Course overview

Do you want to:

  • explore the meaning of Christian teaching?
  • investigate the implications of Christian belief?
  • delve into the relationship between Christianity and philosophy?

What is systematic and philosophical theology?

Systematic and philosophical theology looks at claims about:

  • God
  • creation and salvation
  • the nature of the Church
  • human identity and ethics
  • and many other ideas at the heart of Christian theology.

Core learning

In particular you will examine:

  • the Christian theological tradition from the early church to the present
  • Christianity's engagement with philosophy
  • the relationship between faith and reason
  • the task of theology in the twenty-first century.

Why distance learning?

  • Fit around your existing commitments.
  • Study at a leading research-focussed university without having to attend in person.
  • Flexibility to extend your studies if your circumstances change.

Award level

You can follow the programme to masters (MA) or diploma (PGDip) level. Each requires different time commitments and incurs different fees.

Your department

  • Department of Theology and Religious Studies
  • Over 80% of our research outputs were classified as world leading or internationally excellent in the Research Excellence Framework 2021
  • Ranked 14th in the UK for Theology and Religious Studies (Guardian University Guide 2024)

"We have worked with distance learning postgraduate students for over thirteen years and each of us understands the opportunities and challenges that come with distance education. We intentionally make the core programme as flexible as possible while providing further opportunities for those that have the desire and time in their schedule to go deeper with other students and staff."

Dr Michael Burdett, course convener

Why choose this course?

Flexible learning

Fit your studies around existing commitments.


Over 14 years experience of successfully running distance learning Masters

Top 10 department

in the UK by grade point average

Course content

The amount of work involved and the number of modules you take depend on the qualification you are taking.


Masters (MA)

You will complete 180 credits worth of modules:

  • Dissertation - 60 credits
  • Optional modules - 120 credits


This is your opportunity to create independent research on a subject of your own choosing. You'll agree a subject area and title with the course co-ordinator and be assigned a supervisor with experience of your subject.

You'll then complete a 12-15,000 word dissertation with expert support and guidance from your supervisor.

Optional modules

A minimum of 100 credits must be taken from the optional modules listed.

Diploma (PGDip)

You will complete 120 credits worth of modules. A minimum of 100 credits must be from the optional modules listed.

You will select from a range of optional modules.

Most modules are available in both 20 and 40 credit versions, providing maximum flexibility to focus your studies to your interests.

Systematic and Philosophical Theology for Newcomers module

Depending on your background and experience you may be required to take this as a condition of study for any of the MA, diploma or certificate.

Research Methods and Resources module

We strongly recommend you take this. It introduces the skills and resources you will need for academic work at postgraduate level. 

If you are able attend campus (and with the approval of the course leader) you may take up to 20 credits from other modules offered by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies or other departments.


Systematic and Philosophical Theology for Newcomers

This module is particularly intended for those 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.

You will be introduced 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
  • Karl Barth on revelation and the Trinity.

This module is worth 20 credits.

Research Methods and Resources

This module introduces the skills and resources you will need for academic work at postgraduate level, and introduces you to methodological and theoretical issues which arise in religious history.

Topics to be covered include:

  • the critical use of sources
  • academic presentation
  • essay writing
  • research methods approaches.

The assignment will require you to discuss developments in Systematic and Philosophical Theology  over the last 30 years.

This module is worth 20 credits.

The Developing Tradition: Theologians of the Second Century

The module will be a close reading of four second-century 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 some of central questions of Christian theology.

There will be close attention throughout the module on how these texts have been used in theology in the past and how that can be used in theological understanding today.

This is an optional module that can be taken for 20, 30 or 40 credits.


The Emergence of the New Testament Canon

This module will examine the factors in early Christianity which led to certain documents, such as the texts that go to make up the Hebrew Bible, being given special status within the community’s worship, memory, and theological perception.

It will look at how this collection of documents expanded and evolved in theological significance until it became generally accepted to be a body of 'sacred scripture' - and how that concept was adopted from Judaism and modified within Christianity.

The module will also explore the impact of the emergence of a Christian canon of theology, and its significance for Christianity as another 'lawful religion' within the Roman empire. 

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.


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.

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.

Reading Medieval Theologians from Anslem to Ockham

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
  • the rise of the university affected theology
  • the recovery of Aristotle and reception of Islamic thought affected theology
  • we look at some texts exhibiting the characteristics of ‘scholasticism.’

This is an optional module worth 20 or 40 credits.

