Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Julian Baggini: Freedom Regained. Free Talk in Cheltenham..

Organised by the Gloucestershire Philosophical Society and the School of Humanities. 

Everyone is welcome and the event is free.

15 April 19:30–21:00
University of Gloucestershire (Francis Close Hall Campus) TC001
Julian Baggini: Freedom Regained.

To reserve your place:
(Free admission but booking is essential)
No printed tickets are issued or needed.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Hayy ibn Yaqzan: A Philosophical Novel by Ibn Tufayl

If I tell you this is a story of a man on a desert island who keeps goats, builds himself a shelter and finally discovers footprints in the sand, what would you think of? Broadly, this story – like Robinson Crusoe – is about man’s ability to survive in a natural state, free of society, history and tradition. The character of Hayy is brought up on a deserted island by a doe, which provides milk for the infant and raises him. With the death of the doe, however, Hayy continues to survive by using the human capacity to reason.

The author of this work, Ibn Tufayl (c.1105-1185), was an Andalusian Muslim philosopher who was concerned with the extent to which philosophy and religion can be harmonised: To what extent is society required in order to attain knowledge of truth? Human beings are seen as uniquely self-thinking intellects: at least, almost unique, with one other possible exception; that of God. Human beings have, it seems, this capacity for self-intellection of which the only other parallel is God. Intuitively, being human conjures up an image of something magical, mysterious and special. Human beings are ‘God-like’; we all partake, to some extent at least, in God’s perfection. In a solitary state, with no knowledge of the ‘other’, can one attain self-awareness?

It is these questions that the novel addresses through the character of Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Brought up isolated from other human beings, to what extent can Hayy acquire knowledge; not merely of the empirical kind, but the spiritual? The novel supports the empirical method whilst also recognising its limitations. It emphasises the power of human reason and of the human to transcend himself: to progress to supernatural and divine matters.

Roy Jackson will be giving a talk on the novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan at the University of Cordoba on Wednesday 11th March, 2015.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Visits, Applicant Days, excitement..

Last week was a full one!

We had an Applicant Day on the Thursday - when visitors learnt more about our course, wandered around the campus, and met some of our amazing students (oh, and the RPE staff).
RPE & History Students at Applicant Day
As well as a trip to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on Tuesday, we went to London. The students on the the London trip on Wednesday were from RPE, History and TRS - and we began at the Swaminaryan Mandir in Neasden. We had a talk, with a Q&A session, a chance to look round (including the obligatory shop visit) - and then the chance to observe an act of worship - Puja, in the form of Arti. Students were amazed by the building (which is impressive) - but also the worship gave them a chance to make sense of the function of the building, and links with what we'd studied.

After the coach had navigated London, we then found ourselves at the British Museum. Frist stop - the Cafe. Then we had a few hours to explore. However long you have here - it is never long enough. I (no surprise) wanted to see the extensive collection of Gandhara Buddha statues. Students followed their own interests (including more visits to gift shops), before a coach back to Cheltenham in the evening...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Activity Week - some events this week:

We've got a lot on this week - including an event on Thursday where Applicants will be visiting us. For current students - see the events below. I'm sure there will be lots of pics to follow!
Some events this week  - hoping RPE students will enjoy them!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Another day trip! London to visit Swaminaryan Mandir & British museum.

Coach trip to London to the British Museum and the Hindu Temple in Neasden (Shri Swaminarayan Mandir) on Wednesday 18 February. (That’s Activity Week, so there’ll be no lectures.)

The coach will leave FCH at 7am, returning at about 8pm.
Book your place, for just £5!, via the University’s online store.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Monday, January 05, 2015

Gloucestershire Philosophical Society talk this Wednesday.. ‘Buddhism and Fetish...’

There is a new GPS programme up at  - and the first of these is me talking on a topic related to Buddhism:

January 7th (2015), HC203, FCH Campus: All Welcome..

Dr. David Webster (University of Gloucestershire) will be speaking on the topic of ‘Buddhism and Fetish: How the Western academic world must be more than a bystander to the 21st. Century’s Emerging Buddhisms.’

