Thursday, July 09, 2015

2015 Religion, Philosophy & Ethics Essay Competition (to win an iPad)

First prize: a new iPad
Three Runners-up receive a £20 Amazon voucher

The Religion, Philosophy and Ethics (RPE) course  is pleased to announce the return of its annual RPE Essay Competition

2014 winner!
The competition is open to all those currently studying for any AS or A2-level examinations (or equivalent) in the UK. The first prize is a new iPad, and there will be three runners-up prizes of £20 Amazon vouchers.

Entries must be no longer than 1500 words including footnotes but excluding references and can take any form e.g. essay, dialogue, etc. All sources must be referenced.

The deadline for the 1500 word essay is 5pm on 29st October 2015 and will be judged by RPE lecturers.

To enter please choose one of the titles below and email your entry to (please note you may only submit one entry to the competition).

Entries must be written in as a Microsoft Word document. Entries will normally be acknowledged within 5 days. In your email, please put your name, the Sixth Form / FE college you attend, and the title you have chosen to answer. The subject of your email should be 'essay competition'.

Choose one of the following titles:

  1. Is atheism a faith?
  2. ‘Without a religious dimension a person cannot be fully moral’. Discuss
  3. Would it ever be possible to develop an Artificial Intelligence/Robot that was capable of love?

Peter Tatchell Lecture, next Thursday: 'Organised Religion: the greatest global threat to human rights?'

[This event has now happened - but you can see the full video of the lecture at]

Next week, on July 16th, Peter Tatchell will lecture on 'Organised Religion: the greatest global threat to human rights?'

Given the complex historical relations between battles for human rights, and the place of both people of faith and religious institutions on either sides of these battles, this promises to be a fascinating talk.

There will also be a Q&A with the speaker, and the chance to engage in debate.

The event is free, but please email to reserve a place.

The event is to start at 7.30pm in TC001 at the FCH Campus (Swindon Road, Cheltenham) of the University.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Discover Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at Gloucestershire at an Open Day!

You can find out more about Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at Gloucestershire online, of course, but the best way to really get a feel for the course and place is at an Open Day

We've got events on:
FCH Campus..

  • Saturday, 27 June 2015 
  • Tuesday, 30 June 2015 
  • Saturday, 03 October 2015 
  • Saturday, 31 October 2015 
  • Saturday, 21 November 2015

Click to magnify..
Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at Gloucestershire was recently rated (by the Guardian 2016 League Table) as among the top 3 courses in the UK the whole 'Religious Studies & Theology' area. 

RPE offers an experience well beyond the exciting and interesting lectures, seminars  workshops and tutorials (that led to our recent 100% National Student Survey Satisfaction score, both for overall satisfaction and for the teaching). 

As well as our international trip (see HERE for a report on this year's Spanish adventures), we offer a wealth of chances for students to deepen their knowledge via first -hand experiences. We recently visited Stonehenge, Avebury, the British Museum, the Swaminaryan Mandir in Neasden, the Malmesbury Philosophy Town event, as well as students having the chance of lots of free tickets for speakers at Cheltenham International Festival of Literature. Closer to home, students regularly attend Gloucestershire Philosophical Society talks (held on campus), have their own debate group, and more. You can browse the archives of this blog to see more recent events.

Find us on Flickr..

Over at Flickr you can see loads of pictures of events, trips, students, and staff:  

At our video blog - you can watch staff and guests in discussion about a range of topics:

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The 2015 Field Trip to Cordoba: A Personal Reflection from Professor Melissa Raphael

Bristol Airport at 5am..

Going to Cordoba this last spring yielded at least two new experiences: my first field trip abroad with the staff and students of the University of Gloucestershire and, on a more personal note, my first trip to the region of Spain my Sephardi Jewish ancestors were expelled from in 1492, travelling on first to Portugal, then Amsterdam and then, in the seventeenth-century, to London, at the invitation of Oliver Cromwell, where the family have remained.

At Medina Azahara, waiting for bus..
The Jewish trace, in Cordoba, is just that.  The Jewish presence-in-absence is yet more elusive than that of Islam or Catholicism, whose monuments, as in most urban topographies of power, occupy the grand central spaces of the city.  If you want Jewish ghosts, you have to turn into the winding alleyways and small squares, and preferably at night.  True, we visited the remains of an exquisite synagogue and a small but vivid museum; I also spotted a restaurant serving traditional Sephardi dishes which, if I could find it again, I'd visit next time.  And there was the famous statue of Maimonides - he wouldn't have approved of it as full-body statues would generally be regarded as contrary to Jewish laws relating to idolatry - which nonetheless situated his work in a very particular historical time and space that had previously felt as abstract as much of his thought.  But, if you're interested in pursuing the Jewish heritage of Cordoba you need to have done some research beforehand and know what you're looking for.   A talk by one of our guides was a great help, but you also need to use your imagination which, in this complex, mysterious city, where the sediment of Jewish history is so rich in achievement and pathos, is not difficult to do. 

