Cambridge Demystified- Theology, Religion and the Philosophy of Religion

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amking
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CAMBRIDGE DEMYSTIFIED- THEOLOGY, RELIGION AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION
Why did you want to study your subject?
I should start by saying that I do not come from a religious background. I wanted to study Theology because I have an interest in how religion has shaped the world and continues to influence lives even today. It encompasses many of my other interests, including history, literature and politics due to its influence in these fields.

Why Cambridge?
I loved the broad choice that the Cambridge Theology course offered. There are only two compulsory papers in the first year, one language and one paper on either the Old or New Testament. The papers allow you to look at the broad topic of religion through many different lenses, for instance from a sociological or comparative perspective. The course is not only limited to the study of religions, but also offers papers on philosophy and ethics, areas that I enjoyed studying at A level. I was a little apprehensive about the language aspect of the course to start with having not studied languages since GCSE, but on using my gap year to start learning Biblical Hebrew, can see how this offers the opportunity to study scriptures in their original language, without the meaning becoming ‘lost in translation’. The Faculty of Divinity website states that the course is for people ‘from all religious backgrounds and none’ and I think this is reflected in the wide papers on offer.
To anyone applying post A level and attending a state school, Christ’s College offer a fantastic Post A level application advice clinic (https://www.christs.cam.ac.uk/open-d...results-clinic). I spoke to a member of admissions who offered supportive and honest feedback on my chances of a successful application based on my grades. This helped me make the decision to apply.
Another piece of advice would be to research the contents of the degree before you decide whether or not you want to do it- don’t get put off because Theology is in the title.

Did any of your teachers inspire you? Or any other expert (TV presenter etc)
I attended a state school with little history of students progressing to Oxbridge. I was lucky to have incredibly supportive teachers, even though I was no longer in school when I applied. My RS teacher (and form tutor) discussed aspects of my personal statement with me and set up a meeting with a Cambridge graduate so that I could ask questions more specific to the course. My head of sixth form was also very helpful in checking drafts of my personal statement and arranging references.

Which resources did you use (please name as many as possible) Which books/journals did you read? Which did you like best, and why? What did they teach you?
BOOKS:
Feminist Interpretations of the Bible and the Hermeneutics of Liberation- Schroer and Bietenhard
Why I am not a Christian- Bertrand Russell
These books were collections of essays. I found it really helpful to select five or six essays to know inside out, rather than worry about reading the whole book. Some of these had elements that I could link to topics I studied at A level e.g. I linked an essay about a Jewish, feminist, atheist perspective of the Bible to my study of atheism for RS A level. From the essays I chose, I could then carry out further research around the topics that interested me.
PODCASTS:
In Our Time- Radio 4
I think that these podcasts could be useful to any arts students as there are also episodes on historical events, literature and philosophy. They are 45 minutes long and feature experts discussing a topic. Ones I listened to included Bertrand Russell, Free Will, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, expanding on my study of these at A level.
BBC Islam and Science
Having briefly studied Buddhism and science at A level and it being a topic of particular interest, I found this radio programme which showed the relationship between Islam and science throughout history and up until the present day.

Faith and Feminism
This podcast is hosted by a Christian woman who is also a feminist and explores how she reconciles her faith with feminism, as religion and feminism are often seen as opposing ideologies. This was very useful in offering a religious perspective on how faith and feminism interact in the everyday.

VIDEOS:
BBC 100 Women: Religion and Feminism Debate
This is available on YouTube and features women from major world religions and an atheist discussing their relationships with feminism and taking questions from the audience. Having began to look at the relationship between religion and feminism from a Christian perspective, it was interesting and useful to compare the approach of women of different faiths.


Did you attend any lectures, or take part in any competitions? If so, would you recommend them, and why?
I attended a lecture at my local university by the Archbishop of St. David’s. It was about the relationship between science and religion from a Christian perspective, so it provided another comparison to make. I would definitely recommend lectures if you can find them, especially if they relate to a topic you’re interested in. It gives you something else to potentially discuss at interview and furthers your understanding of the subject.

I also attended a Biblical Hebrew taster lecture on the Oxford open day.

Did you have any work experience? If so, how did you find it?
I volunteered as a teaching assistant in my school RS department, but this was because I was on a gap year, had time to do it and wanted to keep ‘in touch’ with the subject. Being unable to get work experience for Theology would not impact your application.


