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Philosophy of Religion MPhil Pathway


Philosophy of Religion


The MPhil 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 MPhil 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 three modules which are available this year investigate, respectively, (1) nature (theology and the Anthropocene), (2) the meta-physical or spirit (including human spirit), and (3) spiritual additions to nature which constitute perceptions, gestures and events disclosive of the divine.


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 MPhil 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 thesis, which they work on alongside two 5000-word essays, each linked with a termly module (MT and LT). Three module seminars are on offer this coming year, in 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 MPhil 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, Douglas Hedley, Simone Kotva, Hjoerdis Becker-Lindenthal, James Orr 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 MPhil 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 thesis.


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



Michaelmas Term 2018


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 behavior toward nature.


Lent Term 2019


Gesture, Perception, Event

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 much 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.




Theology in the Anthropocene

Course Coordinator: 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.




For more details on the above modules, please see the MPhil Handbook 2018-9 and/or contact Professor Douglas Hedley.