Theology and Religion Essay Competition

At the Department of Theology & Religion at the University of Exeter, we want to hear your ideas about religion!

We’re inviting A-Level and IB students in any subject to send us 1,000 words on one of the following big questions:

Would the world be better off without religion?

Should everyone have to study religion at school?

Does learning about religion make us look back to the past, or forward to the future?

You can write in any way you like – an essay, a poem, a piece of creative writing – the more imaginative the better! The competition will be judged by a panel of expert academics in Theology and Religion.

For details of how to enter, please see the below poster (click to enlarge).

 

This competition is also being advertised on the University of Exeter Discover University team’s Facebook and Twitter: @DiscoverUniExe.

 

You may also find our pages for Teachers useful: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/teachers/

Summer Resources for Year 13s: Edition Three – Religions, Philosophy and Ethics

Welcome back to our third and final blogpost of videos, podcasts and other resources to explore over the summer. This post focuses on religions such as Judaism and Islam as well as atheism and agnosticism. There are also some resources about philosophy of religion, ethics and the study of religion and science.

 

One of the core modules you will take in your first year is named ‘Religion in the Modern World’, which is taught by a range of expert academics. The module convener, Dr David Tollerton, has provided some interesting resources that relate to this module:

 

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life 2015 report:

This report provides a picture of religion and diversity in 21st century Britain. It’s quite detailed, so to start with you may just want to read the executive summary (pages 6-8) and think about the key issues raised there.

 

The 2019 ‘Understanding Unbelief’ report:

This report thinks about agnosticism and atheism across a selection of countries, and aims to emphasise the diversity of unbelief across these contexts. It’s worth looking through the graphs to see if you find anything surprising in the findings.

A BBC website overview of the Northern Irish ‘Gay Cake’ controversy from 2018:

In the ‘Religion in the Modern World’ module one of the topics we address is relationship between freedom of expression, religion, and the law. This BBC article provides a short overview of a specific recent controversy in Northern Ireland – when reading through it, try to work out how you think the rights of those involved should be balanced under the law.

 

The 2019 BBC documentary ‘The Satanic Verses: 30 Years On’:

The Satanic Verses controversy in the late 1980s was a crucial event for thinking about religion in the modern world, particularly with regard to Islam in Britain. It provoked some of today’s continuing discussions of religious fundamentalism, freedom of expression, and the relationship between racism and treatment of religious minorities. This 2019 documentary looks at the events and how they continue to influence ongoing debates about religion in public life.

 

 

The 2018 BBC documentary ‘We Are British Jews’:

This 2018 documentary follows the discussions of a group of British Jews, emphasising their diversity of opinions and the complex relationships between religious, culture, politics, and identity. Jewish life often disrupts simple definitions of ‘religion’ (a concept that developed in Christian contexts), so as well as weighing up the issues discussed in the documentary it’s worth thinking about your preconceptions of what is meant by ‘religion’ and ‘identity’.

 

You may also be interested in some BBC radio programmes about Judaism and Islam, as you may also have the option to take ‘Introduction to Islam’ in your first year at Exeter:

Judaism:

The Talmud

Maimonides

Toleration

 

Islam:

Sunni and Shia Islam

The Arab Conquests

Islamic Law and its Origins

Another module you will encounter in your first year is named ‘Philosophy of Religion and Christian Ethics’. Many of us here in the Department of Theology and Religion have really enjoyed Netflix’s The Good Place because of the way it wrestles with good and evil. Treat yourself to watching it and have ponder about how we think about good and evil today. Is it harder to be good now than it used to be?

 

The BBC have also produced a radio programme about Good and Evil which makes for a great companion piece!

If you wold like to start exploring philosophy of religion yourself, take a look at this very easy to understand blog post What is Philosophy of Religion? and have an explore of the other helpful resources available there too!

 

One of the complexities concerning ethics that you will likely encounter in your Theology and Religion degree at Exeter is about how businesses can become more ethical. For an introduction to some of these issues have a look at this YouTube video, A Blueprint for a Better Business, and consider the following:

‘Business ethics’: are these two words contradictory when placed together? Can business be conducted ethically? A Blueprint for a Better Business asks businesses to consider ’purpose’, ’people’ and ’profit’. Profit is not the only consideration!

 

A Blueprint for a Better Business came about in 2011 when a group of senior business leaders approached the Archbishop of Westminster. These business leaders were convinced that the principles of Christian moral and social teaching, and in particular the tradition of Roman Catholic Social Teaching, could help bring about much needed change in business. Ever since, they have been active in encouraging businesses, large and small, to consider their social purpose and how employees can connect their personal plurality with professional duties and career progression.