Another philosophical debate
But, back in 2015, a pleasure of the trip that I should have anticipated, but didn't, were the impromptu open-air, on-foot religion and philosophy seminars.  This lent fresh meaning to the word 'pedagogy'! - students and staff enjoying theoretical discussions that were more fluid, heated, and perhaps more creative, exchanges than many held in the classroom.  There must have been something in the air...and the unseasonable heat; the golden light and the dramatic shadows cast by perhaps the most spectacular architecture I have ever seen.
Our tour of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

Thanks for making my experience on the trip so rewarding must go to Dave for his meticulous planning and totally unfazed approach to any mishaps - but also to the students: all of them, but especially Ally, Caroline, Kathryne, Tom and Bingying.

[For previous trips see HERE]

Most of the group on top of the Torre de la Calahorra Museum

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

League Table Glory: Religion,Philosophy and Ethics in the 2016 Guardian League Tables..

Having just seen the Guardian 2016 tables. Religious Studies (where RPE is measured - and you can see in the detail that it was the RPE NSS data that helped win  the place) that we are 3rd nationally.

And if you are looking "Religion Philosophy" types courses - who do you imagine pops up top?:

See our National Student Survey Results: HERE

See HERE for more on the Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course at Gloucestershire 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chris Capewell on Camus: Gloucestershire Philosophical Society

This Wednesday (13th May 2015!) - Chris Capewell (an RPE graduate) will speak at Gloucestershire Philosophical Society. His topic is:

Camus: From Absurd Beginnings to Rebellious Ends.

It will be at FCH campus, Cheltenham in TC002a , at 7.30pm - all are welcome!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Lecture: Professor Beverley Clack - Constructing death as a form of failure: addressing mortality in a neo-liberal age.

The Severn Forum

Thursday 21 May 7.45pm
  Constructing death as a form  of failure: addressing mortality in a neo-liberal age

Chair in Philosophy of  Religion, Oxford Brookes University

Lecture Theatre, FC TC 001,
Francis Close Hall
St Paul’s Road
University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham
£3 to the public. Free to members and students 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Avebury and Stonehenge - yet more RPE adventures..

After trips, fairly recently, to London (for the Swaminaryan Mandir and the British Museum) and our Spain Field Visit in March, and recent guest speakers - you'd think RPE students had had enough excitement - but there's always more..

Friday saw us head (with History students too) to Avebury and Stonehenge. Here is a short write-up by one of the History colleagues who joined us, Dr Tim Copeland:

Thirty seven students and three staff visited the prehistoric sites of Avebury and Stonehenge, both in Wiltshire. The aims of this Activity Week event were to explore the past use of these ‘ritual’ monuments in their landscapes and how they have been appropriated in the present by the ‘New Age’ and ‘Heritage’ cults. At Avebury it was possible to wander among the stones in the area contained by the massive earthworks, and indeed walk the full circle around the bank, which provided the necessary contrast with the situation at Stonehenge. There were also fine examples of folk culture to be seen in the tying of ribbons and the deposition of flowers in the trunks and roots of several fine beech trees whose prominent root systems could have come straight out of an illustration from ‘Lord of the Rings’. Finally, it is an ancient tradition to imbibe from Avebury Well which in its modern guise has hops, malt and barley added.
The new interpretive centre at Stonehenge demonstrated the use of Neolithic and Bronze Age landscapes in a very accessible form, but without the mention of the modern ‘Druid’ cult or the political issues surrounding lack of access to the stone circle itself.  With the closure of roads it is now possible to walk to the monument through the ancient landscape and this was experienced by most of the group, returning on the new shuttle bus. Another  interesting area for study was the gift shop with its wide range of ‘Stonehenge Merchandise’ ranging from the academic to the gimmicky, with fridge magnets and chocolate megaliths being favoured by some of the members of staff. Altogether it was a successful and satisfying day giving varied and new experiences to all involved in a pleasant social context.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Julian Baggini: Freedom Regained. Free Talk in Cheltenham..

Organised by the Gloucestershire Philosophical Society and the School of Humanities. 

Everyone is welcome and the event is free.

