Department of Theology and Religious Studies

MA in Systematic and Philosophical Theology by distance learning

An online course with residential options

1-4 years

The field of systematic and philosophical theology deals with the meaning and implications of Christian doctrina or teaching. This includes claims relating to God, creation, salvation, the nature of the Church, human identity and ethics.  Consequently this course is concerned with a field at the heart of Christian theology, and therefore at the heart of human intellectual endeavour. 

Dr Simon Oliver, former programme director, on 'Why study Systematic Theology': one of the department's innovative range of online videos which are used as learning resources around the world.



Why Nottingham?

The University of Nottingham is a world-class, research-led university. Every member of staff is active in research, disseminating work with major academic publishers.

In the REF2014 assessment, 97% of research produced by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies was rated of international quality, with 30% considered world-leading in terms of originality and significance.

Why study by distance-learning?

Distance learning (also known as online and e-learning) allows you to manage your work/life balance while pursuing your academic and professional interests. You can learn anywhere, anytime, providing you have access to your course materials.

You will receive regular support and be part of an international learning community sharing common interests, knowledge and experience.



What will you learn?

Students may pursue an interest in theologies of many kinds, although always critically and rigorously. The course is particularly concerned with the Christian theological tradition from the early church to the present, its engagement with philosophy, the relationship between faith and reason, and the task of theology in the 21st century.

In addition to the current modules, two new modules will be available soon: Reformation Theology and Theology of the Holy Spirit.

Systematic and Philosophical theology for Newcomers: The Doctrine of God 

This module is particularly intended for students who are entering the programme from disciplines other than theology and/or philosophy. It may be a requirement of your admission that you take this module. Systematic and Philosophical Theology for Newcomers will introduce students to the language and method of systematic theology and philosophical theology through a study of key themes and texts. These will include portions of Plato’s ‘Republic’, Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’, St. Thomas Aquinas on theological language and Karl Barth on revelation and the Trinity.


Research Methods and Resources

This module introduces the skills and resources students will need for academic research, writing and oral presentation at postgraduate level, and introduces students to methodological and theoretical issues which arise in many areas of theology and philosophy. Topics to be covered may include IT skills, library resources, use of the web, the development of arguments, academic style and sensitivity to language, formatting and referencing, presentation skills, and the relationship between academic research and religious commitment. The assessment task for this module is an essay of 7,000 words examining the development of a field of research over the last 30 years (for example, Christology) OR a 5,000 word essay on the development of a field of research and an article-style book review of a major recent publication in the field of systematic and/or philosophical theology. This module is optional and is particularly suitable for students wishing to hone their research skills, or students whose academic background is in a discipline other than theology.



Christian theology naturally focuses on the person and work of Christ, otherwise known as Christology. You will study the development of the doctrine of Christ in the first six centuries of Christianity in some detail. This will involve reading a number of primary texts in translation, studying the ways in which Christian theologians developed a language which enabled Christians speak more clearly and coherently about Christ. You will then examine medieval, Reformation and modern understandings of Christ.


Aquinas and Thomisms

This module concerns the thought of St Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274) and the associated theological and philosophical school known as Thomism. Through a close reading of a range of primary texts, we will examine some key themes in Aquinas's work including the relationship between theology and philosophy, the doctrine of creation, theological ethics and the Trinity. This will lead to an examination of the most significant moments in the history of the interpretation of Aquinas, from Suárez (1548–1617) to the present day.


La Nouvelle Théologie

The New Theology’ is a pejorative term coined by the French Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877–1964) to describe a new wave of 20th-century Catholic theology which offered a fresh interpretation of Aquinas and called for a return to the Church’s patristic and high mediaeval resources. This movement, which was a reaction against nineteenth century neoscholasticism, is also known as ‘ressourcement’ theology – a theology which looks to the depths of the Church’s traditional theological resources to meet the intellectual and cultural challenges of late modernity. You will study the new theologians’ understanding of the Church, scriptural exegesis and the key issue in the debate concerning ressourcement theology: relationship between nature and grace.


The Virgin Mary in Christian Tradition: history and doctrine

This module seeks to develop core skills in historical and systematic theology with reference to a particular topic: namely, Christian doctrine and devotion concerning the Virgin Mary. The module will study the historical development of the Marian cult in Eastern and Western Christian traditions, with emphasis on its spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical importance. It will show how Christian interest in the Virgin Mary increased in the course of the first five centuries of the Church, especially with regard to three main aspects: her central role in the incarnation of Christ, her status as a model of virginal asceticism, and her capacity to act as protector or intercessor for Christians.


Earliest Christian writings to the mid-second century

The module will be a close reading of four or six of the earliest Christian documents of various lengths in their entirety. The concerns of each text will be given priority rather than viewing them as sources for other thematic concerns. This will lead to an examination of how these documents bring before us the history of the earliest churches, and exhibit both their theological concerns and styles of theology. There will be close attention throughout the module to how these texts have been used in theology in the past and how they can be used in theological understanding today.


Dante, Religion and Culture

This module offers students the opportunity to read most of the important Italian poet and lay-theologian Dante Alighieri’s works in translation, as well as his sources in medieval theology, philosophy and mystical writings. The cultural background in music, art and politics of the period will also be addressed. Primary texts will include the Vita Nuova (his poetic autobiography), Convivio (invitation to a philosophic banquet), Commedia (his journey to hell, purgatory and heaven), and Monarchia (political theory), and writings by Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Hugh of St Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, Mechtild, Aristotle and Dionysius the Areopagite, as well as contemporary scholarship.


