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Philosophy of Religion

The M.Phil. in Philosophy of Religion reflects the distinctiveness of the field which has developed at Cambridge over the past 100 years. The subject area has come to be defined by an attention to metaphysical frameworks, questions of ontology and epistemology, poetic form and an interdisciplinary approach, as well as a concern to address current philosophical developments from a philosophico-theological perspective, and a commitment to bringing pre-modern sources to bear upon contemporary philosophical questions.


The M.Phil. in Philosophy of Religion is designed for students interested in metaphysics – the nature of (ultimate) reality and God within reality. It explores theoretical, historically contextualised and poetic-liturgical approaches to these questions, with close attention to primary sources and textual forms. The four modules which are available this year investigate, respectively, (1) nature (theology and the Anthropocene), (2) the meta-physical of spirit (including human spirit), (3) spiritual additions to nature which constitute perceptions, gestures and events disclosive of the divine, and (4) a module shared with the Study of World Religions area, on philosophical and anthropological approaches to atheism.


The course welcomes students whose previous study was in theology and philosophy as well as cognate fields, such as classics and comparative literature. It attracts students from all over the world, with the training provided forming an ideal foundation from which to proceed to doctoral research, whether in the UK or internationally.


The M.Phil. in Philosophy of Religion is primarily a research degree over a nine-month full-time programme, and a part-time option is now available. Priority is given to the pursuit of the individual student’s research in the form of a dissertation, which they work on alongside two 5000-word essays, each linked with a termly module (MT and LT). The modules on offer this coming year cover a range of specific areas of philosophical theology, reflecting current research interests in the Faculty. From these, each student will study two modules, one in MT and one in LT.


The M.Phil. in Philosophy of Religion offers students a rounded and flexible Master’s programme which provides them with an introduction to two connected fields within its scope, while allowing them to specialise in their own area of particular research interest. It offers a thorough training in the key techniques of higher-level academic study and research specific to the field, including languages and methodological skills. It is an inter-disciplinary programme, linking Philosophy, Theology and Comparative Literatures and Cultures (ELAC). The teaching staff and examiners have diverse backgrounds and interests (Catherine Pickstock, James Orr, Douglas Hedley, Simone Kotva, Hjoerdis Becker-Lindenthal, Joshua Heath and Heather Webb). Throughout the course, students will be supervised by a dedicated supervisor who will guide their research towards the completion of an original topic chosen and developed by them in consultation with their supervisor. In addition, students will benefit from the Faculty’s and Cambridge’s vibrant research environment, participating in the D Society seminars, as well as the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism, and other research seminars, guest talks, workshops and other events throughout the year.


Learning Outcomes

The M.Phil. in Philosophy of Religion provides an in-depth study of key areas of research in the field, and all students will have a supervisor who will guide them through the requirements of the course, and, most crucially, their dissertation.


Students will be introduced to methodological and analytical skills necessary to understand and evaluate existing research, and to pursue original research in their own fields of interest. Through individual supervisions and module seminars, students are introduced to the more specialised and intensive nature of research required at a postgraduate level. By the end of the programme, students will have acquired the following skills:

  • an enhanced understanding of recent developments in Philosophy of Religion, as well as an appreciation of the broader theoretical approaches and intellectual idioms that inform its study;
  • acquired the analytical capacity to pursue independent study of primary sources in Philosophy of Religion, and to evaluate the findings of secondary sources; and
  • acquired the ability to situate their own research findings within the context of other interpretative approaches in the field.


Beyond the MPhil in Philosophy of Religion

The majority of our M.Phil. students go on to pursue doctoral research in Cambridge and elsewhere. Students wishing to continue to the Ph.D. at Cambridge are expected to achieve an overall mark of 71% in the M.Phil., with a grade of at least 71% in their dissertation. Admission to the PhD degree is subject to the availability of a suitable supervisor. 



Michaelmas Term 2022


Nature: Mechanism and Anti-Mechanism

Course Coordinator: Douglas Hedley,


The concept of ‘nature’ is polyvalent and perplexing. This course surveys the main intellectual traditions from the “classical” period of Western philosophy (approx. 550 BCE) up to, and including, current trends in contemporary philosophy. The texts we will read from these traditions deal with fundamental questions about Nature and its relation with Ethics, Aesthetics, Political Theory, Human Nature, and Metaphysics. The range of answers they present to these questions laid a foundation to our contemporary attitudes and patterns of behaviour toward nature.

There will be four classes this term, each lasting for two hours.  The first and second classes will be led by Professor Douglas Hedley and Dr Adrian Mihai; the third and fourth classes will be led by Professor Douglas Hedley and Dr Anna Corrias.

No prior knowledge of classical languages or history is required for this course.

Students must attend the D-Society.


The aims of the course are to:

  • Initiate the student to reflect upon the concept of nature in a philosophical manner. This reflection should enable the student to develop the necessary competences (abilities and attitudes) susceptible to enhance the quality of a dialogue on the various current debates concerning nature.
  • Become acquainted with the history of philosophy, by studying a specific metaphysical theme.
  • Develop a critical thinking about philosophical issues in general, and about the idea of nature in particular.

