This section will address how to select which program you should attend.
MOTIVATIONS FOR DEGREE
Theology is an “ancient intellectual discipline” with large socio-political and cultural significance in the world today (Oxford). If you are interested in gaining insight into religious traditions, where those traditions stem from, and the cultural and social significance of these traditions, you should consider pursuing the subject in your undergraduate years.
Revd. Dr. Stephen Cherry (Director of Studies in Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion at King’s College, Cambridge) says “if you are [fascinated by] questions like: why are we here; can we say anything meaningful about God -- and if so, what and how; to what extent are religions similar or different; what is the importance of scriptures in different religions [or just in a single religion] and how are they best interpreted; what has been the impact of great religions on the development of culture across the world”, or you want to find out more about justice and equality through the lens of religion and religious traditions, then you may quite enjoy Theology.
He also goes on to say that students should consider studying the subject because it is “fascinating, fun and important”: fascinating because it allows students to learn about several different beliefs (“theology is fascinating merely at the human level; it is extraordinary that people hold such different convictions and yet get on really well[...]and very odd that people can hold very similar views and yet get into serious conflict”); fun because “it is one of the most interdisciplinary of subjects”; and important because of our history -- and how secularization and other anti-religious thought came about in the world.
As a student of Theology, you will be required to tackle a number of philosophical ideas and will need to act as a “historian and a philosopher, a textual and literary critic and a linguist” (Cherry). It is a very interdisciplinary subject: to study it wholly and comprehensively, you will need to engage with other subjects--philosophy, anthropology, sociology, literature and linguistics, history, psychology, etc.
Skills you will gain
Some of the skills you can expect to gain through this degree are listed below:
- Academic research and writing skills,
- The ability to express yourself in a clear and concise manner
- The ability to discuss difficult issues in a calm manner
- Empathy and compassion
- Subject-specific knowledge
What will you study?
You can expect to study a variety of things in this degree, from analyzing religious texts to discussing contemporary global politics. You can also expect to learn about how religion contributes to and impacts society today. Most universities will offer courses that include studying different faiths like Christianity, Judaism and Islam (most British universities make the study of Abrahamic religions compulsory. You can choose to study other religions through optional modules). You can also expect to learn more about religious diversity and important historical events like the Holocaust. For more information on course modules and studying religious studies/theology at university, please go through this Which? University resource.
Do students need to belong to a particular religion to pursue a degree in this field?
No, you do not need to belong to a particular religious faith to study this degree. You just need to have a strong interest in learning about different faiths, particularly Christianity. It is essential, however, that students are open-minded and respectful towards other faiths. Discussion and debate will be an integral part of your seminars and the overall learning process. Students who are not comfortable with their views being respectfully challenged may struggle during the study (Oxford Royale).
According to UK based sources, students typically work in non-governmental organizations, education, religion, or government after completing their degree. Because of the wide range of transferable skills that can be gained through this degree, some graduates decide to venture into unrelated careers like banking, business, charities, law and the media. Please note this information has been taken from UK sources. Opportunities in Pakistan may not be the same. It is recommended that you connect with your religious studies teachers/other experts/Pakistani alumni (if any) of the programs you are interested in applying to and learn more about what you can do here after completing an undergraduate degree in Theology.
Some students also choose to go for a Master’s degree or a doctorate after they complete their study. So you also have that option available to you, after finishing your undergraduate degree.
TYPES OF DEGREE
In a nutshell, the following degrees + sub-fields/ specializations are available for Theology:
- Bachelor of Arts (BA)
- Bachelor of Theology (BTh)
Some universities may categorize their courses into single honors programs and joint honors programs. Some universities may also offer a study-abroad option alongside the degree.
- BA Theology and Film Studies
- BA Classical and Theological Studies
- BA Theology with a foreign language
- BA Religion and Politics/Society/Culture
- BA Philosophy and Theology
- BA Religion, Philosophy and Ethics
- BA Theology, Music and Worship (not a common offering in most universities)
How to select the best option for yourself (among degrees/programs within this field)
Most universities will confer BA degrees. Some may choose to confer BTh degrees.
Bachelor of Theology
In some places, a BTh degree is just a 2-year vocational degree. In other places, it is considered a conventional undergraduate degree. BTh degrees may focus on more advanced theological study in some places and is relevant particularly for those students who are interested primarily in Christianity and may want to go into ministry eventually.