Aquinas and Thomism

You'll study 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
  • 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.

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.

La Nouvelle Theologie

La Nouvelle Theologie ("The New Theology") is a pejorative term invented by the French Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. It is used to describe a new wave of twentieth century Catholic theology which offered a fresh interpretation of Aquinas and called for a return to the Church’s patristic and high medieval resources.

This movement, which was a reaction against nineteenth century neo-scholasticism, is also known as ‘resourcement’ 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 resourcement theology: relationship between nature and grace.

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.

Directed Reading

Together with an appropriate supervisor you will:

  • agree and follow a plan of guided reading
  • write an essay on agreed topic(s).

You will also submit a list of the works read as part of the Directed Reading programme. The area must normally be different from any of those covered by other Distance Learning MA modules, and also distinct from the area of the student's dissertation.

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.


The Virgin Mary in Christian Tradition

You will study the historical development of the Marian cult in Eastern and Western Christian traditions, with emphasis on its spiritual, doctrinal, and liturgical importance. You will discover 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
  • her capacity to act as protector or intercessor for Christians.

One of the aims of the module is for you to develop core skills in historical and systematic theology.

This is module is worth 20 or 40 credits.

Early Christian Writings: Outside the Canonical Collection

You will undertake a close reading of four or six documents from the early followers of Jesus. These documents are of various lengths and you will read them in their entirety.

The emphasis of the reading is on the concerns of each text in the period when 'Judaism' and 'Christianity' are becoming distinct religions 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 some early communities, 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. 

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.

Faith and Reason

This module provides an opportunity to engage with key questions about the relationship between faith and reason in the modern world.

Led by the department's specialists in systematic and philosophical theology the module is split into a series of units. Each unit addresses the issue of faith and reason in a very different way. For example:

  • phenomenology
  • the thought of Aquinas
  • understanding of philosophy as a spiritual exercise.

This module is worth 20 or 40 credits.


The module explores the Christian doctrine of eschatology, the study of last things, in its historical, developmental, doctrinal and philosophical context.

The module will focus on traditional themes within Christian eschatology such as:

  • the Kingdom of God
  • messianism
  • providence
  • apocalypticism
  • death
  • resurrection
  • The Last Judgement
  • the new heavens and the new earth.

It will also consider the development of these topics in relation to their systematic, philosophical and historical context.

Attention will be given to both ecumenical and confessional distinctives within eschatology so that issues such as purgatory, various approaches to hell and deification from across the confessional spectrum will be considered.

The module will, by the end, focus on recent contemporary approaches to eschatology and its deep renewal and focus in 20th and 21st century theology and philosophy.

This is an optional module that can be taken for 20 or 40 credits.

The above is a sample of the typical modules we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. Modules (including methods of assessment) may change or be updated, or modules may be cancelled, over the duration of the course due to a number of reasons such as curriculum developments or staffing changes. Please refer to the module catalogue for information on available modules. This content was last updated on Wednesday 10 April 2024.

Learning and assessment

How you will learn

Distance learning is not exclusively online. With over 13 years experience in distance learning we provide you with a comprehensive package of resources backed up with substantial support.

Module study pack

For each module you will receive a guide containing:

  • course notes
  • core readings
  • suggested further readings
  • essay questions.


Our online learning environment has all the course materials uploaded along with practical "how to study" support. It also hosts study forums where you can connect with tutors and other students.


Tutors are always available to give advice and support by email, MS Teams chat, video calls and Moodle forums.


You will have full access to the University's library systems and resources.

We have reciprocal agreements between university libraries, which permit you to use the facilities at the libraries nearest your home.

Video content

We have one of the largest collections of self-developed video resources of any UK university. These explore themes such as:

  • Why study... - an ever expanding series where theologians the key issues and concepts of particular topics
  • Objects of belief - a series of short films that uncover the rich theologies of items used (or not) in religious practices
  • Sacred calendar - explaining key dates, events and celebrations across religions
  • Theologians in conversation - theologians discuss their work and the questions they see as significant

Visiting us

There is no need to visit the University in person to successfully complete the course.

We know some people thrive on in-person contact with fellow students so we hold an annual residential seminar in the spring. You'll meet other distance learners and academic staff. There is a programme of seminars and lectures as well as time to use the library and explore our magnificent campus.


Find out more about distance learning with us

How you will be assessed

  • Dissertation
  • Essay


There are two dissertation submission deadlines to choose from at the beginning of your dissertation year.


