Thursday, December 12, 2013


These days - most of the RPE student activity seems to be on the Facebook group at - I would recommend a look at this for anyone who wants to get a real sense of what our students discuss..

The Francis Close Hall campus here in Cheltenham at the University of Gloucestershire
As Christmas approaches, we can look back at the recent RPE activity we've been engaging in. We went to Leicester for Diwali, have planned for Spain in March, again, and had a run of recent Open Days.

All this has been alongside our teaching - you can see our course maps : HERE.  Some modules ended the year with a Christmas Philosophy Quiz - where one third year student seemed to defeat all comers..

Monday, December 09, 2013

RPE Essay Competition Results:

Well - that was tough! We had over 30 essays for our competition - and there wasn't a bad one among them. We were hugely impressed by the quality - and choosing a winner was very challenging. But we like a challenge, and eventually came to a decision.

The overall winner was Sophia Cahatha from King Edward VI High School for Girls, Birmingham.

An iPad will be on its way to you this week! 

Four Runners-Up will receive £20 Amazon vouchers.
These were:

  • Georgina Sage (Cheltenham Ladies College)
  • Liu He (Concord College, Shropshire)
  • Aabynn Cha (Eton College)
  • Beth Richards (Wellsway Sixth Form, Keynsham)
Well done to the winners - but also to all those who took part. The winning essay is here:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

More little videos

Is Reason better than (blind) Faith?
 Another of our short Philosophy of Religion videos..

There also some new videos about Buddhism on here -including one where Dr William Large asks me a bunch of difficult questions 

Monday, December 02, 2013

Essay Competition..

Just a quick update: We are currently judging the entries, and will publish the results (on this blog) on Friday 6th December..

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Open Day 12th October

A student learning space at FCH
We have an Open Day on 12th October. Our bit will be at the Francis Close Hall campus of the University of Gloucestershire (there is a virtual tour HERE, but it doesn't have all the refurbishments done over the summer).

As well as our usual admissions, accommodation, and finance advisers, some RPE academic staff  will not only give a talk - but be on hand to chat to throughout the event. You'll also spot (in lovely blue sweatshirts) Student Ambassadors, who help with campus and accommodation tours- and answer all kinds of questions.

A lot of the questions we are asked are about course content - and this 'course map' HERE may help. As may our leaflet that you can download HERE.

FCH Campus
This blog dates back to 2006 (blogs really are that old!) - and you can look back through the archives to get a real sense of all the stuff we do that is in addition to the lectures, seminars and tutorials that make up the formal sessions. We have an RPE course Facebook group at and this is open to all. It's often very lively - and is a chance for potential students to get a real feel for the experience here. A lot of our ex-students remain members (some are now teachers, or work in a whole range of careers - but are still in the group and active with current and potential students): feel free to take a look.

 Those who know the campus may be interested to see the refurb of the FCH refectory - so here is a picture:

Friday, September 27, 2013

New to Philosophy?

I have recently been asked by some of our new student intake which books I would recommend for someone coming to philosophy for the first time, and it is also a question that often crops up at Open Days. To some extent it is a subjective matter (and I'm sure other staff and students have their own views here), but based on some student feedback, there are a couple of gems that are consistently praised. 

Adopting a thematic approach, Nigel Warburton's Philosophy: The Basics does exactly what 'it says on the tin': it's concise, accessible, walks you through the basics, and encourages you to 'do' philosophy. 

Another favourite of many is Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy which adopts an historical approach and gives the reader a sense of how philosophy has developed over the years, although I should point out it was published in 1911, so you won't get anything after that!

To keep up with current developments you might like to take out a subscription to The Philosopher's Magazine. Although it is a 'magazine' and not a journal, it provides a good balance between not being too dense, but also not too simplistic in its approach to topics and issues.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Journal of Buddhist Ethics turns 20..

Journal of Buddhist Ethics
The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. Which is great. What is better is that it is free.

Really high quality articles - for the relevant module here - but also for any student. The entire back-catalogue is searchable - and the comment and discussion after many pieces is of a very high quality indeed: see HERE for a recent example of this.

I hope our students continue to make use of it.

Just as an aside.. In the 20th Anniversary Edition there is an article by Abraham VĂ©lez - some of the third years may remember he came to the Buddhism lecture last year with Justin Whitaker (who did some meditation with us), and too part in the discussion. His article is on 'The Dalai Lama and the Nature of Buddhist Ethics' - you can download the pdf (free, of course) HERE. Se more on this at :


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lots of events for students..

