Why Should A-Level English Lit 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 Louise Lawrence asks, “Why should A-Level English Literature students consider Theology and Religion at university?”  

Doing A-Level English Literature has, through story, prose, poetry and drama, given you some insight into how different writers communicate ambitions, fears, values and worldviews. It would not be an understatement to claim that comprehension of most Western literature (as well as film, art, architecture, music, politics and culture) is impossible without some competence in theology and religion.

A Theology and Religion degree will allow you to study and critically interrogate the Bible as literature: there is tragedy, family tension, incest, adultery, treachery, trauma, political intrigue, nation-building and destruction, violence, satire, adoration, anguish and revenge within its pages. Scholars of Theology and Religion also engage a wide variety of critical lenses through which this and other texts are variously interpreted: literary; historical; postcolonial; feminist; queer; liberation; disability; trauma, and many more. You might explore how novels, films and other media communicate shifting understandings of sexuality, ability, ethnicity and other identities in conversation with religion. You might interrogate how theological and religious discourse conceals, reveals and transmits competing ideas of power, authority, ideology and control.

Theology and Religion also equips you to trace the ways in which Western and postcolonial literatures (and other cultural forms) variously use, respond to and/or subvert biblical themes/images/texts/characters within their own eras and contexts. How, for example, does a first world war poet such as Wilfred Owen reframe the story in Genesis in which God demands Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac in his The Parable of the Old Man and the Young? How does this compare with receptions of the same biblical text in writings of Holocaust survivors, or activists in the anti-Vietnam war movement?

In a Theology and Religion degree you will develop skills as an articulate, creative and compelling author in your own right. In the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter our assessments use a variety of media beyond the traditional essay – though your previous experience in essay-writing for English will certainly stand you in good stead. They include short journalistic pieces or wikis (online postings); extended project pieces comprising creative portfolios (in the past these have included ‘virtual’ letters from historical or contemporary characters; autobiographical pieces; reflective journal entries; and advertisement and artefact commentaries designed for public use); and the research dissertation, an independent project of 10-12,000 words. Recent dissertation topics at Exeter have included religious imagery in Gothic horror; theology in children’s literature; charismatic Christianity and theatre; artistic depictions of Dante’s Divine Comedy; theology in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen; and postcolonial feminist critiques of the doctrine of atonement.

Theology and Religion affords you opportunities to explore themes of translation, interpretation, concealment, and literature as tool for political liberation. Our graduates go on to a diverse set of careers including journalism, international development, social work, education, the third sector, public policy, law, and the civil service.


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