Click on the pictures below to find out more about the careers that some of our alumni have gone onto and how Theology and Religious Studies (TRS) influenced their choices.
I am currently working as Education Director and General Manager for OneVoice Europe. This is an international grassroots movement that works with mainstream Israelis and Palestinians to forge consensus for conflict resolution, mobilising the people toward permanent agreement between Israel and Palestine that ends the occupation and ensures security and peace for both sides. The education programme I run works additionally to combat extremist views, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here in Britain. I am also studying for a Masters at Kings College London in Terrorism, Security and Society.
I decided to study TRS at Cambridge, because in 1999, it was one of the most diverse courses, covering various different religions (whereas some of the programmes at other universities like Oxford and Durham were still restricted to Christian Theology).
The range and variety of the course did, indeed, prepare me well for an international career, dealing mostly in Middle East conflict and Middle Eastern-Western relations. The languages (particularly a year of Hebrew) provided the skills I needed to go on and become proficient in two other languages (Arabic & French) following my graduation.
The combination of the history, philosophy and theology of Judaism, Christianity and Islam were ideal for my subsequent immersion into Middle East culture, and I continue to draw upon that knowledge now in my work with these religious communities back here in the UK.
I would say that my time at Cambridge (particularly studying Islam in my third year) definitely inspired me to travel to the MENA region, and an interesting and rewarding career path has unfolded for me as a result. If you are thinking of studying TRS and want to work across diverse local and international boundaries, remember that one of the advantages is that it really explores the histories, languages and identities of people and societies - unlocking to a certain extent what makes us all ‘tick’ and thus enabling mutual understanding and cooperation.
Since graduating from Cambridge I have worked as a Headhunter for a small Executive Search firm specialising in recruiting current and former Strategy Consultants into industry positions. My day to day duties include searching for candidates using strict specifications, interviewing people over the phone and in person and presenting to senior clients.
Being very honest, I had no idea what I wanted to study at university, or have as a job afterwards! I knew I wanted to keep my options opened and Theology, being the wide ranging subject that it is, offered the perfect solution. I was specifically excited by the Cambridge course as it gave you the chance to study an Ancient language which I had ever done before (I studied New Testament Greek) but also offered the chance to be taught by some of the great minds in contemporary Theology. It never ceased to amaze me that I would be reading an essay for one scholar and then be lectured by them the following day.
Theology opens more doors to you than you would expect. Given its wide-ranging nature, it is constantly challenging you to think holistically, and draw inspiration from different areas that you would assume are otherwise unconnected. You are tasked with going deep into specific subject matter but, crucially, are also expected to give your own opinion on subject matter. The lecturers are fantastic at pushing you to provide your own perspective and not simply regurgitate what others have said before you. This really sets you up well for the future – it enables you to stand out from the crowd and have confidence in your own ability in whatever your chosen field.
My advice for someone thinking of studying TRS? Just give it a go! Whilst you are largely looking at things through the lens of religion, the possible areas of study are endless: in my final year I focused on religious themes in Literature, specifically Russian Literature, whilst one of my friends focussed on the religious ceremonies of native Nicaraguans... You can make of it whatever you want – can you ask for anything more from your university subject?
I was attracted to TRS at Cambridge due to the variety of the subjects offered in the course. Theology combined all the subjects I loved most at school, not only religious studies and history, but also literature and languages. It was exciting to take on subjects that were completely new to me, and I was surprised about the direction the course took me, and the interests I developed. I ended up loving the subject so much I went on to do a Master’s in Graeco-Roman Judaism at the Oriental Institute at Oxford.
During a year out following my studies, I began volunteering at the theological Cathedral Library in my home town of Norwich, before returning Cambridge to work as Graduate Library Trainee at the Faculty of Classics. I am now working as Library Assistant at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and hope to begin distance learning for a professional librarianship qualification. My day to day work balances the provision of administrative assistance for the maintenance and development the library’s collections of books, periodicals and other resources, as well as offering support and guidance to the staff, students and visitors of the faculty.
The skills I learned while studying TRS have proved invaluable for work in the information profession in general, and academic librarianship in particular: from strong communication and analytical thinking, to an insight into research methods, resources, and the needs of students and teachers. The richness and variety of the TRS course provides a foothold in many different subject areas, leading to greater adaptability and a broader understanding, as well as the sensitive worldview essential in any people-facing role. Somewhat to my surprise, even studying Biblical languages has proved useful when working in libraries with ancient and foreign language material. If you are interested in the subject, I would strongly recommend TRS. Not only is the study of something you are passionate about a fulfilling experience in itself, but like any humanities degree TRS prepares you for any number of future roles.
