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Philosophy of Religion subject area overview

The Philosophy of Religion subject area in the Faculty of Divinity has a strong tradition reaching back to the beginning of the 20th century, when lectures were first offered by FR Tennant and others. Later, when the Norris-Hulse Professorship became the chair particularly associated with ‘Philosophy of Religion’ and ‘Philosophical Theology’, Cambridge developed a style of teaching and research in this area (especially under the influence of Donald MacKinnon) in which the strengths and importance of both analytic and continental styles of Philosophy of Religion were affirmed, and the subject strongly related to philosophical and theological ethics and to classic theological texts. More recently the subject area has developed a new specialism in Jewish Philosophy; and it works closely with those teaching Islamic and Indian thought in the faculty whilst also continuing its historic collaborations with Christian theology.

The University Teaching Officers in this subject area are Professor Sarah Coakley, Dr Douglas Hedley, Dr Catherine Pickstock, and Dr Daniel Weiss, who welcome interactions with those interested in studying in this area, whether at undergraduate or graduate level. A wider community of senior scholars also working in Cambridge in this field take an active role in research seminars, supervision and occasional lectures. The A level in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics provides an obvious preparation for work in this area; but students with other A levels and an interest in the subject in practice flourish equally well in this field, and often go on to further graduate work, whether at Cambridge or elsewhere.

The undergraduate teaching in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics involves a natural progression from an integrated first-year paper (A8) based on historic texts, via second-year papers in both Philosophy of Religion (B10) and Ethics (B11), to final year papers in modern religious Metaphysics (C11), Theological Ethics (D2f), and Jewish Philosophy. Other elective papers (‘D’ papers) in special topics are offered by faculty in different years, and materials relating to Philosophy of Religion are found in many other cognate papers in Christian Theology and Religious Studies. Students may also opt to write a specialised dissertation in Philosophy of Religion or Ethics in their final year. It is also now possible to study introductory Logic in the Philosophy faculty in the second year of the Tripos, which provides a good foundation for graduate study. Thus it is important to note that the flexibility of the Tripos structure of Theological and Religious Studies allows a considerable specialisation in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics, as well as the possibility for some work in the Philosophy faculty.

The graduate offerings in Philosophy of Religion involve a nine-month MPhil course with seminar work and a dissertation, and this often provides the natural platform for doctoral work. There is a particularly lively and well-qualified cohort of graduate students in the subject area, and the senior seminar (the D Society), as well as a plethora of more informal seminars and reading groups run by both faculty and students, provide plenty of opportunity for collaborative work. In recent years, too, both faculty and students have worked increasingly closely with senior and graduate members of the faculty of Philosophy, and continue to collaborate with other cognate faculties (History and Philosophy of Science, History, Psychology, English, Modern and Medieval Languages, etc.). Graduate work in Philosophy of Religion affords the possibility of some undergraduate teaching and is designed to provide an all-round formation in the subject with an intentional preparation for the job-market.

See our Philosophy of Religion specialists, who include teaching staff, researchers, affiliated lecturers, and postgraduate students.