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MA Religious Studies part 1

This course explores a range of religious phenomena and develops skills in engaging with significant issues and methods in the study of religion. The blocks – focusing on controversies, religion from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, and approaches and methods in religious studies – will increase your confidence in dealing with the innate diversity of the subject, equip you with key research methods and enable you to use the extensive electronic resources via the OU library. You will be prepared for the dissertation module, where you will plan, research and write an extended piece of work based on your own interests.

What you will study

The purpose of this MA course is to equip you to undertake postgraduate-level study in religious rtudies. It develops knowledge and skills in the discipline. It uses related ‘clusters’ of primary texts to enable you to develop understanding of a range of approaches and debates. It is distinctive from other MAs in that it foregrounds theoretical issues in the study of religion, and will provide you with knowledge and experience of a range of methodologies, utilising case studies on religion in modern Britain. It will:

  • provide you with an advanced academic training in the techniques of postgraduate study of religion, progressing towards dissertation level research
  • increase your knowledge and understanding of a range of key issues in and approaches to the study of religion, including the ways that research is conducted, and how scholarly discourses about ‘religion’ and ‘religions’ are conveyed
  • enable you to explore the ways in which research and scholarship inform discourses about, and practices associated with, religion.

The course has four main sections or ‘blocks’:

Block 1 Controversies in Religious Studies considers the nature of the discipline of religious rtudies and the many definitions of the word ‘religion’. By exploring a range of such debates you will be better prepared for postgraduate level study of contentious issues in an evolving discipline. The block also utilises case studies of ‘religion/state’ dynamics, drawn from international arenas, to focus engagement with significant issues and theories.

Block 2 Religion in Modern Britain focuses on a specific historical context, namely Britain from the later nineteenth century through to the early twenty-first century. You will begin by critically reading a set text, Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain, which provides an introduction to the history of religion in this period – but also offers a particular approach and interpretation. Substantial case-studies will challenge aspects of the approach, interpretation and conclusions of the set book; highlight themes, issues and approaches that the set book neglects or marginalises; or, where appropriate, engage with and develop particular themes addressed or marginalised in the set book.

In Block 3 Approaches to the Study of Religion you will explore a variety of approaches to the study of religion, building on previous blocks but paying particular attention to the advantages and disadvantages of common approaches. It will make use of selected locations and activities of importance to religions, especially ‘pilgrimage’, to structure debate. Relevant chapters in John Hinnells’ Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion and Mark Taylor’s Critical Terms for Religious Studies will develop knowledge and use of a range of approaches, thereby informing later decisions you might make about appropriate approaches and related methodologies to apply to particular religious phenomena for your dissertation.

Block 4 Methods emphasises the ‘how to do it’ aspect of postgraduate level study: increasing your knowledge and understanding of a range of disciplinary methods; demonstrating the use of investigative methods; showing how to analyse a range of different types of sources and data; enabling you to critically assess the most appropriate method (or combination of methods) for researching particular topics; giving you the opportunity to research a topic of your choice, and reflect upon the experience, in an extended piece of writing.

By the end of this course you will have a good understanding of the contested nature of religion and religious studies as a discipline, a familiarity with a range of theoretical approaches and methods relevant to the study of the wide variety of religious phenomena, and practical experience of working within these methods.


You should have an honours degree or equivalent, ideally, but not necessarily, in religious studies. If you have not taken a religious studies degree or a degree where religious studies formed a substantial part of your studies, you might consider first taking one of our undergraduate courses.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

We recommend reading the following text before the course starts:

Nye, M. Religion: The Basics. Routledge, (London, 2008). £9.99

You may also wish to familiarise yourself with the set texts.


A880 is a compulsory module in our:

A880 is an optional module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

Study materials

What's included

You will receive printed study material that will also be available as electronic downloads.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study materials and mark and comment on your written work. All courses in the MA in Religious Studies programme will offer a combination of electronic and face-to-face tuition, and you are encouraged to take part in these. More details about them will be available at the start of the course.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the final course start in October 2012. 

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

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