Skip to main content

Subject Benchmark Statement 

The Quality Assurance Agency's (QAA) Subject Benchmark Statement for Theology and Religious Studies acknowledges the range of institutional contexts in which the study of theology is offered, including the professional formation of ministers and other professional programmes. The statement describes and affirms the range of modes of learning in this subject, including full time residential programmes, distance-learning programmes and a range of part time and part-residential programmes. The range of institutions participating in delivering the Common Awards programmes falls within this affirmed diversity of provision. 

Despite this diversity, the statement suggests that ‘students should be expected to be confronted with some of the questions raised by this general intellectual history [of Theology and Religious Studies as a subject] and to consider viewpoints other than their own and other than any declared stance of the institution where they are studying. Critical dialogue is essential to the subject as studied at Higher Education level.’ The Common Awards programmes responds to this by including a wide range of subject matter, including both engagement with the Christian tradition and with a variety of forms of contemporary Christian life, and by insisting on critical theological reflection as a core skill that students must develop throughout their studies. 

The benchmark statement suggests that all programmes in Theology and Religious Studies should touch upon most of the following: 

  • A broadly based core together with the wider context required [...], and specialised study in depth of some aspects of the discipline [...] 
  • One or more religions [...] 
  • The reading, analysis and interpretation of texts, sometimes in the original languages [...] 
  • Engagement with some of the major religious thinkers [...] 
  • The application of a variety of critical methods of study [...] 
  • The history of the particular discipline(s) covered by the programme, including the major theories, movements and thinkers [...] 
  • Ethics, morality, and values [...] 

All of these are addressed in Common Awards programmes, either through its structure (starting with broad foundations at level 4 and offering depth and specialization at higher levels) or the range of modules offered in biblical studies, history, doctrine, ethics and inter-faith engagement. The Common Awards Programme Specifications were, therefore, written to comply with the Subject Benchmark Statement for Theology and Religious Studies. 

In addition, the statement proposes a number of qualities of mind that should be developed as part of study in this area: 

  • The ability to understand how people have thought and acted in contexts other than the student’s own [...] 
  • The ability to read and use texts both critically and sympathetically [...] 
  • The appreciation of complexity [...] 
  • Sensitivity to the problems of religious language and experience [...] 
  • Appreciation of the interconnectedness and internal tensions within a system of beliefs and practices [...] 
  • Basic critical and analytical skills [...] 
  • The ability to employ a variety of methods of study [...] 
  • The capacity to give a clear and accurate account of a subject [...] 

These attributes can be found in the subject specific and key skills for the Common Awards programmes, and many are addressed particularly effectively through the emphasis on a contextual approach that demands the skills and habit of critical theological reflection. 

Among the teaching methods described within the statement there is a clear affirmation of practical placements (akin to those undertaking training for the caring professions), which form an important component of the programmes. 

Progression is described as requiring ‘the acquisition of greater facility and competence, greater depth or sharpness of focus and deepening intellectual maturity.’ This is congruent with the progression described in the programmes aims and learning outcomes. 

Finally, the learning outcomes of this programme have drawn from, and are congruent with, the knowledge and understanding, discipline-specific and intellectual skills and the generic (transferable) skills described in the Theology and Religious Studies statement.