As lectures begin, there are also various other events for RPE students to attend locally.  Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub meets regularly (oddly enough, in a pub) - and there is a talk about Scientology this week that  should interest those doing RPE. The website has details: 

We also have, locally, Gloucestershire Philosophical Society, who meet at out FCH campus  (where RPE is based). Students are very welcome at their talks - see for the current list of upcoming talks. Note the Dr William Large, one of the RPE staff, will be doing one of the GPS talks this term.

FCH Campus..
As well as these events, well shortly be announcing some details of RPE seminars and trips this academic year. We hope to repeat the Diwali trip (to glamorous Leicester), as well as the 2nd year trip to Spain of course..

Cheers, Dave.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Story of the Jews...

Over at our sister blog (TRS at Gloucestershire) - Professor Melissa Raphael  offers a review of  Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews: Click HERE to see the review.

The first episode is visible here - but may be only for a limited period.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


As Dave wrote in the last blog, welcome to all the new students. Induction is a busy week, and you can be bombarded with a lot of information, but don't worry we are here to help.

One of the activities we'll be doing in the first week is the induction project. This is only meant to be a bit of fun and a way of us getting to know each other, so don't worry about it too much. What we do in RPE is meet up at a pub (the good bit) and watch a film together (perhaps the not so good bit). The film we're going to watch this year is Primer. We chose this film because no-one understands what it is about (also I lent this film to Dave for 3 years and he never watched it, so I thought this would be the only way to get him to do so). So your task is simple: explain it to us!

To get the ball rolling, I thought I would give it a go. First of all why do I like this film (by the way you might hate it, which is just as interesting, though you'd have to have reason)? It's not a Hollywood film for sure.  If you watch with those eyes, then you're going to be disappointed. I don't have a problem with that. I like Hollywood films (I thought the last Star Trek was OK, and I like Iron Man 3), but I also like independent films because they make me think more. This film was made by Shane Carruth and friends for supposedly only $7,000. I love the idea that you could make a Sci-Fi film for that little money! Maybe the greatest lesson of this film is go out and create something for yourself.

At the heart of the film is what is known as the 'Grandfather Paradox'. If I could go back into the past and kill my grandfather, then would I still exist? But if I had done so, how would I have gone back into the past to kill him in the first place? The twist on this theme in this film is that the person who goes back into the past, and the person in the past continue to exist. So what we get is a whole series of doppelgangers and this explains the narrative complexity. The filmmaker does not tell you which version of whom is on the screen at anyone time (as we say in film and literary theory we have an 'unreliable narrator').

Myself, I can only work this out on paper with a pen or pencil (and you can find really complex diagrams on the web if you want to), but I'm going to give it ago here (I found Jason Gendler's article really useful). What we get our multiple versions of the same person (of whom we do not know which one is which). Thus for the main character we get Aaron1, Aaron2, and Aaron 3. So Aaron1 goes back in time and we get Aaron2 and Aaron 2 goes back in time and we get Aaron 3 and so on. Again the twist is each of these instances exist in different possibilities in the same reality. In simple time-travel movies (lie Back to the Future), the action exists in the same reality with a single causal chain. In Primer, we have time travel plus multiple realities that exist contemporaneously (the idea of multiple worlds was first of all thought of by Leibniz and is very important in modern physics). So if we go back to the Grandfather example, I go back into the past and kill my grandfather. The I in the first reality does cease to exist (I1, so speak), but I2 (the one who has gone back into the past) continues to exist and so on (In Primer, no-one goes back to kill anyone, so we have I1 and I2 and so with multiple possible I's all existing). Each of these versions exist in as a different version of reality (think of a different version as one in which you had or hadn't made decision (you decided not to come to the University of Gloucestershire, for example), but actually exists (so there really exists a reality in which you whole life is lived as though you hadn't come to the University of Gloucestershire), and then top of this, these different versions interact (so the person who are now meets the person who didn't go to Gloucestershire University), and the you have some idea of the complexity of the syuzhet. One reality with infinite possibilities that exist interacting with one another.