It is recommended that you visit your prospective university website to check for any differences between the two degrees before deciding which of the two you want to apply for.
Bachelor of Arts
A BA in Theology is typically a 3-year degree. In Scotland, it may be 4 years in length.
You can choose to study Theology as a Joint Honours degree, meaning you can study another subject in conjunction with Theology. Some of the joint courses offered by universities include Theology and Film Studies, Theology and a foreign language, Theology, and Philosophy, Religion and Politics, Theology and Music, etc.
Theology, as mentioned earlier, is interdisciplinary -- as its student, you will come to recognize that people express their ideas on it through very different mediums. For instance, theology can be attempted to be understood through novels or plays or poetry; it can be understood through works of art (paintings or music of religious communities); and some theologians also try to further their understanding through film. Based on your personal interests, you can decide which program is the best for you. If you are more interested in learning about classical literature and theology, you should opt for a BA in Classical and Theological Studies. If you want to explore theology through film, then you can consider applying for a BA in Theology and Film Studies. “When deciding between different undergraduate degree options, interest is the most significant factor”, says Aurangzeb Haneef (Teaching Fellow, LUMS).
Do note: some universities will have undergraduate courses that are focusing on specific religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) or secularism. If you are more interested in doing a concentrated study in one area of theology, you should apply for such courses. Some university courses may also include very specific modules like the role of one group in religion (e.g. ‘Women in Islam’) or the significance of one religious/historical event (e.g. A Study of the Holocaust). You should apply based on your area of interest.
If you are interested in Theology, you might also like::
How to select the best option for yourself (among allied fields)
If you want a holistic understanding of religion - and how it contributes to the present-day conception of society and civilization, you should consider applying for Theology. You will be able to take a multidisciplinary approach and learn more about the subject through historical, sociological, philosophical and anthropological lenses. However, if you want to focus on a specific kind of study, only anthropology of religion or religious philosophy -- i.e. if you want to study religion through a single lens, then you could explore some of the allied fields listed above. (Note: all of these programs may not provide a sole focus on religion -- it will be an important, but just one component of your overall study).
It is also recommended that you go through the following sources when deciding if you want to pursue a degree in this field:
- God Curious: Asking Eternal Questions (a book by Revd. Dr. Stephen Cherry for prospective students of Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion)
- In case you cannot find the book, you can go over extracts from the book:
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on program selection (under the tab of ‘selection’).
A lot of our tips talk about how you can strengthen your application, but you can build a stronger application when you’ve done the things this program values in the years prior to the application. The application itself is the communication part (in which you communicate what you've done to the admission committee); but this section gives guidance on the substance part (what you can actually do before you apply). In this section we talk about what you can do in the years leading up to applying that can make you an ideal candidate. Supplement the following tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘Pre-Application’) to become a competitive applicant.
Students who have studied Humanities, English or even STEM subjects have a chance of gaining admission into Theology courses; they just have to make a convincing case about why they want to pursue this degree, says Aurangzeb Haneef (Teaching Fellow, LUMS).
Studying Religious Studies in senior secondary school will give your application an edge, but even if you have not taken studied such subjects, you can still submit a strong application (Haneef). Prior engagement with the Humanities (like Literature, Philosophy, History, Anthropology or Sociology) will also help your overall application.
Note: there may be some subject combinations that certain universities advise against. Make sure you go through your prospective course website to check out the specific requirements.
Your transcript will be one of the most important components of your application. Typically, you will be required to have As and Bs in your A-level exams: the specific combination of grades will vary by course. The most competitive universities may require at least 1 A* and As; middle-tier universities will usually require a combination of As and Bs, and less competitive schools will accept lower grades. It is crucial that your predicted grades are at the required level, otherwise, your chances of getting a conditional offer may decrease. The strictness of the conditional offers depends on the university: some universities may accommodate candidates who have a grade below the conditional offer, but some may not -- so it is best to consistently aim for high grades.
If you are doing IB, you will typically be required to achieve 32-35 points for middle-ranked universities. Higher-ranked universities will typically require 36-42 points.