I work at a comprehensive academy school in the West Midlands, as Head of Faculty for Business, Enterprise and Social Science. My day-to day job consists of leading a group of 14 diverse subject areas, ranging from the traditional humanities to IT and media based subjects, and supporting the 23 teachers that staff the faculty. Despite this, I am first and foremost a teacher, so most of my time is spent in the classroom teaching Religious Education (RE).
I decided to study Theology and Religious Studies (TRS) at Cambridge because I was interested in it at the time, and still am. Both my parents studied Theology at university, eventually going on to teach RE at secondary schools in Bristol, so the apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, religion influenced almost every aspect of my childhood: bookshelves were lined with bibles and commentaries, the Sky box was filled with docudramas about the life of Jesus, and dinner was frequently dominated by conversation (and argument) about religion.
Cambridge provided a uniquely rewarding and enriching opportunity to explore the interests that were inculcated in me during my upbringing, and definitely influenced my choice of career. I wasn’t sure that I would actually use Theology after completing my degree, but now I can genuinely say that I employ my subject knowledge every day. It’s also a privilege to be a link in the chain – albeit a very small one – disseminating a diluted form of university research to pupils who may one day be responsible for furthering the sum of human knowledge in this very important discipline.
Studying TRS taught me how to analyse information and construct a robust argument based on that analysis. School management involves interpreting a lot of complex and confusing information; and, because teaching pupils does not take place in a vacuum, it’s often difficult to establish a chain of causality between specific teaching methods and interventions, and their impact on learning and exam results. TRS provided me with an important range of transferable skills, which help me to make sense of the information that passes across my desk on a daily basis.
I hope to continue teaching. It’s an incredibly enjoyable endeavour, with enough diversity and challenge to make it interesting. It’s also a people business, and dealing with human beings as they strive to better themselves is hugely rewarding: whether they meet with academic success or failure, helping pupils fulfil their potential as rounded members of society is an immensely enriching experience. With any luck, Theology will remain a part of my working life for some time to come.
So, what advice do I have for someone considering TRS at Cambridge? Do it because you love it. My pupils can’t understand my passion for obscure Greek words in the New Testament, and many of them think I’ve lost my marbles when I start waxing lyrical about the symbolic meaning behind the use of hyssop in John’s crucifixion narrative. If you can’t muster the same level of intrigue and interest in your own niche of this broad and compelling discipline, then three years will seem like an awfully long time. However, if you have a genuine passion for the subject, then study at Cambridge will be an experience that you won’t soon forget.
The first question I had to answer in my first Quranic Arabic class at the University of Cambridge was why do you want to study this and theology? A simple question yet one that produced very different answers from each of my six new classmates and me. Personally, the attraction of theology and religious studies was the potential to learn more about the different global religions and cultures, why people behave in certain ways and their values. Quranic Arabic offered me the chance to learn more about Islam, engage in textual analysis, and begin to learn the language of Arabic so that I can better communicate with others. I thought the course would act as a gateway for me to pursue a career in international affairs or the charity sector and enable me to meet interesting people.
During my time in the Faculty of Divinity, I realised that the Theology and Religious Studies course not only fulfilled these expectations but also challenged me to reflect on my own personal beliefs and values and even to question them. It is very hard to quantify exactly how much I have gained from my wonderful supervisors and the different course modules but I am certain that the academic rigour, attention to detail, tolerance and openness to explore new ideas objectively, which are all transferable skills, are part of the course’s lasting gifts.
I graduated in June 2014 and straight after Cambridge, I worked alongside another Div. Fac. theologian with the charity, OneVoice Movement, which is an amazing organisation. Trying to promote peace in the Middle East is a really sensitive issue so I found that I was using the skills acquired in my degree to appreciate the subtleties and complexity of the situation. The charity has offices and staff in Israel and Palestine so that gave me a chance to learn more about the cradle of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions as well as to consider what role religion has to play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I would not have heard of or considered working for such a charity or even had the skills to support them if I had not studied my degree.