On first glance religious Orientalism seems to be the European intellectual fetish that refuses to die, to take the post-colonial discourse to heart. In the case of Buddhism, it seems steadfastly fixed and unlikely to shift. Certain recent developments are instructive in demonstrating and understanding this. The talk will use these developments as a case study in exploring the relationship between scholarship and ethics.

Dr. Webster is Subject Group Leader for Religious, Philosophical and Historical Studies at the University. He has studied Philosophy, Hinduism and Buddhist thought in addition to scholarly works on ‘Buddhism and desire’, the nature of belief, and other topics in Buddhist studies and the Philosophy of Religion. He has written about the blues and death in religions. He published Dispirited, Zero Books, in 2012. David conducts interviews found on He is also involved in the TAROSA (teaching across religions in South Asia) project, and has a strong interest in e-learning.

Happy New Year from RPE at Gloucestershire.

Well - here comes 2015... Those students who join us in September 2015 will be the 10th cohort to join Religion, Philosophy & Ethics here at Gloucestershire. I can already feel a plan for a big '10 years of RPE'/reunion party starting to form..

As I'm feeling nostalgic - here's a few pics from recent trips, etc: click to enlarge them..


Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas from Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at the University of Gloucestershire...

A festive Nietzsche...
Well, here it is. Merry Christmas from all at Religion, Philosophy & Ethics. Here's hoping you all get lots of books for Christmas, and your New Year's Resolutions are about reading more, thinking more and maybe even starting assignments in good time?

You'll have to cope for a week or two without RPE lectures, and the usual fun - but am sure you'll make it through to 2015 - where we'll we be waiting with some exciting new modules (for example HM6502..)


Monday, December 08, 2014

RPE Essay Competition 2014 Runners Up Announced!

Following the announcement of the winner, we can now reveal the 4 runners up: who will each receive a £20 voucher.

On the topic of  'If you had a time machine, would it be wrong to travel back and kill Hitler':

  • Toby Lane from Adams' Grammar School.
  • Sam Hazeldine  from Adams' Grammar School.

On the topic of 'Does science give an accurate picture of how the world is?'

  • Maksymilian Szwajewski from Sevenoaks School.
On the topic of: 'What is the proper role of religion in a modern, secular society?'
  • Jasbir Singh Talwar fromThe Phoenix Collegiate

Well done : there were approx. 80 entries of a very high standard so congratulations!

FCH Campus, where RPE is taught...

Monday, December 01, 2014

RPE Essay Competition Winner!

Congratulations to Lewis Morey of Forest School, London, for his winning essay in the RPE competition.

The event was in his local newspaper - as per the picture - and the winning essay will be published in the RE Today magazine.

Lewis’s 1,500 word essay was titled: If you had a time machine, would it be wrong to travel back and kill Hitler? This was the most popular title amongst the 80 essays submitted - but Lewis' essay was a clear winner. Unusually for academic staff, we were all in agreement: Well done Lewis!

The runners-up will be announced Monday 8th December: We are still arguing about it..

Friday, November 28, 2014

Graduation '14!

Yesterday saw us celebrate the achievements of another RPE cohort!

It was a great day at the Racecourse, and then FCH Chapel

As usual, you can see all our RPE pictures at 

And the Uni has a Flickr account too at:

Monday, November 03, 2014

Emma Watsons’s ‘HeForShe’ Speech on Gender Equality (by Shannon Boyle)