Some universities may not accept other qualifications like the HSSC. If you have this qualification, you should first check your university-specific website or contact the admissions department to find out whether it will be accepted or not. In the situation that it is not accepted, you should find out if you are eligible for a foundation year (this is an additional year of introductory study after you complete this year, you can go to the Bachelor’s program through the regular track). Please go through the UK country profile for more information on this.
Some universities even go on to say that applicants are scored and ranked based on their academic records. Bristol University, for instance, says they give the following weightage to grades received in O-Level years (30 percent) and achieved/predicted A-Level grades (70 percent). You should definitely visit your prospective university website to find out what the exact admission criteria is for it.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on transcripts (under the tab of ‘transcripts’).
Even if you do not have too much experience studying Theology or Philosophy in your final years of secondary school, you can supplement your knowledge by reading articles or books on your areas of interest in this particular field. Some schools also give an introductory reading list for prospective/new students -- it is recommended that you go through some of those books and journals, and advance your understanding of the discipline. Not only will that help you realize which areas you want to specialize in, but it will also be something worth mentioning in your personal statement and interview. Talking about a specific work of literature and how it piqued your interest or inspired you to apply to a particular course will make you come across as a more informed applicant.
Although this is not required by universities per se, you can try to find NGOs (that are working for religious minorities, or other similar causes) that require volunteers: not only does it give you a unique experience to add to your application, it can also give you the opportunity to network -- and find out what sort of projects are being done in this field.
If you develop a specific interest as a result of some volunteer work, you can go on to mention it in your personal statement. Such ideas would appeal to the admissions committee and could improve your chances of admission.
This section provides an overview of general guidelines pertaining to the application process. It also delineates the key components of the application process.
Most admissions committees will be looking for three main things in your application: a high-quality academic record (the more competitive the university, the higher your grades must be); the ability to construct an argument and communicate your ideas clearly (this can be displayed through any written work or your personal statement), and concrete academic reasons for wishing to study Theology and Religion. Since this is a degree that is reading and writing-intensive, you will be expected to have a good command over English, so you should try to display that throughout your application.
Is this component required?
How important is this component (in the overall review of the application for admission)?
Standardized tests or entry exams
May be required
Transcripts (past academic records)
Letters of recommendation
Resume or CV
May be required
Important when required
Required by some universities
Important when required
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on overview (under the tab of ‘overview’).
Pakistani applicants suffer most because of inadequate information -- or wrong information -- about essays and personal statements. This section will address those inadequacies specifically in relation to applying for this program. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘essay’) to craft a stellar personal statement.
You will be required to submit one personal statement to the 5 universities you are applying to via UCAS. In your essay, you will need to display your enthusiasm for and knowledge of the subject in just 4000 characters -- meaning you will have to be economical and to-the-point in your writing.
In some universities, academic records are prioritized over personal statements, i.e. transcripts are evaluated first. For instance, if two applicants have very similar academic profiles, then the committee refers to each applicant’s personal statement and references to differentiate between them. In other universities, the personal statement is evaluated at the same time as all other components.
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD STATEMENTS
What is essential in the statement:
- You need to communicate the following to the reader: why do you wish to study Theology, what experiences (academic or personal) have led you to this decision, and how this particular program/study will help you achieve your academic goals.
- Since this is a humanities-based degree (which will involve a fair amount of argumentative and coherent writing), you will need to display sound writing skills in your statement.
What are some elements of exceptional statements:
- Insightful commentary on books or articles that you have read (especially those outside your school reading) will be viewed favourably by the admissions committee. If you can show to the committee that you took out the time to read up on something that interested you, understood it thoroughly and decided to take it up further in your undergraduate, you will come across as a strong applicant.
- You can also include comments on classes or specific lectures you have attended that have interested you.
What are bad statements/ what things to avoid:
- Do not make things up in your essay--be honest about your experiences and how they have inspired you to apply for this program.
- Avoid trying to impress the admissions committees by using big words: use clear sentence structure. Admissions committees want to get through the applications smoothly; they do not want to spend time trying to understanding what you are writing about. Keep your language simple and effective. Write about your temperament, how you think and your future goals. (The same is applicable to letters of recommendation.)
