MA/Diploma/Certificate Religion, Politics and Society

Since the 1990s, religious issues have assumed a growing importance in global, national and regional institutions and policy processes.

This was dramatically highlighted by the attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the abortive attack that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (possibly heading for the White House) on September 11, 2001, and the events that have followed since. 

This programme examines the major themes around the role of religion in politics and international relations in the contemporary world and allows you to research the role of religion in society and politics, looking at both domestic and transnational contexts. It explores the theoretical, conceptual and methodological approaches to the subject by focusing on the relationship between organised religions and the nation-state, as well as the global processes that promote religious conflict and conflict resolution. 

This programme is ideal for current and aspiring policymakers and analysts in international, national and regional institutions engaged in management of conflict, diversity, inter-religious relations and community development.

The programme allows you to research the role of religion in society and politics, and its important role in public policy dimensions and significant potential for impact and intervention in the public sphere.

It will also focus on the public roles of religious communities and individuals, particularly in liberal pluralist societies, and considers theoretical issues such as:

  • The relationship of religion and religious bodies to public spaces, institutions and events
  • Theological responses to public issues
  • The place of religion in public policy

There will be particular attention paid to the UK and European contexts, as well as offering the opportunity for exploring these issues in other national contexts and transnationally.

All students will take two core modules:

  • Religion in Contemporary Global Politics I
  • Religion in Contemporary Global Politics II

MA and Diploma students will also study a core module in Research Methods.

If you are studying for the Certificate, you will choose one optional module, while MA and Diploma students will choose three optional modules. MA students will complete their programme with a 15,000-word dissertation, or a placement-based dissertation.

Why study this course

  1. Taught by experts – you will study alongside some of the finest minds in Theology and Religion. We are ranked second among all Theology departments in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework 2014.
  2. Be a part of exciting department – you will be exposed to a variety of opportunities to enhance your student experience, including regular coffee mornings for staff and students, visiting speakers, lecture series and social events.
  3. Flexibility – the wide range of modules on offer allows you to both identify and explore your specific interests.
  4. Small classes – teaching on the Masters-level modules involve mainly small-group seminars allowing you to really get to grips with the learning material.
  5. Access to a wide range of services – as a postgraduate student you will have access to services such as the Academic Writing Advisory Service and the Bank of Assessed Work. You will be supported throughout your time at Birmingham – if that be aiding your transition from undergraduate to postgraduate level, or back into academia after a time away and making sure you develop as an academic writer. 


You will study two core modules:

Religion in Contemporary Global Politics I

This module focuses on theoretical and conceptual debates about the role of religion in contemporary global politics. Traditionally, the study of political science and international relations has framed the understanding of religion within the context of secularisation and the nation-state. This interpretation is being increasingly contested by the impact of globalisation and the rise of anti-secular movements. The module will critically examine the secularisation thesis as applied to the ‘West’ (developed countries) and the ‘East’ (underdeveloped countries) and evaluate the impact of globalisation on collective religious identities. Following an introduction to the theoretical perspectives the course will focus on three particular themes: religious nationalism; religious identities and mobilisation; and religious transnationalism. The module concludes by reflecting on the wider implications for the study of politics and international relations of organised religious movements today.

Religion in Contemporary Global Politics II

This module examines the public policy responses to the global religious revival since 1989. Although traditionally organised religions have been viewed as the source of intractable political conflicts, in the last decade there has been an increasing recognition of the need to manage religious differences and to utilise religious resources for conflict resolution. Theoretically and conceptually this departure is anchored in the inter-related debates on multiculturalism, pluralism and the need for religious dialogue among the world’s great religions. Following an examination of these debates and the assumptions underpinning them, the module will evaluate policy response in three contexts: the United Nations system; transnational organisations; and national and local public policy agendas. The module concludes by reflecting critically on the achievements and the limitations of integrating organised religions into public policy implementation.  