Emma Watson’s gender equality speech launches the ‘HeForShe’ campaign which encourages men to join the feminist movement. An inclusive approach is necessary in achieving gender equality. The most inclusive approach may be intersectional feminism which suggests that society is not patriarchal but much more complex. It stems from Schüssler Fiorenza’s concept that society is one of ‘kyriarchy’. Kyriarchy expresses that oppression works in ‘a complex pyrimdal system’ of interlinking social structures, so everyone in society oppresses and is oppressed. Therefore, inequality works on many different levels and affects far more than just women.
Watson touches upon intersectional feminism in recognising that men also face societal oppression. An example of this is her father’s parental role being valued less by society. Another is that men are more likely to suffer from clinical depression and commit suicide, yet do not seek help because of gender stereotypes, such as the need to appear ‘macho’. Therefore, men should want to join the feminist movement to dismantle the patriarchy that enforces unrealistic gender stereotypes. However, Watson fails to note the crucial involvement of kyriarchy. As Sian Ferguson discusses on Everyday Feminism, it is kyriarchy that must be challenged rather than patriarchy, because inequality affects everyone.
Watson’s speech begins, ‘We want to end gender inequality – and to do that we need everyone to be involved’ and so, men must also become advocates for gender equality. However, in only addressing women and men, the ‘HeForShe’ campaigns audience is limited to the cisgender community. Gender identity is much more than biological sex. To actually have everyone involved, the feminist movement must be inclusive of an increasing transgender community. Gender is a wide range, as Killermann lists in A Guide to Gender, to name a few, there is agender, bigender, genderfluid and genderqueer. Only once the feminist movement encompasses the whole range of gender, and makes an appeal to all, will gender equality really be achieved.
This is why intersectional feminism is such a strong approach. It includes everyone and highlights that oppression is a much wider issue than gender alone. But as Killermann expresses, to solve inequality and oppression, we must tackle each individual part and Watson is correct in highlighting gender as a main element of inequality and societal oppression. However, the speech and campaign Watson promotes would be more successful and appealing if an intersectional feminist approach was adopted.
Despite these issues, Watson addresses an important problem in that ‘feminism has become an unpopular word’. The fight for gender equality is often perceived as misogyny verses misandry but, as Killermann highlights, this is a misconception that needs to be eradicated. Some feminists are misandrists, but most are not. Gender equality is not about hating men or bringing men down, but raising other gender’s to have the same rights and opportunities as men, so that everyone can be equal. Feminism is about removing the stigma and stereotypes attached to every gender, from cisgender to transgender. Intersectional feminism works to destruct this kyriarchy within society.
Watson’s speech is a good first step towards gender equality, but there is a long way to go. The ‘HeForShe’ campaign needs to adopt more of an intersectional approach to truly achieve gender equality. It must welcome every gender and aim to dismantle kyriarchy, acknowledging that women’s rights are part of a much bigger picture of inequality.

 (Shannon Boyle is a second-year RPE student)

Ferguson, S., ‘Kyriarchy 101: We’re Not Just Fighting the Patriarchy Anymore’ on Everyday Feminism (2014) [accessed 28/10/14]
Killermann, S., The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender (Austin, TX: Impetus Books, 2013)
Schüssler Fiorenza, E., Wisdom Ways (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001)
Emma Watson at the HeForShe Campaign 2014 – Official UN Video (Youtube, 2014) [accessed 25/10/14]
‘Emma Watson: Gender inequality is your issue too’ on UN Women (2014) [accessed 25/10/14]

HeForShe (2014) [accessed 25/10/14]

Friday, October 31, 2014

Eilmer, The Flying Monk (by Connor Bevan)

It seems apparent that the ambitions of man have always had a striking tendency to probe beyond the extent of standard physical and cognitive capabilities. These desires are manifested and entrenched within the oldest of mythologies and woven within the most novel fantasies. Among these is the seemingly age-old vision of flight. In the West, this notion can be seen manifest in the continuity of Greek thought, through the Medieval Catholic world. It prominently captures ours and the imaginations of scholars, writers and thinkers as an arrogant, romantic and inexorable dream. One such attempt and focus on human aviation can be perceived strikingly obtrusively among the eclectic and extensively rich history at Malmesbury Abbey.

