Year 1

Compulsory modules: 

Introduction to the Study of Religion A and B (10 credits and 10 credits)

These modules seek to introduce students to a range of questions, theories and methods in the inter-disciplinary study of religion, focusing especially on the social and cultural analysis of religion. A range of contemporary topics will be used to explore how different aspects of religion can be explored as forms of social and cultural experience and practice. Examples of this in module A might include debates about faith schools, women’s leadership in religious institutions, sectarian violence in football, belief in the supernatural. In module B, examples of this  include the ways in which religion and media interact, the place of visual and material culture in religion, the relationship between religion and popular culture, and the nature of religious experience, ritual and sacred space as lived phenomena. An introduction is also offered to wider theories and debates in sociology, cultural studies and anthropology as a basis for the study of religion.

Problems of Philosophy A and B (10 credits and 10 credits)

This module introduces a range of key philosophical problems most of which practically everyone with a philosophical temperament has puzzled over before:

  • Scepticism (how can I know anything at all about the world?);
  • Free will (how can I think and act freely, if all my thoughts and actions are determined by the laws that govern the Universe?) The existence of God (does S/He exist?);
  • Realism vs antirealism (to what extent is reality distinct from how it appears?);
  • The mind/body problem (is the mind just the brain?);
  • Personal identity (what is it about you that makes you the same person as you were years ago?);
  • Utilitarianism vs. Deontology (are actions morally right and wrong ‘in themselves’, or are they so just because of the effects they have on people’s happiness, etc.?);
  • Ethical obligation (how much should we help people much worse-off than ourselves?);
  • Moral relativism (are moral values absolute or do they vary from one culture/person to others?);
  • The requirements of justice (Who should have what?).

The Philosopher's Toolkit A or B (20 credits)

This module will equip you with the tools you need to understand, analyse and respond to different kinds of philosophical argument. In the first half of the module, we will investigate topics such as critical thinking, probability, interdisciplinarity, necessity & analyticity and the nature of explanation. In the second half of the module, it splits into two pathways. Students on one pathway will learn symbolic logic - the formal study of argument, which concentrates on proving things using abstract formulas such as ‘"x[Gx → Fx]’. The other pathway avoids formal proofs, but aims to use ordinary language to introduce students to the logical concepts they will need to understand the more technical philosophy they will encounter later in their degree.

Optional modules may include: 

Truth, Deception and Ethics in Philosophy and Film (20 credits)

This module addresses central issues at the intersection of philosophy, religion and ethics. These include the impact of faith and trust on action, the problem of being deceived (by religious and governmental institutions, or by oneself), the possibility of ethics under conditions of radically incomplete knowledge, and the role of revelation in moral choices. The class is structured around three philosophical texts and four films. These will vary from year to year. Indicative texts are excerpts from Plato's Republic, Descartes' Meditations, Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Indicative films include Twelve Monkeys, Dark City, The Matrix, Memento. The themes explored may include illusion, appearance and reality, perception, deception, memory, trust, and faith - although these may vary from year to year. The themes in the philosophical classic texts will be analysed in the films, and students will produce film reviews that correlate the texts and the films through the themes. The module will incorporate an ‘essay skills’ component, which will include exercises in précis, referencing, structure, first and second drafts, among others. Students will have an opportunity to present drafts or rough cuts for class discussion, which will neither be compulsory, nor summatively assessed.

Introduction to Islam (20 credits)

The module examines Islam both as a religious tradition and also as a political and social reality. In semester 1, the main topics surveyed include: Islamic history in the early and classical period, the Prophet Muhammad and the first Islamic community, the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Hadith, early religious and political developments, Sunni and Shi’i Islam. In semester 2, the main topics surveyed include: Islamic history in the early modern and modern period, women in Islam, Islam in the modern world, radical and militant Islam and particular issues associated with Muslims, such as apostasy and radicalisation.

Political Theologies: Wealth, Race and Gender (20 credits)

This new optional first year module provides students with an opportunity to explore the ways in which theologies have understood the character and meaning of political life, including pressing contemporary issues of wealth, race and gender. Students will gain an understanding of the various ways that politics and political community are conceived theologically, and the ways that critical commentators have identified and responded to concrete threats to community formation from contemporary ideologies. A key question which students will explore is “what builds or destroys communities?” and student learning will include addressing specific issues in order to explore underpinning theoretical concerns in theological political philosophy.

Life After Death: What Happens When We Die? (20 credits)

Life after death is a perennial interest but especially for religious communities. Who doesn’t want to know what happens when they die? And, for many, the whole point of being religious is in order to gain access to heaven. This class will look about the development of ideas about the afterlife in a variety of ancient and modern religions. It will look at how what people think about immortality is reflective of their social and cultural values, legislative and ethical systems, and social hierarchies. Examining what people say about life after death can tell us a great deal about how people respond to crisis and process grief; it reflects how various groups value (or not) gender, disability and race; and can tell us about our own anxieties about who we are and who we want to be.

Reasons to Believe (20 credits)

How should we decide what to believe, and what does it take for our beliefs to constitute knowledge? These questions belong primarily to epistemology, and the module covers some quintessential epistemological topics such as the characterisation of knowledge, scepticism, internalism vs. externalism, coherentism vs. foundationalism, perception, testimony and a priority. Another place to look for insights into knowledge is the philosophy of science, and so the module also includes a cursory introduction to the philosophical theory of scientific methodology.

One important category of beliefs that is especially difficult to understand in traditional epistemological (or philosophy of science) terms is religious beliefs. Some theists propose theoretical arguments for the existence of god; others maintain that religious belief is a matter not of argument but of faith. The module incorporates critical introductions to both of these approaches to religious belief.

Moral and Political Philosophy (20 credits)

One half of this module is mainly concerned with normative ethical theories about what is the right thing to do, and what it is to be a good person. Theories covered in the module are likely to include consequentialist theories including utilitarianism, deontological theories including Kantianism, and virtue-based approaches to ethics. The other half is concerned with the question of political obligation: whether there is such a thing as legitimate state power. This question will be approached by studying some of the major philosophers who have tried to provide a justification for state power, such as Plato, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. It will also look at some critiques of political obligation based on anarchism and/or feminism.