 

  1. Would you agree that a business needs to make a profit, but that making a profit is not the purpose of business?
  2. What questions would you put to the Director of A Blueprint for a Better Business?
  3. Imagine you were CEO of a business. Describe what sort of business and then list the five ethical issues that you would expect to be the most challenging.

 

 

One of the modules you might have the option to tackle is named ‘Big Questions in Science and Religion’, which will explore classic questions at the interface of science and religion through a problem-solving approach. So here’s a sneak preview of the first problem, which is to design a manned (personned?) mission to Mars. It might be fun to check out some websites on that, and/or read some of Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent science-fiction trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. Of course, C.S Lewis’s hero also goes to Mars in Out of the Silent Planet

 

For some BBC radio content on religion and science (and space!), have a listen to these:

Space in Religion and Science

Science and Religion

 

Enjoy!

Summer Resources for Year 13s: Edition Two – Biblical Studies (Hebrew Bible and New Testament)

Welcome to the second blogpost of summer resources! As I said in the previous post, this is a collection of resources we in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter have put together to give you a few things to mull over while you are waiting to start studying Theology and Religion. This post is focused on Biblical Studies, both Hebrew Bible and New Testament. When you’re your first year at Exeter you will study two modules which both combine analysis of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament: ‘Introduction to Histories and Literatures of the Bible’, and ‘The Bible: Past and Present’. Enjoy!

 

To get started here are the three episodes that make up a BBC documentary series called The Bible’s Buried Secrets presented by our very own Prof Francesca Stavakopoulou:

Episode 1:

Did King David’s Empire Exist?

Episode 2:

Did God have a Wife?

Episode 3:

The Real Garden of Eden

The second episode is particularly useful for ‘The Bible: Past and Present’.

If you’re interested in looking at the archaeological evidence that tells what Jesus might have looked like this YouTube video is really interesting: Joan E. Taylor – What Did Jesus Look Like?

 

Joan Taylor has also made a documentary with another biblical scholar, Helen Bond, about Jesus’s female disciples: The traditional story of the birth of Christianity is dominated by men, but were female disciples crucial to Jesus’ mission? And why has the role those women played disappeared from history? Bible experts and historians Helen Bond and Joan Taylor take to the road to find out. You can find Jesus’ Female Disciples: The New Evidence on Box of Broadcasts (log in with your school details).

 

If art is where you’re at, the Visual Commentary on Scripture (VCS) is a freely accessible online publication that provides theological commentary on the Bible in dialogue with works of art. Have a look around the exhibitions on www.thevcs.org. This resource may also be helpful for ‘The Bible: Past and Present’.

 

 

 

If you fancy listening to a few BBC podcasts with a cup of tea and a biscuit here are a few you might enjoy:

New Testament:

Mary Magdalene

Paul

Josephus

 

Hebrew Bible:

King Solomon

The Devil

The Fall

 

One major and excellent resource is the Bible Odyssey site produced by the Society for Biblical Literature, a US-based international society for scholars in biblical studies and related areas. The site contains short articles, videos, and resources produced by scholars in the field.

https://www.bibleodyssey.org/

Among many interesting entries, to shape your early study of the origins of Christianity and the New Testament texts, you could begin by looking at these entries:

Jesus, Paul, Peter, early Christian converts, synoptic problem, Pauline letters and the gospels, women in early Christianity.

Once you’ve begun to find your way around the site, you will find lots more items to pique your interest!

 

If you just want to read a good old fashioned book then short introductions are a good way to begin your entry into this subject area, for example:

Luke Timothy Johnson, The New Testament: a Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2011).

It is also available as an audiobook!

Summer Resources for Year 13s: Edition One – Christian Beliefs and History

Welcome! This is the first blogpost in a three part series of stimulating resources to whet your appetite over the summer for your Theology and Religion degree. Everyone here in the Theology and Religion Department at the University of Exeter is hoping that you are all well during this very bizarre time of year – a time when you all thought you would have been revising for and sitting A Level exams prior to a summer spent outdoors. Because we know some of you might well be feeling anxious about coming to university, or you may just be eager to start thinking about Theology and Religion in lieu of revising for your exams, these blogposts are going to give you a ‘menu’ of options to explore and peruse. This post is focused on Christian beliefs and history, while subsequent blogposts will be on Biblical Studies, and Religion, Philosophy and Ethics. We hope you enjoy these resources, and we look forward to meeting you at the start of term!

