I am the exception rather than the rule in that I started my time at Oxford studying Physics and Philosophy. During this time I was very interested in theology and went to a few theology lectures with friends in my spare time. In my second year, my grades in Physics started to drop but my college kindly agreed to allow me to change course to Philosophy and Theology; it was a tough decision but I’m glad I made it.
I find the challenge of trying to get to grips with the key points within a particular debate or scholar’s work in a short period of time a little frustrating but very stimulating and rewarding. The “penny drop” moments when I’ve been struggling to understand some particular topic for a while and then while reading for an essay or during a tutorial it all fits into place and makes the hours of seemingly little progress worthwhile.
I have found studying Philosophy and Theology at Oxford incredibly exciting and fulfilling; most of the topics sounded interesting on paper, but definitely exceeded expectation. Having tutorials is amazing, and a real advantage to studying in Oxford, not only because you discuss fascinating topics with experts, but also because it provides a really supportive environment. I also love that you get to know other people who are enthusiastic about these topics, so you always have someone to turn to – whether for stimulating discussion, or just general chat. The course is challenging, but also constantly interesting, and I have never regretted choosing it.
In first year, you take four papers, three of which are compulsory, plus a choice of modules for your remaining option. Many students choose to study a language, and there are really interesting ones on offer, from New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew to Qur’anic Arabic and Sanskrit. In the remaining two years, all students study Ethics or Knowledge and reality, and two philosophy papers. The remaining papers are up to you, and there’s also an option to do a thesis! This still leaves plenty of room to study areas of particular interest to you!
The Philosophy Faculty at Oxford is the largest in the UK, and one of the largest in the world. As such, Oxford attracts scholars from universities all over the world, and the Theology Faculty, with more than 100 members, is also able to provide expert teaching. The joint nature of the degree works really well because the two subjects are so closely related, and work for one often illuminates the other.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has articles on hundreds of movements within philosophy and often a bio of the philosopher to accompany! It provides a brief outline that sets you up perfectly to delve deeper in your own time.
I wasn't asked about my personal statement at all! Most of the questions were developed spontaneously (or so it seemed!) from the discussion, which could have gone several ways. I was asked about things from extracts I had been given such as effective altruism and whether I thought one could ever be truly altruistic and if not why not. It was important here to take a moment to think before rushing into debate - you'll find that though some questions seem as though they have simple answers, you can find much more notable and well constructed arguments if you allow yourself time to think and connect this thought to other areas you may have studied. For instance, I linked the idea of altruism to the idea of knowledge and the distinction between right and wrong and later to the epistemological fallacy.
Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December.
Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.
If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.