department. The aim is to provide a broad foundation for the following years in which students can freely choose from a range of options, with a view to progressive specialisation.
- Dr Marcus Pound, Lecturer in the Department of Theology & Religion at Durham University
After your degree
While a degree in theology will set you up well for a career in the ministry or a voluntary organisation, religious studies and theology will open up plenty of other doors, too; your writing and communication skills will make you well suited for a career in the media, publishing or PR, for instance, and that’s before you even start thinking about large graduate employers and HR and finance roles (all of which are a fit for graduates who can express their ideas clearly and who can argue a strong case).
If you decide you want to go into teaching or law – both of which are also popular options – you can go on to study either a PGCE or a law conversion course after you graduate.
“Any career which is open to someone with an Arts or Humanities degree is open to someone with a Theology and Religion degree – in other words any career which doesn’t require specialist vocational training,” says Robert Song, Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University. “Students go into finance, law, teaching, the civil service, social work, retail, the third sector, and a huge variety of other careers; a minority will go into the church or other faith-based organisations.”