 

Here are some BBC radio programmes and podcasts to get stuck into while you’re doing the dishes:

On Calvinism

John Calvin, a Frenchman exiled to Geneva, was hugely influential in the 16th century Reformation of the Christian Church. He was a writer, popular preacher and biblical scholar, whose works were spread far and wide through the new technology of printing. His theology and his distinctive ideas about how to organise church communities spread rapidly across Europe, and on to the New World in America. One of Calvin’s most striking ideas was ‘predestination’: the idea that, even before the world began, God had already decided which human beings would be damned, and which saved.

 

 

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed was the result of one of Christianity’s first public and universal church councils—called to debate the ideas of a controversial theologian called Arius. Arius was condemned as a heretic for his claim that Jesus Christ was inferior to God the Father. These debates at Nicaea and afterwards led to the development of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A version of the Nicene Creed is still said at many modern acts of Christian worship. This podcast will be particularly useful in preparation for our first-year core module, THE1103 Introducing Christian Theologies, where you’ll study some key Christian doctrines and beliefs.

 

The Trinity

Here is a related video made by the University of Nottingham: “Why study Arius of Alexandria?”

Augustine’s Confessions – See also this YouTube video about studying Augustine at University (created by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham).

 

The North African theologian Augustine has been one of the most significant figures in Christian theology—for example, for his ideas about creation, sin, salvation and love. But his autobiographical work, the Confessions, also had a deep influence on Western literature: it has shaped the way in which people think and write about themselves. In this podcast, one of our lecturers, Morwenna Ludlow, debates the Confessions with Melvyn Bragg, Kate Cooper and Martin Palmer.  Morwenna teaches a module on Augustine’s Confessions for 2nd and 3rd year students.

 

St Thomas Aquinas: Another hugely influential thinker in the Christian tradition, especially important for Catholicism. Philosopher, theologian and ethicist, known for his arguments about the existence of God, the nature of human morality and specific ethical problems like the justice of going to war.

 

Hope: – one of our lecturers writes: “Hope might seem like a rather abstract concept, but this fascinating discussion made me think about it all over again. It raises big questions about our attitudes to ourselves, the future and uncertainty—immensely relevant to today.”

Purgatory – The idea that there might be a temporary place of cleansing or reform after death gradually developed from very hazy ideas in the 2nd century to the carefully-imagined system portrayed in the poet Dante’s Purgatorio. While hell was permanent, purgatory offered the hope of moving on to heaven. But the idea, and the practices associated with it, such as praying for the dead and the possession of holy relics, became increasingly controversial and purgatory was one of the contested topics at the heart of the Protestant Reformation.  This podcast would be especially relevant to one of our 2nd and 3rd year modules: “Heaven and Hell throughout the Ages”.

 

Here are some videos to watch to introduce you to some key areas of Christian belief and history:

 

If you have access to Box of Broadcasts through your schools these programmes are worth watching:

 

A History of Christianity

In the first of a six-part series sweeping across four continents, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch goes in search of Christianity’s forgotten origins.

 

Lost Kingdoms of Africa

This episode explore the rich ancient culture of Ethiopia which officially adopted Christianity in 333, around the same time as Christianity was officially tolerated inside the Roman Empire. It shows that ancient Christianity was by no means simply a religion of the Roman Empire.

 

Here are some other YouTube videos made by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Nottingham that will help set the scene before you come to study at University:

“Why study asceticism [Mary Cunningham]”

“Why study Mary, Mother of God”

 

If you fancy reading something to get your academic juices flowing then why not take a look at the University of Exeter’s very own undergraduate Theology and Religion journal, The Key?

 

In some of your studies you’ll start to look at different approaches and perspectives on Theology, such as postcolonialism. For a nice introduction have a look at these YouTube videos on Colonialism and Postcolonialism.

Robert Beckford’s 2016 documentary The Battle for Christianity is useful on sociological shifts in Christianity in Britain. It also covers secularization, immigration, and imperialism.

The BBC documentary series Empire, presented by Jeremy Paxman,  is useful on the history of links between mission and empire

There is a great TedEd documentary on religion in art. Before we began putting art into museums, art mostly served as the visual counterpart to religious stories. Are these theological paintings, sculptures, textiles and illuminations from centuries ago still relevant to us?

 

Be sure to have a look at our next blogpost on Biblical Studies!

 

Enjoy!