So that's the film's ontology.  What are its rules? Time travel is in one direction only: backwards. There is not travelling into the future (though of course we all exist in the present going forward into the future). Secondly one can only travel back into time as far as the time machine itself exists. One cannot for example, get into a time machine and just emerge into any past whatsoever (like in H.G. Wells's story) and party with dinosaurs. Rather you have to stay in the time machine for the period as long as one wants to go in the past. So if I wanted to go back in time from 8pm to 8am (to use Jason Gendler's example). I would have to stay in the machine for 12 hours. One other rule is that time-machines are collapsable. This means that you can take a time machine back inside a time machine (just to make things even more difficult!).

OK so what is the story [if you're reading this now, then it won't make much sense until you see the film and even then maybe not). Two engineers (Aaron and Abe) invent a machine that stops gravity and makes objects lighter. Whilst waiting for funding, Abe realises that it is a time machine. He builds two time machines (one as a 'failsafe' just in case something happens) and goes back in time to tell Aaron that they have invented a time machine. They build another machine for Aaron to use. That night there is party in which Rachel, a friend of Abe and Aaron, is threatened by her ex-boyfriend. They don't know about this event, but learn about it later. Unknown to Abe, Aaron finds the failsafe time machine, uses it, and takes another time machine with him back into the past (we know have Aaron 2). Remember these two possible Aaron's exist in the same reality (this is the ontology of the film). Aaron 2 sets up his own failsafe and modifies Abe's failsafe so that it can only be used if he uses his (this means Aaron 2 can go back furthest in time). Aaron 2 drugs Aaron 1 and acts the day as Aaron 1 having the same conversation with Abe who thinks that he is Aaron 1.  He also stops the guy with the shotgun at the party so becoming the hero. Just when we think that things couldn't me more difficult, we get Aaron 3 (possibly because the actions of Aaron 2 haven't really solved the even at the party). We now have three Aarons: Aaron 1 (the one who hasn't gone back in time), Aaron 2 and Aaron 3. Aaron 3 goes back in time before Aaron 2 drugs Aaron 1 and attacks him (Aaron 2 that is). Aaron 3 loses the fight (exhausted by all the time travel, but convinces Aaron 2 to leave because he has done all that Aaron was going to do anyway). Later Aaron 2 tells Aaron 1 about the actions of Aaron 2 and Aaron 3 (we learn this through a voice over). Aaron 3 then replaces Aaron 1 and Aaron 2 and relives the day again having the same conversation with Abe. Aaron 3 also goes back to the party and get the ex-boyfriend arrested and thus becomes the hero. Abe and Aaron 3 (who Abe thinks is Aaron 1) go back into the past so as to manipulate the stock market to make money. Abe finds out about the party and is angry with Aaron 3 for risking everything (of course Aaron has to act as though he hadn't travelled back into the past to manipulate events). They then encounter Thomas Granger 2, Rachel's father, who somehow without them knowing, has found out about the time machine. Abe, afraid that everything is getting out the control, decides to use his failsafe machine (the one that Aaron has already tampered with), thinking that he can go back into the past and not tell Aaron about the machine. Abe 2 goes back and gasses Abe 1.  Abe 2 thinks he's talking to Aaron 1, but it is in fact Aaron 3.  Aaron 3 tells Abe 2 who he really is and what has transpired. Abe 2 then reluctantly helps Aaron 3 go through the same events of the party, so that Aaron 3 becomes the hero (this is the third time this event is repeated).  Abe 2 wants to stop Abe 1 and Aaron 1 ever finding out about time travel. Aaron 3 just wants to make as much money manipulating the stock market, and an indeterminate Aaron (is it Aaron 2 or some other one), is seen at the end of the film somewhere in France with a huge time machine (we have no idea what he's going to use it for). Then the film ends.

I love this film just for its very form. The way the narrative and the telling of narrative comes together and diverges; the cinematography, editing technique, and music; that there are no professional actors and no special effects. Elsewhere Shane Carruth says that film is a whole new language and I think he's right (he has a new film out which sounds as strange as this one and its called Upstream Color). Yet even more importantly, it's a film that doesn't insult its audience. Hollywood films, for the most part, are about the status quo. They don't make you question. At best they can be ironic, but they are still part of the mainstream. This makes you think and it does so in three ways:

  1. Philosophy of science. Shane Carruth did his degree in maths. He said that he wanted to show the audience how scientists really worked and not what we think is the image of science.
  2. Ethics. For all their technical and scientific ability, the characters in this film have little or no ethical insight. Having discovered time travel all they can think about is how to make money on the stock market.
  3. Identity. What does it mean to be me? What is self-consciousness, what is identity. Am I just my memories and choices.
  4. Time. How does time make up who I am. How do I exist in time.
  5. Ontology. What is the relation between possibility and existence. The conception of reality as infinite variation of possibilities is very close to what the French philosopher calls the virtual.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Some updates..