Did you have a specialist subject/EPQ? What was it? How did you go about your research?
My school didn’t offer EPQ but in Wales, we complete the Welsh Baccalaureate which involves a research project. My advice would be to, if you need primary research, try to complete this as soon as you know what your subject is so that if you don’t get responses, you can write off to more people.
The subject I dedicated most of my time to in preparation for interview was the relationship between feminism and religion. I found it helpful to get a book of essays on this topic to begin to understand it and then listen to podcasts/watch videos to help further my knowledge.

What did you mention in your personal statement and why?
I started off with the topics I studied at A level that interested me most, including free will vs. determinism, science and Buddhism and New Atheism, then built on these with additional material that I read. For instance, I mentioned the essay about a Jewish, feminist, atheist look at the Bible alongside the New Atheist to show how there are varying degrees of ‘belief’ withing atheism. These were topics I knew I would be comfortable speaking about at length and had sufficient notes for to help my preparation.
I also mentioned the book of feminist essays as this was an interest I had been developing in my own time, to show wider reading.
As I studied three A levels that closely linked (History, English Lit and RS), I discussed how these crossed over in my experience, for instance how studying Free Will vs. Determinism for RS aided my understanding of Paradise Lost Book 9 for English Lit.
When I mentioned a topic/book, I offered a brief explanation as to why this interested me.
I also included a brief paragraph on my gap year and other interests.

Which techniques did you use for the entrance test?
The Theology entrance test is on the same day as the interviews, rather than in October. The Faculty of Divinity website has past papers which are a good idea to practice. It gives you an idea of how the test is structured. As you watch a video for half of the test and answer questions based on this, I used podcasts to help practice taking notes whilst also listening to a lecture.

How did you choose your college? Did you go to an open day and if so, did it help you to decide?
Having been in mixed education all my life, I initially ruled out the idea of applying to a women’s college. Then I visited Newnham on the summer open day. I was won over by the friendly, supportive atmosphere and the beautiful buildings/gardens. If it is possible for you to attend an open day, I would highly recommend it as it allows you to see and experience the colleges for yourself.
Before deciding for certain on Newnham, I narrowed down to a top three and then used a combination of application statistics and gut feeling to make my final decision. (Whilst it is not advisable to base your college decision solely on application statistics, it can be a useful factor in helping you narrow down your choice).

How did you find the interview process? (NO INTERVIEW QUESTIONS PLEASE - this is against TSR guidelines)
I quite enjoyed my first two interviews (subject interviews). As Theology is such a small subject, you will have one interview at the college you applied to and one at a different college which you are randomly allocated to (I had mine at Caius). This is an opportunity to meet other academics in the faculty and to experience another college. They were relaxed and I had some really interesting, thought provoking discussions with my interviewers.
My third interview of the day was a general one and I didn’t feel that it went quite so well because I wasn’t quite so comfortable with the subject being discussed. This one is more difficult to prepare for as it’s not always related to the subject you want to study.

Any interview tips?
1) Think out loud- the interviewers can’t read your mind so it is better to talk through your thinking process. For Theology, there is no right answer as such so the interviewers are interested in seeing how you think.
2) Smile
3) Take time to pause and think if you need to
4) Show your passion for your subject
Did you socialise during interview week? If so, what did you do?
When I was sat in Newnham’s café in between interviews, I spoke to a few of the other candidates but none of them were doing Theology. We didn’t discuss the interviews too much, more where we’d come from, the A levels we were doing and the content of the subject we had applied to.
If I had a long gap between my interview, I either went for a walk into the town centre or looked over my personal statement in my room.

How did you feel after the interviews?
After three interviews and a test in a day? Tired to say the least, but also relieved that I had finished and given it my best go. Following the initial exhaustion and being able to reflect properly, I felt that I’d had an amazing opportunity to take part in some incredibly exciting discussions. The interviewers aren’t there to trip you up, they seem to genuinely want to get the best out of you.

Where were you when you got your offer? How did you react?
On decision day, I went out without my phone to stop myself from obsessively checking it every five minutes. My mum’s phone died when we were out, so despite my dad calling to say that a letter had arrived, I didn’t find out until I arrived home in the early afternoon. I cried when I opened the letter and read the first sentence. Sure enough when I checked my phone to let my friends and teachers know that I had got in, there was an email confirming my offer. It didn’t feel real.

