When St Catharine's was founded in the fifteenth century the major subject to be studied by its undergraduates was Theology. In our very different world today, Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion (TRPR), as the Tripos is now called, continues to be a group of subjects of relevance and fascination for those who believe that religious ideas and beliefs are still a central part of human life. TRPR is a varied subject in which one can study the bible, church history, doctrine, science and religion, psychology and religion, philosophy of religion, ethics - the list goes on to include around 35 different papers in the Cambridge Tripos that can be studied by those reading TRPR here. Over the years the Tripos has changed from the study of Christianity alone to one that includes the major faiths of the world. There are now Faculty teachers in Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, as well as in Christian biblical and doctrinal studies.
The Cambridge Tripos consists of a one-year Part One in which candidates take five papers out of a selection of eight core papers. The only compulsory elements are one of the language papers and a biblical paper. At present theologians are required to study either Hebrew, Greek, Sanscrit or Arabic for a minimum of one year. Most papers are assessed by written examination, although candidates can choose to have one paper assessed by long essay.
In their second year, TRPR students work for Part IIA of the Tripos, and are required to take four papers, one of which can be assessed by coursework. The choice of papers is an open one from a list of sixteen that covers all of the major areas of Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion. In their third year candidates read Part IIB of the Tripos, for which four papers are chosen out of a possible twenty-three, with at least two papers assessed by examination and the opportunity to do a dissertation.
In Part I, students benefit from studying a basic core of subjects, whilst in Part II students can either specialize in one or two key areas, or enjoy the diversity that the syllabus offers. Most of the college teaching in Theology is by supervision, usually in pairs. All lectures are on the Divinity faculty building, on the Sidgwick site, which is small and friendly with an excellent library.
Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion is well represented at St Catharine's by the Fellow and Director of Studies in Theology, Dr Katharine Dell, herself a biblical studies expert. At present the college offers approximately two places per year in TRPR.
We are keen to encourage students from all kinds of academic background to apply. Whilst an A Level in Religious Studies is desirable, it is not compulsory; and whilst most of our applicants are doing Arts A Levels, this is not always the case. Some linguistic ability is desirable but also not compulsory.
Candidates are given a passage to prepare just before the interview. The passage will be discussed at interview, and there will also be more general interview questions.
Candidates will usually be interviewed by a second college - where possible, on the same day as the St Catharine's interviews.
I had a fantastic time studying Theology and Religious Studies at Catz. Cambridge offers a diverse course that allowed me to do a little bit of history, philosophy, language, literature and sociology - all in the sphere of Theology! The location of Catz is ideal for Theologians: the centre of town and a short walk away from the faculty in first and second years, and a stone’s throw away from the faculty in second year (great for 9am lectures!). The Director of Studies for Theology at Catz, Dr Dell, is enormously helpful and ensures you get good supervisors for your papers. The library at Catz has many of the books you need, which saves you a book-hunting trip around Cambridge’s libraries. Above all, Catz has a wonderful sense of community (and usually 5 or 6 Theologians), which ensures your terms will be fun-filled and enjoyable amidst the busy-ness of work!
Ben Donaldson, Catz 2011-2014