FCH Campus...
As we get ready for induction next week - don't forget the RPE Facebook group at - its starting to get more lively again, and is open to all.

The full plan for next week's induction will go to new students as they arrive - but will include meetings with tutors, talks, mini-projects, a film-showing one evening (in the Exmouth Arms function room), the Freshers Fair event, and all manner of 'fun'.

Meanwhile we're also looking at a day in London for all RPE students (as we've done before), just trying to decide waht to squeeze in - and planning our Diwali trip, Spain trip, etc - see

Looking forward to seeing or new students and those returning for 2nd and 3rd years!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Almost ready..

Bright enough outside TC007?
As we prepare for the new term - with new colours as you can see in the TC corridor - we're looking forward to welcoming a new cohort of students on the RPE course.

The is open to you all - please feel free to join or browse.

You may want to pass on details of our essay competition for A level students to your old sixth-form /FE college- details are here: 

We'll no doubt post more here as Induction week approaches!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Campus in the sunshine..
While the RPE blog may be a little quiet over the summer - a fair few of us are still active over at the course Facebook page:  - which is open to all..

In case you’re interested – there is more info about our Religion, Philosophy & Ethics course in our leaflet – enjoy

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

RPE Essay Prize

For the 2014 Competition - click HERE..


Religion, Philosophy and Ethics Essay Competition 2013

First prize: a new iPad
Four Runners-up receive a £20 Amazon voucher

The Religion, Philosophy and Ethics (RPE) course at the University of Gloucestershire is launching the new RPE Essay Prize.

The competition is open to all those currently studying for any AS or A2-level examinations (or equivalent) in the UK. The first prize is a new iPad, and there will be four runners-up prizes of £20 Amazon vouchers.

Entries must be no longer than 1500 words including footnotes but excluding references and can take any form e.g. essay, dialogue, etc. All sources must be referenced.

The deadline for the 1500 word essay is 5pm on 31st October 2013 and will be judged by RPE lecturers. The winner will be announced on the RPE Blog on 1st December 2013

To enter please choose one of the titles below and email your entry to (please note you may only submit one entry to the competition).

Entries must be written in as a Microsoft Word document. Entries will normally be acknowledged within 5 days. In your email, please put your name, the Sixth Form / FE college you attend, and the title you have chosen to answer. The subject of your email should be 'essay competition'.

The University of Gloucestershire reserve the right to publish entries but entrants will retain copyright over their work. We intend to publish the winning essay on the RPE Course Blog at
Choose one of the following titles:

Title 1: Does religion still have any relevance in the twenty-first century?

Title 2: What would you say to someone who declares we cannot know anything for certain? Can this be disproved?

Title 3: Are there any ethical rules for which there are no exceptions and, if so, why? If not, why not?

·       1500 words maximum
·       Your essay must include the title/your name/contact email at the top of the page
·       The essay must be an attachment to the email as a Microsoft Word document
Any essay that does not satisfy these three conditions will not be considered by the judging panel.

The panel decision is final, and no correspondence will be entered into.


Course Facebook Group:        (open to all) 

Video Interview blog:

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Planning the year ahead..

Students in Seville Alcazar
As we look back, we can see what has been enjoyed, and found useful, by our students, and plan the coming year.

We went to Spain with the second years in March: a 5 night trip based around Cordoba - where we look at the interaction of Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions. We visit the Mezquita, The  
A well-earned rest after the journey
The Mezquita in Cordoba
Jewish Museum, Seville Cathedral, Cordoba Alcazar, Seville Real Alcazar, Medina Azahara, the Torre de la Calahorra museum, an archaeological museum, the bathhouse of the Caliphs, and I'm sure I've missed somewhere out! It is a bust few days, but  an amazing trip where students gain a huge amount of understanding. There's a report from the 2011 trip HERE, and pictures from the recent one HERE.. We have a tour guide for sections, and there is some free time too..