Are you looking forward to coming up to Cambridge?
Can't wait!
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Oxford Mum
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Interview questions:

https://www.cambridgeinterviewquesti...gious-studies/

(with suggested reading)

https://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/study...ate/Assessment

https://sites.google.com/site/oxbrid...tions/theology

https://www.applytocambridge.com/cou...hy-of-religion

YouTube interviews

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Npwcb5LlczM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Syt2...?v=9XCbt1jDMdk
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Mona123456
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Reading this made me smile. Your course sounds very unique, and I hope you have a fantastic time studying it
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Oxford Mum
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It's interesting to note that you don't have to be religious to study theology. A friend of mine wanted to read philosophy at Oxford, but you could only study it as joint honours. He was an out and out atheist, who loved arguing with my kids about religion. I was horrified because I thought he was going to offend the tutors, but they said the same thing as you. You don't have to be a believer and really it can be an advantage if you are not (probably so that you can look at religion more objectively).

Your degree sounds quite wide sweeping, studying not only the religion itself, but it's historical and cultural setting. That is its very interesting feature.

Not only that, but you have chosen feminism within religion as a specialist topic. That again is intriguing because when one thinks of historical religious figures, many of them are male.

I am presuming you study all kinds of religions, as well as Christianity?

Maybe the unique selling point of this degree, as well, is that you study Hebrew. Is this option offered elsewhere?

As a linguist, I agree that something read in translation can often lose some of its meaning, and power.

I hope you have a wonderful time at Cambridge, studying this amazing subject.

amking
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amking
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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
It's interesting to note that you don't have to be religious to study theology. A friend of mine wanted to read philosophy at Oxford, but you could only study it as joint honours. He was an out and out atheist, who loved arguing with my kids about religion. I was horrified because I thought he was going to offend the tutors, but they said the same thing as you. You don't have to be a believer and really it can be an advantage if you are not (probably so that you can look at religion more objectively).

Your degree sounds quite wide sweeping, studying not only the religion itself, but it's historical and cultural setting. That is its very interesting feature.

Not only that, but you have chosen feminism within religion as a specialist topic. That again is intriguing because when one thinks of historical religious figures, many of them are male.

I am presuming you study all kinds of religions, as well as Christianity?

Maybe the unique selling point of this degree, as well, is that you study Hebrew. Is this option offered elsewhere?

As a linguist, I agree that something read in translation can often lose some of its meaning, and power.

I hope you have a wonderful time at Cambridge, studying this amazing subject.

amking
I am presuming you study all kinds of religions, as well as Christianity?
Yes, whilst there are specific Christianity papers e.g. a paper on Christian history, there is also a comparative religion paper too which allows you to compare religions by topic. I think the religion in a contemporary society paper also focuses on a variety of religions too.