Then in January 2015, seeking a fresh challenge, I moved to join Holland Park Tuition and Education Consultants, which is a private company specialising in providing bespoke tuition support to those wishing to learn. And I am now working alongside more Divinity Faculty graduates, who are tutors for the company. Many of us devote ourselves to passing on the wisdom and skills that we learnt in the Divinity Faculty to others. So whilst it might seem that the Divinity Faculty is small, it does provide a good base for future networking and career opportunities!
My advice to anyone considering applying for this course is that, though it is demanding, it is also intellectually stimulating and immensely worthwhile.
I work as a clinical psychologist in the NHS. I have a varied job description, with a mixture of direct clinical work (individual psychotherapy and mindfulness groups, mainly with people with a wide range of complex problems), work with staff (clinical supervision, training) and organisational work (meetings on issues such as staff well being, clinical governance, the development of training programmes).
I decided to study Theology and Religious Studies after a year of Philosophy at Cambridge. I realised I was completely unable to do the logic component of Philosophy and was somewhat disappointed that it did not really seem to be about the meaning we make of our lives and of suffering in the world, which I hoped TRS would be. I was very interested and involved in Buddhism at the time and focused as much as I could on that but also found the study of the gospels fascinating. I remember how exciting it was to be around people like Julius Lipner and Don Cupitt. Don Cupitt used to invite us all to his house at the end of term to feed us and let us watch his Tom and Jerry cartoons. I had no definite career plans behind my desire to study TRS – I just followed what I was most interested in.
It was in my last year at Cambridge that I met a transpersonal psychotherapist who started me off on a personal journey of psychological discovery. I then worked in therapeutic communities for a few years, one of which was also religious. I was struggling to bring together spirituality with the exploration of myself and others and the desire to make some sort of small positive difference in the world. I don’t think the content of TRS really gave me transferable skills that I can directly use in my job, although I’d say the same for undergraduate psychology which I later went on to do elsewhere. What TRS did give me was help in thinking and questioning, and a precious exposure to some fabulously enquiring minds. Cambridge was full of people who also loved thinking in creative ways, and who were fortunate enough to be in a protected environment where we could do that all day long. In the end, I think you have to do what you love and trust that that will take you where you need to be.
I applied to study theology & religious studies at Cambridge (2002-2005) knowing full well that I wanted to eventually work in media and communications. I’d wanted to be a journalist since I was a child and had spent most of my holidays at newspapers, magazines and broadcasters. But I wanted to study theology because I was fascinated by the subject. In theology, you can study the essence of what it is to be human – religion, sociology, psychology, anthropology and philosophy. I loved it. Looking back now, theology gave me the tools to be able to see life from perspectives that might differ to your own. It taught me how to write objectively, being able to present other people’s points of view – the foundation of journalism. In between writing essays, I spent most of my time at the Varsity offices where I was news editor.
I went on to work for an online news service after graduating, before doing my NCTJ qualification in newspaper journalism and then working for the Reading Evening Post – a daily newspaper. There, I was able to use my theology degree as the paper’s first faith reporter, which I did on top of being a general reporter, as well as covering education and the courts. In my role at Reading, I got to do some amazing things including going on a trip to Auschwitz with the nine faith leaders of the UK and interviewing Reverend Jesse Jackson.
I went from Reading to become editor at of the Crown Prosecution Service’s legal magazine. This was my first experience of communications within an organisation and a great preparation to becoming editor of the magazine, social media and online content at the Evangelical Alliance. I’m now director of communications and lead the editorial, marketing, membership, fundraising and web teams of this amazing Christian organisation that started in 1846. Here I get to bring together my love of theology, the impact of faith on society and my passion for media and communications. One of my favourite parts of my job is overseeing threadsuk.com – which is an online collective of people exploring faith and life in their 20s and 30s.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d choose theology – and what better place to do it than at Cambridge University?
I work for an international advocacy organisation called Crisis Action, which is a catalyst and coordinator for organisations working to protect civilians from armed conflict. We work with humanitarian, human rights and peace organizations around the world to ensure that governments uphold their responsibility to protect civilians. Based in New York, my work is focused on the United Nations Security Council and the UN Secretariat.
I chose to read Theology at Cambridge knowing that the transferable skills acquired would prepare me well for a range of future careers. Like many 18-year-olds, I did not know what career I wanted to pursue at the time of my university application, so I chose to read TRS purely on the basis of academic interest. I thoroughly enjoyed the program and would highly recommend it to those considering applying.