Structure of the Course

I. Nature as φύσις (phusis)

II. Nature as natura

III. Mind and World

IV. Divine Ideas and the Problem of God’s Aseity


This module is assessed through a 5,000 word essay. Students may select an essay subject from the list below, or may write on a suitable topic agreed in consultation with the course coordinator. Essay titles must be approved by the degree committee.

Sample Questions

  1. Nature and Religion. Is God beyond nature?
  2. Nature and Aesthetics. What is the role of imagination in our perception of nature?
  3. Nature and Panpsychism. Is Mentality fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world?
  4. Nature and Convention. Is taste subjective, or conventional, or both?

5.Nature, Free-Will and Determinism. If one accepts that the universe is governed by natural laws, does this entail determinism?


Lent Term 2023


Gesture, Perception, Event

Course co-ordinator: Course co-ordinator: Professor Catherine Pickstock,


Whilst the Middle Ages were influenced by certain Greek philosophical traditions which regard truth and science as an abstraction from matter, time, body and contingency, at the same time the central doctrine of Christianity, that of the Incarnation, suggested that truth has been fully manifested in one particular time, as one particular embodied person.  Here, truth is as much a performative manifestation as it is a theoretical indication of the universal.  It also consists in Christ’s deeds and gestures (for example, the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday) as much as in his words.  Later Christian thought tended to resolve this tension in terms of a sharp distinction between natural and supernatural levels of understanding.  But this was less true of earlier Christian thought which made no abrupt distinction between philosophy and theology, or between metaphysics and liturgical illumination.  Hence, the Greek pagan and Biblical traditions tended to be seen as mutually interfering.  Furthermore, the notion of a ritual and performance dimension to truth was not wholly alien to the later tradition. 


This M.Phil. module investigates this mutual interference in the High to Late Middle Ages.  Seminars will focus on a selection of Latin, Italian and English primary sources that range between literary, devotional, or philosophico-theological modes as a main focus, with associated readings. The first two sessions which introduce the main research questions under consideration in the course as a whole.


Teaching provision: 4 x 2 hour seminars.  Compulsory seminars for students are indicated by an asterisk, but they are encouraged to attend all 6 seminars.


Prerequisites: A Michaelmas term module from either the Christian Theology or the Philosophy of religion track.


Divinity Graduate Seminar: D Society (Philosophy of Religion)


Seminar Topics


*1. The Gestures and Postures of Prayer in Medieval Europe (HW)

*2. Augustine: Truth and Event (CP)

*3. Anselm: Perception and Revelation (CP)

*4. Aquinas: Truth and Being (CP)

5. Gesture, Perception and Revelation in Dante (HW)

6. Catherine of Siena: Performing the Passion; Performing Compassion (HW)


Module aims: This seminar would allow extension of ongoing research collaborations into teaching, and provide an institutional framework for the exploration of questions that are relevant to the study of medieval texts but which transcend the boundaries of specialism of any one lecturer or faculty.  Philosophy of Religion M.Phil. students will be able to identify and assess questions pertaining to theories of truth not just in the more narrowly cognitive sense but also as performed ‘representations’ of reality.


Description of Assessment: This module is assessed through a 5,000 word essay.  Students may select a subject from the list below, in consultation with Professor Pickstock.  Alternatively, students may formulate their own title on a suitable topic, in discussion with the Professor Pickstock, within the area of the module.  Titles are subject to the approval of the Degree Committee.  In either case, the choice of essay subject will be dependent on the availability of appropriate supervision.


Coursework: Students will be expected to present at least once.  Oral presentations will be agreed with module co-ordinator and will be 10-20 minutes in length.  Students not presenting at a given seminar will be expected to contribute a critical reflection paper, of two doubled-spaced sides, for each seminar.  These should be submitted not later than 4 pm the day before the class.


Sample Questions


1. Does the idea that we think with our whole bodies and the environment favour a realist, or merely a phenomenological approach to truth?

2. Is Anselm’s argument fundamentally a Platonic one?

3. What role does an anticipation of beatitude play in Anselm’s Proslogion?

4. In what sense for Aquinas is truth to be distinguished from being?

5. Does Aquinas’s consideration of Christ as the Incarnate Truth add anything decisive to his philosophy consideration of truth in general?

6. If truth is embodied, is it also devotional?



Sergii Bulgakov – Speculation and Subjectivity

Term taught: Lent Term




Russian philosopher-theologian Sergii Bulgakov (1871-1944) has long been recognised as a seminal figure in twentieth-century Christian thought. That recognition has only grown with the ongoing efforts to translate his immense corpus into English, such that the full breadth of Bulgakov’s intellectual achievements (and complexity) has come increasingly into view. For Bulgakov’s name was long associated with his controversial reflections on ‘Sophia’ or the ‘Divine Wisdom’. This course will get beyond this fixation on Sophia, by offering an alternative path through Bulgakov’s mature theological and philosophical output. This alternative path will take the concept of subjectivity, or ‘personhood’ [lichnost’ in Russian] as the cornerstone of Bulgakov’s intellectual edifice. We will thus read the works on language and subjectivity produced by Bulgakov in the 1920s and interpret his subsequent theological output (especially the ‘major’ dogmatic trilogy) in light of those works. For Bulgakov’s more speculative tendencies, manifest in his work on angels, his distinctions between different kinds

of eternity and nothingness, and above all in his notion of ‘Sophia’ and its place within the Trinity, are all part of this reflexive project of thinking about what it means to be a created, human subject. Thus, Bulgakov’s works from the 1920s allow us to understand his speculative project, not as an extended flight of fancy, but as a discipline, an ascesis that responds to Paul’s injunction to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2).