Maybe the unique selling point of this degree, as well, is that you study Hebrew. Is this option offered elsewhere?
Languages were offered at the other universities I applied to but they weren't compulsory. Although I was initially unsure about this, I now think it's very beneficial to the study of religion. The languages on offer are New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Qur'anic Arabic and Sanskrit, although most people do Greek or Hebrew.
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mintonl
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I am hoping to study this course at Cambridge (will be applying this year) and am doing the same subjects for A-Level as you so this was really useful, thank you!
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amking
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(Original post by mintonl)
I am hoping to study this course at Cambridge (will be applying this year) and am doing the same subjects for A-Level as you so this was really useful, thank you!
Feel free to direct message me if you have any more specific questions!
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justjas33
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This was so interesting to read - thank you so much! I don’t suppose there’s a Cambridge Demystified in the works for the Philosophy course? No worries if not obviously!
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by justjas33)
This was so interesting to read - thank you so much! I don’t suppose there’s a Cambridge Demystified in the works for the Philosophy course? No worries if not obviously!
I have asked Cambridge offer holders to send as many chapters as they can. My ultimate aim is to get chapters for each and every subject, to help future students. I have not got a chapter for Philosophy yet. It's hard to get hold of current students at this time. Let's not forget that most Oxbridge students are revising hard for finals etc. Last week it was collections (tests) at Oxford. I will try making a final appeal in the summer, when students will have more free time. Otherwise unless I get a chapter offer, I will have to wait until next year to make a further appeal.
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justjas33
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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
I have asked Cambridge offer holders to send as many chapters as they can. My ultimate aim is to get chapters for each and every subject, to help future students. I have not got a chapter for Philosophy yet. It's hard to get hold of current students at this time. Let's not forget that most Oxbridge students are revising hard for finals etc. Last week it was collections (tests) at Oxford. I will try making a final appeal in the summer, when students will have more free time. Otherwise unless I get a chapter offer, I will have to wait until next year to make a further appeal.
Ah okay. Like I said no worries in the slightest what you and the students are doing to help us isn’t compulsory after all, you’re all just being kind in going the extra mile to help us out! Plus I know philosophy isn’t the most populated course compared to medicine or history for example.
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(Original post by justjas33)
Ah okay. Like I said no worries in the slightest what you and the students are doing to help us isn’t compulsory after all, you’re all just being kind in going the extra mile to help us out! Plus I know philosophy isn’t the most populated course compared to medicine or history for example.
You are correct, and this is why it's soooo difficult to get hold of these chapters about rarer subjects. What I am basically doing is making a note of all the Oxbridge offer holders and sending out an appeal thread, tagging all the offer holders in. If there are fewer philosophers on TSR, there will be fewer chances to get a chapter. Hopefully I may get more joy from current students in the summer, however some students, once at Oxbridge, may choose not to be on TSR any longer. Will keep trying, as I know exactly what it means to you, and to others. Even the chapter writers themselves have said they wish this resource had been around when they were applying!
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Actually, I wonder if these chapters can help (from the Oxford demystified book). They are both philosophy chapters:

PPE (philosophy, politics and economics)

https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=6436380

Maths and Philosophy

https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho...8#post88086758

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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
You are correct, and this is why it's soooo difficult to get hold of these chapters about rarer subjects. What I am basically doing is making a note of all the Oxbridge offer holders and sending out an appeal thread, tagging all the offer holders in. If there are fewer philosophers on TSR, there will be fewer chances to get a chapter. Hopefully I may get more joy from current students in the summer, however some students, once at Oxbridge, may choose not to be on TSR any longer. Will keep trying, as I know exactly what it means to you, and to others. Even the chapter writers themselves have said they wish this resource had been around when they were applying!
Thank you so much, I really really appreciate it hopefully this summer you find some willing students! But TSR is amazing, I seriously doubt I would have even thought about even considering Cambridge if it weren’t for how kind and helpful everyone is.
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justjas33
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[QUOTE=Oxford Mum;88581568]Actually, I wonder if these chapters can help (from the Oxford demystified book). They are both philosophy chapters:

PPE (philosophy, politics and economics)

https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=6436380

Maths and Philosophy

[url]https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=6438818

Ooh I’ll have a look - thank you!
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Oxford Mum
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Yes I agree about the Oxbridge students being really lovely. That is what I have found when I went to Oxford and met my sons’ friends. This is why the rumours about Oxbridge students being arrogant, upper class idiots are so hurtful and untrue.
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justjas33
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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
Yes I agree about the Oxbridge students being really lovely. That is what I have found when I went to Oxford and met my sons’ friends. This is why the rumours about Oxbridge students being arrogant, upper class idiots are so hurtful and untrue.
100%! I couldn’t disagree more with the rumours. It’s probably generated from the past, I’m just glad it’s fading away now. If anything I admire Oxbridge students and look up to them in awe, wondering how in the world they made it there😂 I’d love to be one of them...miracles can happen! I suppose!
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(Original post by justjas33)
100%! I couldn’t disagree more with the rumours. It’s probably generated from the past, I’m just glad it’s fading away now. If anything I admire Oxbridge students and look up to them in awe, wondering how in the world they made it there😂 I’d love to be one of them...miracles can happen! I suppose!
If you have any more questions about the Theology course (if you're deciding between that and Philosophy) or about Cambridge in general please feel free to direct message me and I'll try my best to answer!
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(Original post by amking)
If you have any more questions about the Theology course (if you're deciding between that and Philosophy) or about Cambridge in general please feel free to direct message me and I'll try my best to answer!
Ah thank you so much! I actually do have a couple of questions😅
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