Prospective and current students of TRS should know that the doctrine of transferable skills can be your best friend: Doing a degree in Theology and Religious Studies does not mean that you are destined for the Church or academia. Learning how to think, research, write, structure an argument and communicate effectively are fundamental skills that are essential to the vast majority of jobs. And in my experience doing something generally perceived as unusual tends to have more benefits than costs.
After completing my degree at Cambridge, I worked as a research assistant for Human Rights Watch in West Africa before starting a two-year Master’s in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, a leading US graduate school of international affairs. I then moved to New York to start work with Crisis Action, where I have been for a year. I intend to stay in the broad field of international politics and would like to remain focused on conflict prevention, whether in the nonprofit, government or multilateral sectors.
I was initially quite torn as to what to study at university, finding it difficult to choose between subjects. What drew me to study theology & religious studies at Cambridge was the multi-disciplinary approach and the range of topics on offer. During my time studying (from 2009-2012) I was able to take papers across the fields of literature, art, sociology and philosophy. I was very fearful of the mandatory first year language paper, but please don't let that put you off from applying - the teacher was great in the beginners class of Ancient Greek and we all managed to pass!
There are lots of transferable skills that you gain whilst studying, such as carrying out independent research, developing an argument and presenting your thoughts in a clear and compelling manner. Each of these skills can be applied across a wide variety of jobs, and I use them on a daily basis in my current role as a fundraiser for an educational charity. I also gained valuable experience by getting involved in the student and local community in Cambridge. I helped to establish a branch of FoodCycle, a charity which reclaims food that would otherwise be wasted, cooking meals for those in food poverty. I also participated in Scriptural Reasoning run by Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, where Jews, Christians and Muslims discuss and debate their sacred texts together. This inspired me, along with two others, to organise an art exhibition called 'Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing', to see whether inter-faith dialogue could be presented in a visual form.
One of the best things about studying at the Faculty of Divinity is the friendly atmosphere and sense of community. You have lots of one-to-one time with your supervisors, where they challenge you to expand your ideas and respond directly to primary texts. I wasn't ready to leave after my degree, so I stayed for an MPhil, with research focused on gift-exchange and 'ethics as first philosophy'.
With these topics in mind, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to changing society for the better in my career. I worked at West London Synagogue for a year, managing their inter-faith and social action programme. Now I develop relationships with companies to gain funding for School-Home Support, a charity which works intensively with children to help them overcome barriers to learning.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to study Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge; it has shaped my thinking and has led to innumerable interesting conversations. My year group was very diverse, with each person approaching the subject from their unique perspective, whether defined by their personal faith background or not. My advice would be to approach the subject with an open mind - you can explore the subject in so many different ways and be flexible in your choice of what to study and specialise in.
I’m a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent, working in the sociology of religion, so my undergraduate degree at Cambridge is very relevant to my work! When I originally applied to study TRS in 1997, I was attracted by the variety and breadth of the course, and the opportunities it offered for exploring different ways people have engaged with questions of meaning and purpose across all areas of life, and for understanding existential themes and questions within the context of cultural, social and intellectual history.
My work today involves researching religion in the contemporary world, and I’m currently working full-time on a three year study examining the significance of childhood and parenting in British evangelical Christianity, in different contexts ranging from everyday family and church life, formal and information educational contexts, to wider public debates about childhood and education concerned with the place of religion and secularism in contemporary society. Although my work is more in conversation with sociology and anthropology these days than theology, my methodological formation in my undergraduate degree in the close reading of texts and attention to the specificities of language continues to shape my approach to understanding contemporary discourses and practices in my empirical research. And in many ways, I find I’m still preoccupied with the questions about ethics and how people find and create meaning in their lives that I engaged with in my first term as an undergraduate in the ‘Background to Modern Theology’ paper, and indeed I’m still re-reading - and now teaching – many of the writers I first read on that course (Nietzsche, Marx, Durkheim, Freud, to name but a few).
What I learned through my degree at Cambridge has had a significant impact in shaping the work I now do – both in terms of the subject content of the degree and the ways of thinking and depth of analysis it encouraged. For those not wanting to work in Theology or Religious Studies after university though, I’d recommend the subject as offering rich and stimulating opportunities for anyone wanting to develop deeper understanding of religious and philosophical questions, to engage with different stories people have told about what it is to be human, and to explore how these have shaped the complexities of the contemporary world we inhabit.