In the year 1010 AD the monk Eilmer of Malmesbury (Also known as Oliver or Elmer) attempted one of the earliest recorded instances of flight from the top of Malmesbury Abbey tower. Eilmer, in the tradition of rediscovering knowledge held by the ancient Greeks (alongside others in academic circles of the time) began to observe of the natural world; particularly creatures of the air. In study of bird-life he became captivated by the concept of flight and envisaged this ability possible for humans. Concluding from his avian examinations that he would attach wings to his arms, utilising both wind and gravity he successfully flew over 200 meters only to crash-land in Oliver’s Lane, breaking his legs and crippling him for the rest of his long life. Also Eilmer had a strong familiarity with the tale of Daedalus and Icarus of Greek myth and subsequently drew influence from this – It was thought he ‘might fly as Daedalus’[1]. Moreover, it is said he witnessed the passage of Halley’s Comet. The sight of a heavenly body (of which little beyond religious context was known) may have aided in prompting this endeavour. As a case study we can perceive in Eilmer a certain fascination with ‘The Above’ when we consider also his work on astrology. He later claimed his failure was simply due to the absence of a tail to guide his course, even planned a second flight in determination of this.

Here we stumble upon broader themes, notably a distinct attempt at revival and continuation of Greek thought, culture and ideas, particularly among academic culture - not isolated to this one event in Malmesbury. Indeed, various clergy would identify with doctrine of dominion over animals demanded in Genesis (typifying an ideal of human self-importance, righteous command over animals and provoking a notion that beasts should have no feat over divine man). It would seem this notion of pushing man to the limit of his dreams and aspirations overpowers the more seldom-found pious humility which would deem flight a sinful desire, upsetting the natural order by succeeding the God-given physical restrictions we possess. Many would dabble with ideas of flight, such as Giovanni Damiani in Galloway, 1507, emanating the mythical Daedalus - attempting flight with feathers alone. The conclusion of this brave and foolhardy endeavour is evident of course… he was not successful. We see further wishes and attempts of flight in the Middle East, the designs of Da Vinci and even Ancient China. In Eilmer’s ‘epic flight’[2], we see some degree of scientific method alongside a driven faith and awe; observation, aerodynamic design, logical positioning and post-flight analysis - rather than daring a fairy tale unarmed.

It is striking that Eilmer is remembered and revered so when the other achievements of the Abbey throughout its history were comparatively great; surviving the dissolution and holding the first organ and largest library in England and being the resting place of King Æthelstan. Yet William of Malmesbury, heralded with ‘justice to be the greatest medieval monastic historian’[3] chose to write extensively of Eilmer. Furthermore, Eilmer was hardly a Wright brother and it was not his only accomplishment, with his work at the abbey including having produced several astrological treatises which remained in circulation until the 16th Century. Even the abbey focuses on him to commercial and historiographical effect; including him at the forefront of historical summaries, art, celebration, even re-enactment, not to mention revering the ‘hero’[4] by depiction on the stain glass windows of its north side, holding a place among abbots, commanders, saints and messiahs. Perhaps his idolisation owes to his bold facing of the perils and dangers during his attempt, seemingly unfased by the foreshadowed warning inherent in myth of Daedalus of man flying too close to the sun.

Connor Bevan is a second-year RPE student. This is a reflection piece written after a visit to Malmesbury Abbey during the Philosophytown festival on 10th October 2014.


Bartholomew, Ron, A History of Malmesbury Abbey, (Malmesbury: Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, 2010) (14/10/2014)

Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition, White, Lynn, Jr., Technology and Culture, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring, 1961), pp. 97-111 ( (14/10/2014)

Willis, Roy, World Mythology, (London: Duncan Baird Publishers Ltd, 2006)

Cotterell, Arthur, The Encyclopaedia Mythology, (Surrey, Anness Publishing Limited, 1996)

Knowles, Dom David, The Monastic Order in England: A History of Its Development from the Times of St Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council 940-1216, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

William of Malmesbury, Allen Giles, John, William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the kings of England. From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen (H.G. Bohn, 1847)(Reprinted Blackwell: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004)pg. 252

[1] William of Malmesbury, Allen Giles, John, William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the kings of England. From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen (H.G. Bohn, 1847)(Reprinted Blackwell: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004)pg. 252
[2] Bartholomew, Ron, A History of Malmesbury Abbey, (Malmesbury: Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, 2010) pg. 69
[3] Knowles, Dom David, The Monastic Order in England: A History of Its Development from the Times of St Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council 940-1216, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) pg. 499
[4] A History of Malmesbury Abbey pg. 70