Why Should A-Level Science Students Consider Theology and Religion at University?

It’s a common misconception that you need to have studied Religious Studies or Philosophy at A-Level in order to take a degree in Theology and Religion at university. In this new blog series, academic staff from the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter encourage A-Level students of other subjects to consider TRS. In this post, Prof Christopher Southgate, who originally trained as a research biochemist, asks, “Why should A-Level Science students consider Theology and Religion at university?”

The natural sciences that you have been learning disclose in astonishing detail how the universe works, from the first femtosecond after the Big Bang to its probable end in a ‘heat death’. They also show how life functions, including all the intricate chemical and biological processes that keep your own body flourishing from minute to minute.

A Theology and Religion-based degree at Exeter gives you the chance to explore, in the company of cutting-edge scholars in a whole range of fields, what existence and flourishing mean. Human beings have been wondering this since we first evolved, and human history is in part a history of the narratives by which we have explained our existence and our nature, our selfishness and capacity for love.

In the Department of Theology and Religion at Exeter, consistently highly-rated both for research and student satisfaction, you would have the chance to explore those narratives through the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which answer those great questions in related but different ways. The narratives of our origin and importance as humans lead naturally to the question: ‘how then should I live?’, which we take up through the study of ethics.

Specifically, Exeter offers modules across the Theology and Religion degree programme exploring the relation between the sciences and religious claims. How did modern science emerge from the dominantly religious culture of Renaissance Europe? How does it change Christianity when we start to take science seriously? What does it mean that we are both evolved animals and creatures ‘capable of God’?

In the past that last question has tended to be answered historically by looking at Galileo and Darwin – fascinating case-studies in themselves. But a far more vital case of the interaction of the sciences with theology and ethics comes in relation to climate change. What the science says, why some refuse to believe it, and what it means for how we should live can be explored intensively at a university which, through its association with the Met Office here at Exeter, is one of the leading centres in the world for climate science.

Every year up to a quarter of your study can be outside your home department. So insights from all sorts of subjects can be brought to bear on these fundamental questions of meaning. The rigorous training of thought acquired through science A-Levels is an excellent basis for starting this exploration, and we at Theology and Religion at Exeter would be delighted to have the chance to accompany you on that great search.

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