I remember sitting in the office of a deputy editor of the (now defunct) Independent on Sunday newspaper circa 2000. I had been waiting, like a forgotten houseplant, for over two hours in the hot, bustling corridor. After graduating from Cambridge Theology, I had done a PGDip in Print Journalism at City University on a Scott Trust bursary, and then a misguided year or so on the Financial Times trade papers. This was meant to be my big shot to move onto the nationals.
Finally, he called me into his office, scanned my CV and said – why did you do Theology if you want to be a journalist? I told him it was because I grew up British Asian in a small commuter town, went to the Gurudwara, celebrated Diwali and Christmas at home. School was Catholic, all girls. My degree helped me find context for all of this. It also helped me realize how important an understanding of organized religion is to understanding the fabric of social and political life. I was also able to investigate why, for many, being an atheist or having faith lies at the bedrock of what it means to be human. Theology was the best subject to study, if I wanted to write about the currents I felt existed under the surface of every day Britain, and understand how the confluence of history had brought the world around me into being. At Cambridge, I took Hinduism, Islam, Science and Religion, and the wonderful seminar course Body, Self and Society, which allowed me to think about the influence of St Augustine and St Aquinas among others, in the contemporary world. Perfect, I thought, for all kinds of news and feature writing, maybe even becoming a foreign correspondent one day.
The editor wasn’t convinced – I spent no more than ten minutes in his office, dehydrated and intimidated while the proper journalists walked in and out to get comments on their work. Just over a year later, the events of September 11, 2001 found only a handful of journalists in the mainstream British press who knew the difference between Sunni and Shia, who could put historical context to current events. Or who had ready contacts across the diverse British Asian communities of the UK prepared to talk to them about the sudden, shocking lines that were being drawn on the grounds of race and religion, after the halcyon decade of ‘multiculturalism’ that the 1990s suddenly seemed. I found myself advising them, then working in NGOs as a reporter and editor, travelling and writing long-form reports that could change policy and opinion when, for example, little known Christian and pre-Christian communities such as Mandaeans and Yazidis were targeted in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 (and are still being targeted, now by ISIS).
There is no doubt that my training in interfaith dialogue among other subjects of the course, was the foundation for a career that has taken me to Jordan and Sweden to report on the plight of Iraqi refugees for NGOs or to the multi-faith slums of Kenya and Rwanda to make documentaries for ERA Films, which I co-founded. My theology degree also touched on Science, History of Art, Philosophy and Literature; this all contributes to my work as a broadcaster for BBC Radio 3 and 4.
In fact, everything I learned as an undergraduate continues to stand me in good stead. I was able to submit a play script for one of my undergraduate examinations, and after just over a decade of human rights reporting I returned to academia with the creative and critical discipline to complete a PhD in Creative Writing and finish my first novel, We that are young, which will be published by Galley Beggar Press in 2017. I’m now an honorary Fellow of Jesus College where I run creative writing workshops with the undergraduates, and also have a research fellowship at Warwick University, where I work on Shakespeare in human rights and humanitarian situations. Would I take Theology again if given the chance…?
I’m obviously not the first Cambridge theology graduate to become a priest in the Church of England! In fact many people assume that ordination must be your intention if you study theology at university. But it certainly wasn’t in my mind when I applied in 1997 (I spent three years after graduation working as a Parliamentary Assistant to an MP) and the role I have now taken on as chaplain at the London School of Economics isn’t your average “vicar job”! I’ve just overseen the opening of the LSE Faith Centre, a significant investment in both multifaith provision and interfaith dialogue in a formally secular university. Much of my time is devoted to fostering interfaith understanding as a part of leadership formation among students across all the world religions.
I applied to read TRS at Cambridge because I was interested in the questions it raised of meaning and purpose in all areas of life. I was particularly interested in the papers that addressed political theory, philosophy and Islamic studies. What I learnt profoundly influenced my brief spell in politics and is now helping me develop this new ministry in the growing area of interfaith dialogue and public religious literacy. Religion is more important in the life of public institutions like LSE than it was just a decade ago. People who are theologically trained and conversant with different religious traditions are invaluable in responding to this new climate.
A degree in theology is obviously going to be useful to a priest. But the Cambridge TRS course offers a much broader, imaginative engagement with religious and philosophical questions in the contemporary context. It’s an excellent preparation for anyone involved in responding to our rapidly changing religious and secular culture.