15 April 19:30–21:00
University of Gloucestershire (Francis Close Hall Campus) TC001
Julian Baggini: Freedom Regained.

To reserve your place:
(Free admission but booking is essential)
No printed tickets are issued or needed.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Hayy ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Novel by Ibn Tufayl

If I tell you this is a story of a man on a desert island who keeps goats, builds himself a shelter and finally discovers footprints in the sand, what would you think of? Broadly, this story – like Robinson Crusoe – is about man’s ability to survive in a natural state, free of society, history and tradition. The character of Hayy is brought up on a deserted island by a doe, which provides milk for the infant and raises him. With the death of the doe, however, Hayy continues to survive by using the human capacity to reason.

The author of this work, Ibn Tufayl (c.1105-1185), was an Andalusian Muslim philosopher who was concerned with the extent to which philosophy and religion can be harmonised: To what extent is society required in order to attain knowledge of truth? Human beings are seen as uniquely self-thinking intellects: at least, almost unique, with one other possible exception; that of God. Human beings have, it seems, this capacity for self-intellection of which the only other parallel is God. Intuitively, being human conjures up an image of something magical, mysterious and special. Human beings are ‘God-like’; we all partake, to some extent at least, in God’s perfection. In a solitary state, with no knowledge of the ‘other’, can one attain self-awareness?

It is these questions that the novel addresses through the character of Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Brought up isolated from other human beings, to what extent can Hayy acquire knowledge; not merely of the empirical kind, but the spiritual? The novel supports the empirical method whilst also recognising its limitations. It emphasises the power of human reason and of the human to transcend himself: to progress to supernatural and divine matters.

Roy Jackson will be giving a talk on the novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan at the University of Cordoba on Wednesday 11th March, 2015.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Visits, Applicant Days, excitement..

Last week was a full one!

We had an Applicant Day on the Thursday - when visitors learnt more about our course, wandered around the campus, and met some of our amazing students (oh, and the RPE staff).
RPE & History Students at Applicant Day
As well as a trip to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on Tuesday, we went to London. The students on the the London trip on Wednesday were from RPE, History and TRS - and we began at the Swaminaryan Mandir in Neasden. We had a talk, with a Q&A session, a chance to look round (including the obligatory shop visit) - and then the chance to observe an act of worship - Puja, in the form of Arti. Students were amazed by the building (which is impressive) - but also the worship gave them a chance to make sense of the function of the building, and links with what we'd studied.

After the coach had navigated London, we then found ourselves at the British Museum. Frist stop - the Cafe. Then we had a few hours to explore. However long you have here - it is never long enough. I (no surprise) wanted to see the extensive collection of Gandhara Buddha statues. Students followed their own interests (including more visits to gift shops), before a coach back to Cheltenham in the evening...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Activity Week - some events this week:

We've got a lot on this week - including an event on Thursday where Applicants will be visiting us. For current students - see the events below. I'm sure there will be lots of pics to follow!
Some events this week  - hoping RPE students will enjoy them!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Another day trip! London to visit Swaminaryan Mandir & British museum.

Coach trip to London to the British Museum and the Hindu Temple in Neasden (Shri Swaminarayan Mandir) on Wednesday 18 February. (That’s Activity Week, so there’ll be no lectures.)

The coach will leave FCH at 7am, returning at about 8pm.
Book your place, for just £5!, via the University’s online store.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Monday, January 05, 2015

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society talk this Wednesday.. ‘Buddhism and Fetish...’

There is a new GPS programme up at  - and the first of these is me talking on a topic related to Buddhism:

January 7th (2015), HC203, FCH Campus: All Welcome..

Dr. David Webster (University of Gloucestershire) will be speaking on the topic of ‘Buddhism and Fetish: How the Western academic world must be more than a bystander to the 21st. Century’s Emerging Buddhisms.’

On first glance religious Orientalism seems to be the European intellectual fetish that refuses to die, to take the post-colonial discourse to heart. In the case of Buddhism, it seems steadfastly fixed and unlikely to shift. Certain recent developments are instructive in demonstrating and understanding this. The talk will use these developments as a case study in exploring the relationship between scholarship and ethics.

Dr. Webster is Subject Group Leader for Religious, Philosophical and Historical Studies at the University. He has studied Philosophy, Hinduism and Buddhist thought in addition to scholarly works on ‘Buddhism and desire’, the nature of belief, and other topics in Buddhist studies and the Philosophy of Religion. He has written about the blues and death in religions. He published Dispirited, Zero Books, in 2012. David conducts interviews found on He is also involved in the TAROSA (teaching across religions in South Asia) project, and has a strong interest in e-learning.