philosophy & world religions

The OxNet Philosophy and World Religions course is centered around the theme of 'How to change the world with words'. The seminar series is delivered by experts from the University of Manchester and introduces students to a broad range of philosophical and religious thinkers and movements, challenging them to consider complex questions, like 'How do we know what we know and how do we know that we know it?' in a variety of religious contexts. The seminar series also examines questions relating to conspiracy theories, religious conversion and political rhetoric. The course prepares students for undergraduate study by encouraging them to ask questions of the difficult texts they encounter. 

To apply for the Philosophy and World Religions course, there are two steps. Both of these are compulsory.

1) Fill in this application form

2) Answer one of the following five questions. You must write a two-page essay using size 12 font. 

You must submit your completed essay to before 9am on 9th November.

Late submissions will not be considered.



This is the funeral of Nelson Mandela in Qunu, the Eastern Cape. You may wish to think about the question as an intrinsic part of the apartheid moment or as a watershed in the particular circumstances of a single nation, South Africa. Or, perhaps, as the burial of a member of the royal family of the Thembu, part of the Xhosa-speaking people. It was a state funeral, however, and it was televised across the world. Look closely for symbolic clues in response to the question.






















Why are the men wearing either suits or military uniforms?



What are our assumptions made about poverty and the poor? You may wish to regard the question as essentially a matter of judgement about accumulated data collection. Alternatively, you could say that any response would rely on quantitive as well as qualitative evidence and, critically ideology. If Beveridge was a liberal (educated at University College, Oxford where his report was written) what is a neo-liberal take on both the individual and the state? A little desktop digging may be required for this one.


The Beveridge Report of 1942 identified ‘five giants on the road to post-war reconstruction’ – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.   Tackling these giants was a primary focus of the 1945 government’s social programme and remained important throughout the second half of the 20th century.  So how much progress has in fact been made?  After six decades of social change, these giants may not have been standing still. Have they learned to use new weapons? Perhaps they are more selective in whom they attack? And are there any new giants which future governments will need to direct their attention to?  What would a 21st century Beveridge be proposing?

We find:

  • Very substantial progress has been made in tackling the giants of Want, Disease and Squalor. It is surprisingly difficult to be sure how well the fight against Ignorance has been going, and Idleness remains a threatening giant.

  • Even in the case of Want, Disease and Squalor, the rate at which the giants are retreating may have slowed in the last decade – they have been weakened but not defeated.

  • Although the fight against the giants has been fairly successful overall, the giants may have become increasingly selective in whom they attack.   Inequality around the average has grown in the cases of income and housing, though it has declined in the case of life expectancy.

  • The giants increasingly pick on vulnerable groups such as young people with low qualifications or some ethnic minorities such as people with black Caribbean, Bangladeshi or Pakistani background.

  • Some of the giants may be changing their tactics – Idleness may now be using the weapon of insecurity.

  • New giants may well be rising – pollution, corruption, discrimination and neglect.

(Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, University of Oxford)


Argue that (a) poor people are poor because they are too lazy to work, and (b) the welfare state trap people into poverty. Which is the strongest argument from an economic AND philosophical viewpoint, and might there be an alternative argument to these essentially neo-liberal viewpoints?




What is conjured by the word ‘socialism’ or ‘marxism’? Are these terms properly conflated? Certainly, we could imagine the movements created by the industrial working classes that have brought value to labour and have arguably met the demands of generations for decent living and working conditions. Do look very carefully though at the wording of the prompt. Consider the point made by Stedman Jones that socialism predates the industrial revolution and is largely a critique of the church not the capitalist state. What implications might this have for our political, historical and (theological?) understandings of this most contentious of ideologies.


“Socialism has rarely if ever been treated as part of the religious history of Europe and the wider world. Through most of the twentieth century, political and intellectual historians, particularly those writing about the modern period, tended to leave the study of religion to sociologists and psychologists. In the face of philosophical criticism, scientific advance and large-scale social change, religious mentalities and beliefs, it was assumed, were receding. Socialism, it was thought, belonged to that cluster of modern ideas which took the place of religious conceptions of the world. It was considered a ‘social’ movement and essentially secular, the expression of an urban and industrial working class and the growth of class-consciousness.

But in 1979, the world changed. With the unanticipated triumph of the Iranian Revolution, and the resurgence of religious fundamentalism in different parts of the world, conflicts between temporal and spiritual authority once again came to fore. These developments in turn have provided a different and arguably more appropriate framework, within which to examine the history of socialism. For socialism was above all a product of the fundamental crisis of spiritual authority created by the French Revolution. It was the outcome of a critique, not so much of the state, but of the church, and of the unsuccessful revolutionary attempts to find a replacement for it.” (Gareth Stedman Jones)


Socialism is a religion. Discuss.





It might be reasonably thought that Charlotte Yonge was reacting against the liberal feminism of James Stuart Mill and Harriet Martineau from the 1860s (Mill had moved a Bill in parliament for universal suffrage in 1866) and regarded the natures of women, derived from evangelical readings of the bible, as unsuitable to the suffrage and to public life more generally. These conservative ‘feminists’ such as the fantastically popular novelist Mrs Humphrey Ward - 1 million of them - formed the Primrose League as an association of the Conservative Party co-created by Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of Winston. They were anti suffrage, but they believed, perhaps importantly to the question, that the natures of women possessed heightened spirituality while their numbers were wildly larger than feminists such as Emily or Sylvia Pankhurst celebrated, probably rightly, in our national narratives. Again, some modest attempts to research the background will assist an answer.


“I have no hesitation in declaring my full belief in the inferiority of women, nor that she brought it upon herself. I believe – as entirely as any other truth which has been from the beginning – that woman was created as a help-meet to man. How far she was then on an equality with him, no one can pretend to guess; but when the test came, whether the two human beings would pay allegiance to God or to the Tempter, it was the woman who was the first to fall, and to draw her husband into the same transgression. Thence her punishment of physical weakness and subordination mitigated by the promise that she would be the means of bringing to renovate the world, and break the domination of Satan. . . . The Blessing conferred upon the holy Mother of our Lord became the antidote to the punishment of Eve’s transgression; and in proportion to the full reception of the spirit of Christianity has woman thenceforth been elevated to her rightful position as the help-meet”. C. M. Yonge, On Woman and the Church (1876), quoted in James R. Moore (ed.) (1990) Religion in Victorian Britain, vol. III, pp. 95–7.


Is a Conservative feminism plausible?



There is no context or prompt. Answer as you see fit, from any perspective from Humanities or Social Science.



What is fair?

Below are examples of some of the topics that OxNet Philosophy and World Religions participants encountered as part of their seminars this year.

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