Leicester for Diwali
London Visit
We also - in a perhaps less glamorous location - plan to repeat our visit to Diwali in Leicester: Our report is HERE..  Next year we plan to arrive in order to have a meal before we commence the visit. It might even not rain..

We have also been to the Swaminaryan Hindu Temple in London (see HERE for a report), which we hope to visit this year, as well as planning a trip to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford..

Less picturesque but equally exciting is our plan to skype in some guest speakers next year, from as far away as Australia, for Q & A chats with our students. Of course we are also planning our lectures and day-to-day seminars, extra-curricular plans and the like - you can get a taste of these on our course Facebook group at: , or download our Course Leaflet HERE..

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Speaking at CESNUR
I recently attended CESNUR13, a conference about New Religious Movements. The proceedings are HERE, but I also made some short videos while I was there, which are at :  - along with other videos by the RPE staff...

They cover things as far apart as Jehovah's Witnesses' Music, Cyborgs and Transhumanism in Paganism, Satanism, Spiritual Tourism, and more..

Should be of interest - and useful for those taking our module on NRMs within the RPE course: HM4503 New Religious Movements.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

“For who would dare to assert that eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment's human suffering”

For RPE 305 Philosophy and Literature we will be starting off by looking at Albert Camus' novel The Plague. For your 'summer reading', then, you should at the very least read this novel - and more than once if you can! You may then like to read his novella The Stranger, which we will be looking at next.

The Plague can be read at many levels, but I suggest the best way to approach this is to imagine if you are put into a situation where you are trapped in a plague-ridden town and your whole world is turned upside down: you could die at any moment and your friends and loved ones are dying around you. How would you respond? How do the characters in the novel react to this situation? Can you blame them for their actions and who, if anyone, remains 'true' to him/herself? 

I would also suggest you familiarise yourself with the basic existential themes. A good starting-point is:

Flynn, Thomas, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction, OUP (ebook), 2006.

Note this is a library ebook so you can access this on your computer, print it off etc.

Although it has its critics, we will also be looking at a number of passages from Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism (E&H), published by Yale University Press.

Feel free to post any of your thought here. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Assuming that truth is a woman – what then?

For those of you who will be taking the module RPE307 Close Philosophical Reading, we will be looking at Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. The plan is to have a close reading of one section each week for discussion, but I also intend to have an online reading group on this blog that is open to all. The module will not start until January 2014, but it will certainly do you no harm to start some background reading before then. Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil covers most of his philosophical ideas, and so you should familiarise yourself with a good, basic introduction. If I may 'be so bold' to recommend my Nietzsche: The Key Ideas. A revised, extended edition called A Complete Introduction to Nietzsche should be coming later this year. In addition, I recommend students acquire at least one of the following section-by-section commentaries on the text:

Burnham, DouglasReading Nietzsche: An Analysis of Beyond Good and Evil, Acumen Publishing, 2006

Lampert, LaurenceNietzsche’s Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil, Yale University Press, 2004

Southwell, Gareth, A Beginner's Guide to Beyond Good and Evil, Blackwell, 2008

As Nietzsche himself says, ‘the hardest thing to translate from one language to another is the tempo of its style.’ There are many translations of Beyond Good and Evil, and they vary greatly.  In my opinion, the Marion Faber translation is still the best in capturing Nietzsche’s ‘style’.

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. by Marion Faber, OUP, 1998 (Reissued 2008)

As a starting point, you should read the Preface (a couple of pages) which contains certain major themes as well as introducing Nietzsche's way of working. As you are reading it (and you should read it at least two or three times to get used to his style and way of thinking), try to be aware of these. In particular:

·       Assuming that truth is a woman – what then?’ What do you think Nietzsche means by this when you read what he says after?
·       What does Nietzsche mean by dogmatism? Who are the dogmatists?
·       What is Nietzsche’s view of much of philosophy so far?
·       Why does Nietzsche refer to Jesuitism and the democratic Enlightenment?
·       What do you think Nietzsche is setting out to do?

It will also help you to 'get to know' Nietzsche, and I highly recommend Julian Young's book here. It's long, but detailed and up-to-date, and it is also a philosophical biography, so you will get a very good idea of his views. You should also watch the excellent film on Nietzsche from the Human All-Too-Human series. 

Have fun and keep posted as I will be adding more on Nietzsche from time to time...and let me know what you think of the Preface!