Faith and Reason

The Department’s specialists in systematic and philosophical theology  contribute to the module. Each unit addresses the issue of the relationship between faith and reason in a very different way, for example through phenomenology, the thought of Aquinas or the understanding of philosophy as a spiritual exercise.


Reading Medieval Theologians from Anselm and Ock

This module will examine a range of primary texts, in translation, that extend in time from Anselm (c.1033–1109) to William of Ockham (c.1285–1347). Moreover, the texts will also vary in genre from formal academic works to liturgical texts composed in the period. Through a close reading of these texts students will come to understand how Anselm’s theological method marked a break with the past; how the rise of the university affected theology; how the recovery of Aristotle and reception of Islamic thought affected theology; and how will look at some texts exhibiting the characteristics of ‘scholasticism.’



With the consent of the course director, you may be allowed to take a 'Directed Reading' module. You will complete your studies with a 15,000-word dissertation. 

See the course handbook (pdf)

How do you access study materials?

Distance learning students have access to quality course content in Moodle, our virtual learning environment, and a wide range of introductory and in-depth videos.

However, distance learning is not exclusively online; you will receive all your primary course materials in printed form as well as electronically, and you will also make use of libraries for learning and research.

You are also strongly encouraged to come to the residential seminar held annually in the spring semester.

What about employability?

This programme develops skills of research, analysis and critical thinking which are relevant to a broad range of careers.

Many students pursue this course as preparation for a research degree (MPhil or PhD).

Others pursue it as part of their development within the teaching profession or religious organisations or purely for personal interest.

What are the entry requirements?

2:1 or above (or its international equivalent) in religious studies, theology or a related subject such as philosophy or history.

Applications will also be considered from those who, while not possessing a first degree in a cognate discipline, can demonstrate a work or voluntary commitment to the subjects included in this programme.

What funding is available?

For up-to-date information and application forms for funding opportunities please visit the Department of Theology and Religious Studies funding webpage.

What are the fees?

The fees for 2015 entry are: 

  • £6,220 (HEU)
  • £15,140 (International)

2016/17 Fees



Who teaches on this course?

Dr Simeon Zahl
Course Director, MA in Systematic and Philosophical Theology
Dr Simeon Zahl is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and is the main point of contact for all general academic enquiries about the MA in Systematic and Philosophically Theology. Simeon studied at Harvard University and the University of Cambridge. Before coming to Nottingham he spent eight years teaching theology at Oxford and Cambridge. His main expertise is in modern theology, with a particular interests in the theology of the Holy Spirit, religious experience, the history of protestant thought and the nature of theology in the contemporary world. He is the author of one book, editor of two more and has published numerous articles on a wide range of topics in systematic and historical theology.

Conor Cunningham, Associate Professor in Theology and Philosophy

Dr Conor Cunningham is Assistant Director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy and a leading expert on theology and postmodernism. His book Genealogy of Nihilism (2002) is a celebrated and widely-discussed critique of any philosophy which aspires to autonomy from theology. He is a well known broadcaster, having written and presented a critically acclaimed BBC documentary on the impact of Darwinism on Christianity. His much awaited book Evolution: Darwin’s Pious Idea was published in 2010.


Mary Cunningham, Lecturer in Historical Theology

Dr Mary Cunningham studied at Harvard University and Birmingham (England), and has taught in several universities in the UK. She is a Byzantinist with a particular interest in Eastern Christianity. She has completed research on sermons as sources of theological discussion, and also writes about Byzantine monasticism and the Virgin Mary.


Tom O'Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology

A specialist in theology written in Latin in the early medieval west, in numerous books and dozens of articles Professor Tom O'Loughlin has attempted to re-new the relationship between speculative theology and the historical experience of Christians. He considers that experience and believing are not simply a context of theology, but are formative – sometimes for better and sometimes for worse – for theology; and that they contribute to a genetic understanding of where Christianity is today. He taught in Dublin and Lampeter before his move to Nottingham; he is editor of the book-series Studia Traditionis Theologiae; and takes a keen interest in how faith is expressed in churches’ liturgy.


Aaron Riches

Dr Aaron Riches is is adjunct tutor and honorary research fellow at The University of Nottingham. He works at the Edith Stein institute of Philosophy in Granada.


Andrea Russell

Dr Andrea Russell originally studied Law at King’s College London, and has completed BA, MA and PhD degrees in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at The University of Nottingham, the latter funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her research interests are mainly focussed on Richard Hooker and 16th-century theology, and she is particularly interested in seeing how 16th-century arguments work in the 21st-century Anglican Church.  She is now on the staff at St John’s College, Nottingham.


Alison Milbank

Dr Alison Milbank studied at the Universities of Cambridge and Lancaster, and has taught at several institutions in England and the United States. Her research and teaching focuses on the relation of religion to culture in the post-Enlightenment period, with particular interest in non-realist literary and artistic expression, such as the Gothic, the fantastic, horror and fantasy. Her interest in medievalism led to a book on Dante and Victorian theology, history and art. Her study of G. K. Chesterton and Tolkien as theologians, led to a co-written study of contemporary Anglican ecclesiology. She is currently working on an historical study of Gothic fiction from the Reformation to the end of the 19th century, aligning its rise and narrative tropes to Anglican theology and historiography.



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Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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