Most students take five papers in first year and four after that. In first year one of your papers must be a scriptural language (Greek, Hebrew, Arabic or Sanskrit). For many this sounds horrifically intimidating but the department do take into account that not everyone is a natural linguist and give you plenty of guidance – as long as you put in some hours to learn your grammar and some vocab you’ll be fine!
How the course is taught
As a theology undergraduate you will be expected to do between one and two essays a week, each based around a reading list given to you by your supervisor. The essay may not always correspond with what you’re covering in lectures so you may end up having to teach yourself a new topic from scratch - don’t worry, everyone is completely baffled when they get their first essay title, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. It’s also easy to be dismayed when you receive a reading list with 10+ books on it, but you’ll usually only need to read a few chapters in each and can be selective about which books you choose to use. It isn't really possible to say how many hours you’ll spend working on your essays each week as it all depends on how much you’re willing to do. No-one will check up on you to see how much work you’re doing, it simply depends on how much effort you want to dedicate to them.
In terms of contact hours, you will have a ’supervision’ (a one/two on one session with an academic) for each essay you do, and you will usually do 5 or 6 essays for each ’paper’ (one of your chosen topics of study, e.g. philosophy). Language papers require you to attend around three hour-long classes a week. For your other papers you will probably have one or two hours of lectures a week, and unlike many Arts subjects, theology lectures do tend to stick directly to the curriculum and are relevant to exams. Later in the year papers may start running ’classes’, round-table discussions where you are expected to chip in with some words of wisdom but which usually end up with everyone avoiding the lecturer’s eye and pretending to furiously take notes. So in summary, a typical week in first year might consist of around 10 contact hours – 2 supervisions, 3 language classes and 5 hours of lectures – paltry to an engineer or scientist, but enough to give your days some structure.
The best part of the theology course is how much choice you get over what you study. In your first year you have to take a language and something biblical (Old or New Testament, or both), but otherwise have free choice from a range of about ten papers (you need five in total). In second and third year the options branch out even more, and you can tailor your degree to your specific interests whether they lie in philosophy, sociology, world religions, religious themes in literature or Christian art and culture. The theology and religious studies course at Cambridge is definitely not just about reading the bible or training to be a minister, so whether you are religious yourself or not, as long as you’re interested in religion and the influence it has had in the history of the world there will be something for you.
Theology at Peterhouse
Most colleges, including Peterhouse, only take one or two students per year for theology. This tends to be a good thing as it means that you get to socialise more with students from other colleges in lectures. You will also have most of your supervisions one to one.. Your director of studies Dr Hampton is very supportive and helpful and he supervises the doctrine papers. There are also two other supervisors within college: Dr Carlton Paget for New Testament and Dr Dumbreck for Philosophy. So depending which papers you choose you may rarely have to leave college for supervisions. The Faculty itself is about a 20 minute walk or 5 minute cycle from college. The main inconvenience is that the Peterhouse library rarely has the books required for your essays (this is probably because of the small number of students and the niche requirements of each essay). Therefore, you will need to go to the University Library or the Faculty to find books – but both are only a 5 minute cycle away. Overall, Peterhouse is an excellent college to study theology. If you want to do the oldest and almost smallest subject at the oldest and smallest college – then Theology at Peterhouse is for you!