University of Oxford Theology
University of Oxford Theology
The Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, co-ordinates the teaching of theology at the University of Oxford, England.
The Theology Faculty Centre was at 34 St Giles’ in central Oxford. It is now on the second floor of the Gibson Building in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter on Woodstock Road.
One of the first series of lectures delivered at Oxford University was on theology. As early as 1193, Alexander Neckam from St Albans gave biblical and moral lectures on the Psalms of Davidand the Wisdom of Solomon. One of the first university buildings was the Divinity School, begun in 1423 specifically for theology lectures.
The modern theological faculty emerges during the reform of the University of Oxford in the nineteenth century. The Final Honour School of Theology – as a route to the Bachelor of Arts degree – was introduced in 1869. Up until then, theological study was the reserve of graduates and those seeking ordination in the Church of England, who would attend a short series of lectures by the Regius Professors on basic divinity; its focus was on the Thirty-Nine Articles, Joseph Butler’s Analogy of Religion and a knowledge of the Greek New Testament. Although an honour school in theology was recommended from as early as 1853, it was not until the late 1860s, amidst concerns about the declining influence of the Established Church in the university, that Edward Puseyand Henry Parry Liddon began to advocate the introduction of a separate School of Theology responsible for the training of Anglican ordinands. Its curriculum was biblical and historical in its focus, with its first examinations requiring knowledge of scripture, ecclesiastical history and patristics, dogmatic and symbolic theology, apologetics, liturgy and sacred criticism.
The faculty remained as a stronghold of the Church of England well into the 20th century, with denominatinal restrictions on the higher theological degrees (the Bachelor of Divinity and the Doctor of Divinity) and examiners in the Final Honour School of Theology only being abolished in 1920 and 1922 respectively. Still, three of the regius professorships are tied to canonries at Christ Church Cathedral, requiring their holders to be in ordained in the Church of England or in a church in communion with the Church of England. A significant proportion of the faculty’s students are preparing for ordination, either as candidates for the B.A. or the B.Th.
Despite the faculty’s historic obligations to the Church of England, the foundation of Nonconformist and Roman Catholic institutions in Oxford from the late 19th century onwards, alongside changing academic and ecclesiastical attitudes towards theological study, resulted in the gradual transformation of theology from a purely professional discipline into an aspect of humanistic study.
During the 20th century, Oxford established itself as an internationally significant centre of theological study with important contributions from S. R. Driver, William Sanday, H. B. Swete, C. H. Turner, B. H. Streeter, N. P. Williams, R. H. Lightfoot, G. R. Driver, Austin Farrer, Maurice Wiles, Henry Chadwick, James Barr and Arthur Peacocke. Although the department has, more recently, introduced examination papers in modern systematic theology, world religions and even separate postgraduate master’s degrees in the study of religion, the Final Honour School of Theology remains primarily focused on biblical and historical study. Each undergraduate devotes at least half of his or her degree to the study of the Old Testament, New Testament, the development of Christian doctrine to AD 451 and modern Christian doctrine. Candidates can then choose four further papers from a wide selection of topics in biblical studies, history, doctrine and world religions.