- While mentioning your extra-curricular activities is a good idea, you should not dedicate half of your statement to it (unless they are directly relevant to Religious Studies or the strand you are applying to). You should only dedicate a few lines to general extracurriculars, and focus more on the subject you want to pursue.
How can applicants manage the process of writing?
Even if you have revised your statement several times, it is vital that you have someone else review it for you (whether that be a teacher, a friend, a family member, etc.). First-time readers will be able to identify gaps in your statement more easily. Ask them if your essay flows well, conveys your passion for the discipline, and speaks to your academic ability.
This section will cover the basics about recommendation letters, which are one of the most important parts of the application process. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘recommendations’) to ensure you have strong letters of recommendation.
You will be required to submit 1 letter of recommendation when applying for a degree in this field. Your reference should ideally know you academically, and should be able to speak to your work ethic, how you interact with other students, and your ability to fare well in university (in a Theology course). Keeping this in mind, you should try to request your high school (A-level, FSc, IB) Religious Studies/Philosophy/Sociology/Literature teacher to write you a recommendation letter.
- Before requesting your recommenders for LoR, go over the following links carefully:
This section will cover everything else related to the application process; including transcripts, interviews, resumes, and standardized tests.
You may be required to submit a sample of your written work either in Religious Studies or in a related area (related areas would typically include all or most Humanities subjects like History or English). Your sample should always conform to the stated guidelines: it should not exceed the specified length, and should be your work. Admissions committees will evaluate your sample to see how succinctly you can write.
Please check your prospective university websites to see if this is a requirement for you.
Universities that offer undergraduate degrees in Theology will typically do one of the following:
- Have interviews for all or shortlisted candidates;
- Have interviews only in exceptional circumstances (applicants are not routinely interviewed);
- Have no interviews and make admission decisions based solely on your written application.
To find out which of the above-mentioned procedures your prospective course follows, please visit the course website. If interviews do take place, please make sure you follow the stated guidelines on the university website and go through the general interview tips on our website. Generally you should make sure you know your personal statement inside out (you may be asked to talk about the books/literature you have mentioned in your statement - if applicable).
You should also try to find out how interviews are conducted (is there an option of having an online interview in case an applicant cannot physically attend the interview?).
Generally, in these interviews, you will have a greater chance to speak more about your ‘fit’, i.e. why this university is the right university for you -- how the course is relevant to your declared interests and aspirations.
Although specific interview expectations will vary by university, you will most likely be expected to display the following characteristics in each interview:
- An ability to think clearly, and formulate sound arguments
- An ability to listen and respond to counter arguments
- Enthusiasm and interest in the specific course you are applying for
- Good communication skills
- Willingness to learn
Some interviews may also involve some kind of written assessment. Make sure you are adequately prepared for those by going through your course website in advance.
Some universities may ask you to submit a resume. If your university requires this, please follow the instructions given.
As an international applicant, you will be required to take English language proficiency tests. Most universities will allow you to choose between the TOEFL and IELTS -- websites will also state the minimum score you require (in individual reading, writing, speaking and listening components; and overall) to be considered for admission.
It is advised that you take the test well before your application deadline, to ensure that your score is sent to your prospective university at the required time. For more information about your course, you should visit the course-specific website.
Some courses at certain universities (Cambridge and Oxford usually) may require applicants to take admission tests. If you are asked to take a test, make sure you are well-prepared as it will be fundamental to your selection. For more specific information, visit the university-specific websites.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on preparing for standardized tests (under the tab of ‘tests’).
This section will cover approximate costs of the program and provide information of resources that may help with funding. Complement the following field-specific tips with general tips on finances (under the tab of ‘finances’).
TIPS ON FUNDING OPTIONS
- The UK has limited bursaries and scholarships available for international students. It is recommended that you look into program-specific or year-end scholarships: aspiring students should “target trusts and foundations -- and keep an eye for their application cycles and processes” (Haneef).
- Most programs would require self-financing -- so keep this in mind when applying.
These tips were compiled with the valuable help of SHAHEEN volunteers. The contributors to this tip-sheet include the following people:
We thank our volunteers for their contribution, and hope their tips and advice help you in your application.
The following sources were also consulted in developing this tip-sheet: Why study theology?, Further reading for Theology, The Independent, Times Higher Education, My HE+, Oxford Royale, Which? University, Prospects, The Complete University Guide