Seminar coordinator:

Convened by Joshua Heath, Junior Research Fellow, Trinity College.


Teaching provision:

4 x 2 hour seminars


Module aims: This module aims to acquaint students with one of the most important voices in contemporary Christian thought. As well as introducing students to an influential strand of reflection on Christian doctrine, this module will also use Bulgakov’s work to reflect on what is at stake in theological and philosophical thinking more broadly. It also provides students with a sustained opportunity for close reading of difficult texts, enabling them to elucidate the stakes of the kinds of hermetic text that populate the theological and philosophical landscape.



A Michaelmas Term module from either the Christian Theology or the Philosophy of Religion track.


All required texts are available in translation and while reading knowledge of Russian is

helpful, it is not in any way required.


Divinity Graduate Seminar: D Society (Philosophy of Religion)


Module outline:

Seminar One: Language and Personhood

Seminar Two: Personhood as Ascesis

Seminar Three: Creation and The Fall; or, Time and History

Seminar Four: Thinking the Trinity


Description of Assessment:

This module is assessed by a 5000-word essay. Students may select a title from the list below, in consultation with the course coordinator. Alternatively, students may formulate their own title on a suitable topic, in discussion with the coordinator, within the area of the module. Titles are subject to the approval of the Degree Committee, Faculty of Divinity.



Students will be expected to present at least once per term. Oral presentations will be agreed with the module convenor and will be 10-20 minutes in length. Students not presenting at a given seminar will be expected to contribute a critical reflection paper, of two doubled-spaced sides, for each seminar. These should be submitted not later than 4 pm the day before the class.


Essay Questions:

1. Is Bulgakov’s definition of the world as the predicate of the subject compatible with his

account of the world’s reality?

2. Is Bulgakov’s theory of predication plausible as a theory of language?

3. What picture of intersubjectivity emerges from Bulgakov’s writings on ascesis?

4. What are the implications of Bulgakov’s interpretation of ascesis and/or prophecy for

intellectual activity?

5. What does it mean for a created subject to be eternal?

6. How does Bulgakov’s understanding of what it means to be a fallen subject interact with his

understanding of what it means to be a created subject?

7. Can Bulgakov’s Trinitarian texts be considered apophatic?

8. Is Bulgakov’s account of the transcendence of the Father coherent and/or admissible?


Theology in the Anthropocene

Course Coordinators: Dr Hjördis Becker-Lindenthal, and Dr Simone Kotva,


The Anthropocene is the name recently given by scientists to mark a new epoch in which human beings have become the earth’s primary geological agents.  The concept of the Anthropocene has put humanity back into planetary history, confronting her with collective responsibility, but also culpability, for the earth and its future.  These (often) unacknowledged debts to theology pose as both challenge and invitation.  Should the Anthropocene’s anthropocentrism encourage a reactionary turn to the post-human or a critical recuperation of Christian humanism?  How does the dizzying scale of geological time contrast with environmental theology’s concurrent tendency to favour smaller-scale paradigms of an ‘incarnated’ present?  The module will study the Anthropocene as an emergent concept, approaching it critically from the perspective of environmental theology.  Following an introductory seminar, four classes will address the Anthropocene through the following themes: sin, creation, afterlife, and apocalypse.


Prerequisites: A Michaelmas Term module from either the Christian Theology or the Philosophy of Religion track.


Teaching provision: The module will be taught with a one-hour class in the first week, to discuss the reading for the term, and two three- or four-hour workshops on two successive Fridays in the middle of term.


Seminar Topics:


1. Introducing theology in the Anthropocene (optional

2. Sin

3. Creation

4. Mission

5. Afterlife


Module aims: The module aims to study understandings of environment, eschatology and ethics in relation to the conceptual and geological framework of the Anthropocene.


Description of assessment: The module is assessed through a critical research paper of 5,000 words.  Students may formulate their own essay question in consultation with the course coordinators, or they may select one questions from the list below:


1. What, if anything, is theological about the concept of the Anthropocene?

2. ‘Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat/sighing through all her works gave signs of woe’ (Milton).  Does a theology of climate change depend upon the idea of sin?

3. Can a doctrine of creation still be relevant to the Anthropocene?

4. ‘If memento mori is sauce for the individual, I do not know why species should be spared the taste for it’ (C.S. Lewis).  Discuss the significance of ‘remembering death’ for Anthropocene ethics.

5. Is there a future after the end?