MA and Diploma students will also study a core module in Research Methods:

Research Methods

This module consists of ten discipline-specific sessions taught by members of the School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion. Topics that will be addressed include some or all of the following: conducting empirical research; reading in theology; research skills; dissertation planning; textual studies; and historical research.

Certificate students will choose one optional module, while MA and Diploma students will choose three optional modules.

Options available within Theology and Religion include - 

Feminism in the Muslim World
The course explores the development of feminism in the Muslim world, in particular the feminist movements active in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Iran, considering the aims and objectives and methodologies of these movements.  Different perspectives and ideological narratives and discourses are explored, such as Muslim secular feminism and the development of Islamic feminism. Particular feminist writers and scholars are critically evaluated within these movements, such as Nawal Al-Sadawi, Fatimah Mernissi and Amina Wadud. The impact of feminism on Muslim societies is explored and evaluated during the course.   

Political Islam
The course is a detailed study and critique of the rise and development of political Islam or Islamism in the Muslim world and beyond. As such, it critically examines and evaluates the origins, roots, theory and history of Islamism. The course assesses the impact and effects of this trend on contemporary Muslim thought. Also, it investigates the causes that have led to the emergence of political Islam, its nature, agendas and role in domestic, regional and international politics. Special emphasis will be placed on the distinction between the worldviews of radical Islamism and moderate Islam. The course will be approached from three angles: governments and their Islamic oppositions, Islamism in power, and the global aspect of political Islam. 

Problems of Religious Diversity
This module aims to focus on a range of key perspectives and models on inter-religious engagement taken from selected theologians/philosophers, thinkers from different world religions and some non-religious perspectives. There will be an evaluative overview of the structure of the presuppositions and worldviews underlying the various responses to religious diversity. Attention will be given to discussing the theology and philosophy of religions, models of dialogue, and contemporary issues facing the future of religion and dialogue.

Sikh Perspectives on Interreligious Relations
This module will begin by looking at key concepts within Sikhism: God, Guru, Gender Equality, Salvation and Liberation. These concepts will be considered in relation to attitudes to other religions and, what might be called ‘alien contexts’. There will be a special concentration on Sikhism in diasporic contexts, particularly in the British context.

You can also choose up to two of your options from modules available in other Departments:

Department of History - 

America as a World Power
This module reviews the emergence of the United States onto the world stage and the impact it has exerted through case studies of crises such as the American Civil War, the world wars, the Cold War and the War on Terror. The underpinning causes of American intervention, the foundations of American power, the beliefs associated with intervention abroad and the nature of American power will also be discussed 

Globalisation Since 1945
This module examines various aspects of global history in the second half of the twentieth century. It takes its cue from a growing literature which sees ‘globalisation’ as a key feature of global history over the last half century. It will explore key areas in the process of globalisation: the creation of international institutions of truly global reach after the Second World War, in particular those connected to the United Nations and Bretton Woods; decolonisation, and the subsequent globalisation of the nation-state as the standard state form within a new world order, and of new conceptions of state ‘technopolitics’ to go with it; the global political, military, and cultural confrontation of the Cold War; the international political economy of oil; the global politics of the environment and of population control; and the global spread of a universalising discourse of human rights.

Making Sense of the World: Themes in Global History
This module will be split into two parts: ‘Understanding the Past’ and ‘Past Understandings’. The former deals with key issues in global history, such as: the formation of the world’s geography at the macro-level of continents; periodisation and the issues of how to distinguish between historical periods on such a grand scale; the creation of border regions; and the importance of the environment in human history. The second section will explore different ways in which past peoples have understood the global world. This will examine the importance of religion, debates about the status of indigenous knowledge and finish with an in-depth look at a key text bringing together many of the themes of the course, Amitav Ghosh’s In An Antique Land

Department of Philosophy - 

This module introduces you to the increasing number of dilemmas in bioethics that cross national boundaries and transcend domestic regulation. Bioethical dilemmas, whether arising from scientific and technological developments or from the research practices of pharmaceutical companies, raise issues which cannot be effectively addressed at national or regional levels. Bioethics clearly calls for global solutions to what are global dilemmas and you will be introduced to some of the key bioethical issues which arise in the contemporary global context.

