Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion: Tips & Questions for Interview

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Unsure what to expect in your Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interview at Cambridge? Don’t worry! We have spoken to top performing candidates to get their unique insights to help you smash the interview!

Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion Cambridge
Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge may seem daunting at first, but this article contains key bits of advice to help guide you!

What is the Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interview structure?

Candidates typically have around 2-3 interviewers of 20-35 minutes in length, held over a couple of days. Importantly, some candidates had been pooled to another college for more interviews, and have reported up to 4 x 40 minute interviews over 4 days! Interviews take place in December.

Cambridge interviews
Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interviews may be held virtually

Example Past Questions from Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interviews

General questions:

  • Why do you want to study Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge?
  • Questions on why I talked about X in personal statement 
  • What is it about Theology and Religion that most excites you?
  • What skills would make you suited to be a successful student at Cambridge?
  • Why this college?
  • What have you learnt in school that is relevant to the Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion course ?
  • Why Cambridge University?
  • What can you contribute to college life?
  • Discussion on my EPQ topic (if done)
  • What did you do in your gap year?
  • Discussion of my future plans for study and career
  • Why should we give you an offer to study Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion?
  • Summarise a book mentioned in my personal statement and my opinion of it
Free Oxbridge Interview Scenarios

    Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interview questions:

    • “A lot of the questions we discussed were tailored to things I mentioned in my personal statement”
    • I had a text to interpret, and had 20 minutes to prepare before having a discussion 
    • The interviewers asked me what I had learnt about the subject in school 
    • Questions centred around religion as a construct
    • “Do the Gods command it because it is great, or is it great because the Gods command it?”
    • “Does religion have value regardless of if there is a God?”
    • “Which arguments for the existence of God are most convincing?”
    • “Why do people pray in times of hardship?”
    • “What is the difference between the study of Theology and the study of Religion?”
    • “How many different religions are there in the world?”
    • “Because there are hundreds, if not thousands of religions in the world, not all of them can be correct. Because most of them must be false, does this undermine someone’s religious beliefs?”
    • I had to translate a couple of sentences into a language I was not familiar with
    • We discussed supersessionism, aesthetics, music, war and ethics. A very interesting discussion! The interview was very free-flowing, and I was able to talk about many topics I was interested in.
    • Since I studied Latin A-Level we focused a bit on this, such as the merits of reading translations vs the original
    • We discussed the overlap between religion and politics, later focusing on Virtue Ethics
    • Whilst my first two interviews seemed very “standard”, the final interview threw me off. I had a surprise reading which was taped to the door on an obscure piece of literature, and discussed this area (linked to Ethics).
    • “Why do religions exist?”

    What happens on the day of my Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interview?

    Candidates reported two common elements in their interviews. Firstly, a broad discussion on their motivations for studying the subject (such as what background reading they did, or a discussion on their personal statement). Secondly, a more focused discussion on a specific question/statement/extract.

    Discussion on Extract

    Firstly, many candidates had an in-depth discussion on a specific statement or extract, with lots of follow-up questions (such as “okay, fair answer… what about this perspective”). Do not be afraid to take a step back to gather your thoughts, and focus on talking through your thought process with the interviewer!

    Personal Statement

    Second, another common aspect is the focus on the candidate’s personal statement, with an in-depth discussion on any books or references the candidate has mentioned, or a discussion on school material that relates to the course. The interviewers are often genuinely interested in you and want to know more about your motivations and which aspects of Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion you find most exciting, so try not to worry!

    College-Specific Tests

    Some students also have a test alongside their interviews. This often includes watching 10-15 minute pre-recorded lectures and then answering questions about it afterwards. The lecture is often on a topic the candidate is unfamiliar with, and the test is fairly time-pressured. 

    Candidates have reported that practice has helped with this – such as watching lectures/talks/podcasts before having to summarise and write a short essay about different aspects of the lecture.

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    What do you have to bring to your interview?

    Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in! Whether this is a suit or gym clothes. I opted for more casual clothing to make me feel more comfortable, and my tutor did the same!

    I had a pen and paper handy to make any notes through the interview, and I had documents and images over screen share during the interview. 

    When are interviews held?

    According to Cambridge University, interviews typically take place during the first three weeks of December, with a small number of candidates interviewing in January. Most candidates are interviewed over a period of 2-3 days, but if you get pooled for another round of interviews then this period could be even longer.

    Tutors then make a decision based on the performance of the applications, and the university send out offers in mid January.

    What are the Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interviewers like?

    The interview felt more like a collaborative conversation than a typical interview. Instead of them constantly asking me questions and moving on, we bounced ideas off each other and debated our different perspectives – it felt like two people just discussing a subject we are interested in.

    Because Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion is more of a niche subject, the interviewers often just want to get to know you more as a person, and learn about your reasons for applying to the course. When I first joined the call I was very anxious and my heart was pounding, but once we started talking, I felt a lot more at ease! 

    It honestly felt like a fairly informal conversation talking about our interests. It was also very exciting having the opportunity to talk and discussing this with a leading academic in the field!

    Cambridge course study
    Students reading Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge will typically have 2 tutorials a week with 0-3 other students and a tutor

    Cambridge Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion interview tips

    1. Relax as much as possible before the interview. Do not cram revision the night before, instead make sure you are well rested and ready to smash the interview on the day.
    2. Double check you have everything ready before the interview starts – checking all electronics (and making sure it is charged!), and bringing anything else you may need for the interview (water, pen, paper etc).
    3. Be confident! The fact that you have been invited shows you are a top student – remind yourself of this and back yourself going into the interview!
    4. Try to stay calm! Interviewers will understand if you are nervous, so do not be afraid to take a few seconds to compose yourself and structure your thoughts.
    5. Do not panic if you do not immediately know the answer. Focus on talking out loud, clearly communicating your thought process throughout the interview.  Cambridge University states interviewers want to see how you think and apply your current knowledge, rather than just assessing your final answer – so make sure you show the interview how you logically arrive at an answer step-by-step!

    Bonus Tips!

    1. Mock interviews help! Thinking through a question in your head feels very different to talking through a question with someone else, so many candidates find mock interviews helpful! This does not just have to be with a teacher – parents and friends can help by asking you random questions from a pre-prepared list!
    2. Show your passion for their subject! Your interviewer could be your tutor every week for the next three years – so make a good impression outside of academics: be engaged, enthusiastic and friendly!
    3. Read around your subject. Tutors are looking for candidates with a genuine enthusiasm and passion for the subject, and a great way to show this is by doing extra reading! For example, reading different articles or books, or looking at online seminars, YouTube videos or podcasts can be helpful.
    4. Know your personal statement and EPQ (if applicable)! Many tutors will want to know more about your interest in the subject outside of the classroom, and this could involve asking questions on extra-readings you have mentioned in your personal statement. Make sure you are comfortable talking in detail about anything you have mentioned!
    5. Enjoy the experience! Being invited to an interview is an achievement in itself, and see this as an opportunity to discuss your interest with leading academics in the field!
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