What do I enjoy most about Theology? The massive variation in what I do: some philosophy, some anthropology, some history, some literature, pretty much everything. I can't really think of one best memory of Theology in particular, but the best experience I would say is being able to just waffle on about religion and feel like I have a really good understanding of what it is and what it means to different people of different faiths. Before I came, I knew nothing about Judiaism or Hinduism at all, now I can talk quite comfortable about both after only one term in each.
What made me want to study Theology and Religion? The desire to explore the patrimony of Christian doctrine that has shaped western thought, to study the Church's formative texts, and to learn about the history of Christianity through its writers.
As everyone will tell you, Theology gives you the opportunity to study ancient languages, literature, history, philosophy, and more. Crucially, for me, it's just a thoroughly interesting and rewarding field of study, and remains important to anyone wishing to understand western history, art, music, and thought.
One of my best experiences has been the close-reading classes on the Gospel of Mark, which had a different and more interactive format to normal lectures.
The contact hours afford a lot of freedom in how you study and the opportunity to research each essay thoroughly.
Theology is the chameleon of Oxford's degrees. It provides the opportunity to study a scriptural language from scratch, to analyse religious literature, examine the role of religion in society, and even the history behind religion as we know it in the modern world. You get to study and compare multiple religions, whilst interacting one-to-one with world experts in a myriad of fascinating fields.
Reading translations of the Upanishads before applying confirmed that Theology had the diversity of course material that I wanted to study. Oxford is an amazing place to learn not only about Christianity, but also the world's major religions, given its varied lecture programme and endless list of modules to choose from.
My favourite experience of studying in Oxford was with my Biblical Hebrew class – getting to engage with a like-minded, amazing group of theologians in what is often an independently driven course.
I started my Theology degree unsure of what to expect and wary of a ‘traditional’ style course. The truth is that Theology is incredibly diverse – it’s a melting pot of subjects. In the past year, I have studied a language, literature and history, with some philosophy and even some archeology thrown in for good measure. Crucially, there is no ‘typical’ Theology student, and the wealth of differing viewpoints within the subject makes for a fascinating and engaging debate. A big bonus is sitting your first year exams at Easter (one term earlier than most), which although stressful in the short term, gives you a great exam-free Oxford summer!
One of the best bits about the course so far has been the chance to study an ancient language. I chose to study Greek, and the intensive course was certainly hard work! Being able to read a biblical set text in its original language, however, was hugely satisfying. It felt like a great achievement after only two terms work.
Theology is the oldest subject at the university, and accordingly there is a lot out there to study! The first year of the course is geared towards giving you a good grounding in the subject’s major areas, with all first year students take an ancient language (most often Biblical Greek or Hebrew) alongside a range of other papers – such as an "Introduction to the New Testament" or the "Study of Religions". In the second and third years, there is much more opportunity for scope and specialism. The course is designed so that you are required to choose an emphasis — either Biblical Studies, Church History or a World Religion outside of Christianity — in which to specialise further. Alongside this, you can choose from a full range of papers on any topic, allowing you to build up a complementary degree, which really reflects your interests.
One much talked about difference at Oxford is the tutorial system, which really comes into its own in Theology. For most tutors, you will prepare an essay each week on a given topic, and then spend an hour discussing and debating what you have presented. This is hugely helpful when tackling a complex problem, as well as really rewarding. Secondly, the course here offers opportunities for both in-depth and varied study, encouraging you to pursue areas you are passionate about, but maintaining some core elements in order to ensure that you finish with a balanced degree.
Christopher Beeley’s "The Unity of Christ", which is detailed and comprehensive, yet wholly intelligible, was a great way into patristics for me. I would also recommend reading around the New Testament; for example, get a simple commentary to a Gospel you like, or an introduction to Pauline literature.
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.