Global Ethics I
This module aims to introduce you to key concepts and debates in global ethics. First, we will explore several prominent traditions in ethical theory; next we will apply these normative ethical theories to concrete ethical questions. In investigating these theories and applications, you will be encouraged to question your presumptions about the nature of ethics and moral values. The module also develops critical reasoning and argumentative skills through philosophical discussion and writing. The theoretical tools of analysis and argument can be applied in all aspects of global ethics. 

Global Ethics II
This module develops your understanding of key global ethical issues, in particular human rights, poverty, distributive justice, cosmopolitan democracy, governance and humanitarian intervention. 

Human Rights
This module introduces you to the contemporary philosophical debates about human rights. It focuses more on human rights understood as moral rights, rather than as legal rights written in international law. We will begin from the very basic question of what human rights are. We will also consider questions such as ‘What kind of human rights are there?’, ‘Which beings can have human rights?’, 'Are human rights inalienable?', and ‘What happens when human rights conflict?’. The first half of the module focuses on exploring different philosophical justifications for human rights; we will cover justifications based on the dignity of human agency, international politics, and human flourishing. The second half of the module will focus on philosophical debates about the nature of specific human rights - looking first at some general rights, for autonomy, liberty and wellbeing, and then at more concrete rights to life and privacy. We will also consider objections to human rights based on relativist and utilitarian views in ethics.  

Department of Political Science and International Studies - 

As with most academic programmes, please remember that it is possible that a module may not be offered in any particular year. 

Related staff

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2016/17 are as follows:


  • Home / EU: £6,570 full-time; £3,285 part-time
  • Overseas: £14,850 full-time


  • Home / EU: £4,380 full-time; £2,190 part-time
  • Overseas: £14,850 full-time


  • Home / EU: £2,190 full-time or part-time
  • Overseas: £7,425 full-time

For part-time students studying an MA or diploma, the above fee quoted is for year one only and tuition fees will also be payable in year two of your programme.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Scholarships and studentships

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate Funding Database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

You will need an Honours degree, normally of an upper second class standard.

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

As well as the taught modules you take on this programme, the Department of Theology and Religion has a busy programme of research seminars, conferences and workshops which you can attend, so you’ll be able to gain insight from a range of academics and peers from across the department.

You will also become part of, and contribute to, the vibrant international community of the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, which offers dedicated research resources and a supportive working environment. Our team of academic and operational staff are on hand to offer support and advice to all postgraduate students within the College.

Support with academic writing

As a postgraduate student in the College of Arts and Law, you have access to the Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) which aims to help your transition from undergraduate to taught Masters level, or back into academia after time away. The service offers guidance on writing assignments and dissertations for your MA/MSc programme with individual support from an academic writing advisor via tutorials, email and the provision of online materials.

International students can access support for English Language development and skills through the Birmingham International Academy (BIA).

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

University of the Year for employability

Birmingham’s Theology graduates develop a broad range of transferable skills including: familiarity with research methods; the ability to manage large quantities of information from diverse sources; the ability to organise information in a logical and coherent manner; the expertise to write clearly and concisely and to tight deadlines; critical and analytical ability; the capacity for argument, debate and speculation; and the ability to base conclusions on statistical research.

Over the past five years, over 92% of our postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Many of our graduates go into careers in churches of various denominations. For those in further study, teacher training courses remain a popular choice. Other students use their transferable skills in a range of employment sectors, including local government, education and charities. Employers that our graduates have gone on to work for include: British Council; Church of England; Institute of Education; International Greek New Testament Project; Quaker Homeless Action; Queens Ecumenical Theological College; and University of Birmingham.

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In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


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