Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Prof Denise Cush writes...

Professor Denise Cush of Bath Spa University writes:
University courses in Theology and Religious Studies vary, but generally include a selection of: systematic study of religious traditions, including fieldwork, textual studies, systematic theology, sociological, ethnographic and psychological study of religions, philosophy of religion, and ethics. Papers in philosophy of religion and ethics are very popular at A level, but are insufficient preparation by themselves for the full range of approaches and skills needed at university, nor do they give students an adequate picture of what studying Theology and Religious studies is like at university. Ideally, students should take three papers, one in a religious tradition eg Buddhism or Christianity, one in a textual study eg New Testament of Qur'anic study, and one in philosophy/ethics/sociology/psychology. A second best is that students take two of these three areas, as the draft suggests. Neither do the popular papers in Philosophy of religion and ethics, give students much of an idea about Philosophy degrees, as philosophy of religion is only a small part.

The sort of content that can be expected on a TRS degree is listed by the QAA Benchmarking draft document 2014 as follows:
  • A broadly based core together with the wider context required for the subject area covered by the programme in question, and specialised study in depth of some aspects of the field. This implies not just the mastery of databut also the setting of these data within a theoretical framework,which includes critical analysis and debate about how to understand and structure the raw data into a coherent whole.
  • One or more religions, ancient or modern, including the origin, history and developed or present character of each.
  • The reading, analysis and interpretation of texts, sometimes in the original languages, particularly texts that have been sacred or significant to one or more practising communities. This study will often focus both on the historical context which generated the texts and on hermeneutical questions concerning their meaning and application for the appropriate community of believers in the present, or for other readers today.
  • Engagement with some of the major religious thinkers, prophets, teachers, ascetics, mystics, healers, or leaders through their extant work or subsequent influence.
  • The application of a variety of critical methods of study, often adapted from those of other subjects in the humanities and social sciences, to the study of texts,practices, religious communities as social and cultural entities, or their diverse material culture and art forms.
  • The history of the particular subject(s) covered by the programme, including the major theories, movements and thinkers.
  • Ethics, morality, and values. All religions have certain expectations in these areas, which are studied along with other aspects of the religion. Even if the religion is studied only historically, the values and problems for living as an adherent of the religion do not go unnoticed by the student.

The equivalent for single honours philosophy degrees programme generally includes, among other studies:
  • The ideas and arguments of some of the major philosophers in the history of the subject, encountered in their own writings. Which philosophers are relevant depends upon which philosophical tradition is being pursued in the programme of study, and may just as appropriately include Descartes, Hume, Wollstonecroft or Wittgenstein as Hegel, Foucault, Arendt or Butler. 
  • Some central theories and arguments in the fields of logic, metaphysics, epistemology or philosophy of mind, broadly understood. Students for whom contemporary analytical philosophy is a major part of their study have the opportunity to study elementary formal logic
  • Some central theories and arguments in the fields of moral, political or social philosophy, broadly understood.
  • Awareness of some major issues currently at the frontiers of philosophical debate and research.

Having said that, it is rare that university course are able to require A2 in Religious Studies, so any area covered is better than none!

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