A 20 credit module usually involves one 3000 to 4000 word essay. A 40 credit module usually involves two essays of this length.

There are four essay deadlines throughout the year that you can choose from at the beginning of each year.

You'll submit essays through Moodle where you'll also get your feedback.

Contact time and study hours

A 20-credit module should equal about 200 study hours (1 credit for every 10 hours) although this can vary for individuals.

On average we expect students to be able to commit:

  • 17 hours per week for the 2 year programme
  • 11.5 hours per week for the 3 year programme
  • 8.5 hours per week for the 4 year programme

Once you've started your degree, you should get into the habit of always having relevant reading 'on the go'. Whether you are working on one module every three, four or six months, it is essential you set aside regular periods for concentrated study, particularly as you move from reading the course materials to writing your essay.

Entry requirements

All candidates are considered on an individual basis and we accept a broad range of qualifications. The entrance requirements below apply to 2024 entry.

Undergraduate degree2:1 or above (or its international equivalent) in theology and/or religious studies.
Additional information

We may also accept a related subject such as philosophy or history.

Students entering the programme from a humanities discipline other than theology may be required to take the module 'Systematic and Philosophical Theology for Newcomers'.

We recognise that people come to theology and religious studies by a variety of routes and are happy to consider other qualifications and experience. Please contact us to discuss.


Most students complete the course in 2 years but you can go up to 4 years depending on your circumstances. Your offer will automatically be for the 2 year option but you can change to the 3 or 4 year option when you initially register.

We know people's circumstances can change so you have the flexibility to change the intended length of your course part way through. You'll need to agree this with the course director and be aware that this can impact on some sources of funding.

Our step-by-step guide covers everything you need to know about applying.

How to apply


Qualification MA PGDip
Home / UK £9,250 £6,167
International £22,600 £15,067

Additional information for international students

If you are a student from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you may be asked to complete a fee status questionnaire and your answers will be assessed using guidance issued by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) .

These fees are for full-time study. If you are studying part-time, you will be charged a proportion of this fee each year (subject to inflation).


The Alan Richardson Studentship in Christian Theology is designed to assist distance learning students studying for the MA in Systematic and Philosophical Theology.

If you are a resident of England and qualify for UK fee status, you may be eligible for a Student Finance England Master’s Loan. If you are eligible, you can apply for a two-year loan, with payments spread across the two years of your part-time study. While you can apply for an extension to your study period, your loan payment period cannot be extended.

Under some circumstances, you may be able to change your course duration with the University. You will need to discuss this with your course director. Please note, if you are in receipt of a Student Finance England Masters Loan, a mid-course change may affect your loan payments and loan eligibility.

There are many ways to fund your postgraduate course, from scholarships to government loans.

We also offer a range of international masters scholarships for high-achieving international scholars who can put their Nottingham degree to great use in their careers.

Check our guide to find out more about funding your postgraduate degree.

Postgraduate funding


We offer individual careers support for all postgraduate students.

Expert staff can help you research career options and job vacancies, build your CV or résumé, develop your interview skills and meet employers.

Each year 1,100 employers advertise graduate jobs and internships through our online vacancy service. We host regular careers fairs, including specialist fairs for different sectors.

International students who complete an eligible degree programme in the UK on a student visa can apply to stay and work in the UK after their course under the Graduate immigration route. Eligible courses at the University of Nottingham include bachelors, masters and research degrees, and PGCE courses.

Graduate destinations

Many students are already established in their careers when they begin these courses, and undertake the programme for professional enhancement and enrichment. Others pursue it for reasons of personal interest.

The MA is ideal preparation for a PhD, allowing you to develop knowledge and research skills essential to higher level study.

Our successful students travel on many different paths from the clergy and teaching professions to the IT, welfare and housing sectors. 

Career progression

100% of postgraduates from Theology and Religious Studies secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation.*

*HESA Graduate Outcomes 2019/20 data published in 2022. The Graduate Outcomes % is derived using The Guardian University Guide methodology.

Two masters graduates proudly holding their certificates
" Every module introduced me to top scholarship — and particularly valuable to me - detailed feedback on my papers. Importantly, staff and faculty bridged the time zones by being responsive to my questions, and they regularly kept students up to date on approaching deadlines. "
Katherine Hendrickson (now progressed to PhD study)

Related courses

This content was last updated on Wednesday 10 April 2024. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is accurate, but changes are likely to occur given the interval between the date of publishing and course start date. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply.