Ben Kirby

Ben Kirby

MA Religion and Public Life (2013)

Summary: PhD student Ben completed his MA in Religion and Public Life earlier this year. He credits the modules for providing an introduction into researching religion and public life and talks about the City.

For my undergraduate degree I studied Theology at the University of Oxford and joined the University of Leeds for my MA in 2012.

I thoroughly enjoyed my degree in Theology at Oxford, but having graduated I felt increasingly drawn to postgraduate study in the field of Religious Studies. With its solid reputation in this area, Leeds was an obvious choice. Even though I was still undecided about my desired career path, the MA in Religion and Public Life allowed me to expand my intellectual horizons while opening up opportunities for doctoral research as well as employment. I was particularly drawn to Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds because of its expertise in the study of religions and public life, as well as African religious traditions – both at the heart of my research interests.

My passion for studying in the field has at least something to do with being brought up in within a certain religious tradition (the Church of England) and my years spent trying to make sense of that tradition in a contemporary British context. I enjoy thinking about and trying to understand the ways in which religions interact in and with the public sphere in different locations.

I also tend to like things that ambiguously evoke a sense of the uncanny – something I find religious groups can do rather well. Not only are religious people and groups generally regarded with a moderate degree of suspicion in contemporary Britain, I also find that engaging first-hand with the beliefs and practices of diverse religious groups really can sometimes be a (pleasingly) unsettling experience.

The two core modules in the MA Religion and Public Life programme provide an excellent introduction to researching religion and public life from two methodological extremities: one deeply theoretical module, dealing primarily with intellectual shifts and exchanges; and another very heavily empirical, in the sense of introducing fieldwork research methods and offering opportunities to practice these in the field. I thoroughly relished both of these.

The University libraries are strong, and very open to book suggestions. There are plenty of computer facilities available. Outside of studying there are a wealth of clubs, societies, and sports teams for students to join at Leeds through the University Union. I joined the East African Society and The Edge gym.

Leeds is a big and vibrant city, with a wealth of excellent places to visit, to shop, and to eat, drink, and go out.Students are very much part of the landscape, with three universities based in the city. Plenty of businesses and organisations have offices in Leeds, and I was able to secure a part-time position at Christian Aid's office in the city centre – an experience which really complemented my academic learning.

I would say that the MA is a fantastic opportunity to have a transformational year: not only on an academic level, but also in terms of opening up new life opportunities and forming new friendships.The approachability of the staff in the department is quite extraordinary, and their diverse research interests and expertises are invaluable. Of course, it goes without saying that interest in the subject of religions and public life today is growing and growing, both inside and outside scholarly circles.

Having completed my MA I have gone straight into a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds. My research project is focused on Christian-Muslim relations in the countries of Kenya and Tanzania. I am also doing some teaching of undergraduate modules for the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science. 

Simply put, I wouldn't be doing any of this without the MA – from the academic grounding it gave me, to the friendships that I have formed to the staff and students of the department.