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The History of the Department of Religious & Theological Studies

The history of the Department of Religious and Theological Studies at Cardiff University goes back to the teaching of Hebrew in what was then the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire from 1884 onwards. From the 1890s to the 1920s, this was part of a cooperative arrangement by which staff of what is now South Wales Baptist College also taught within the University College, as part of a Bachelor of Divinity course recognised by the federal University of Wales. D. Tyssil Evans, who was appointed as lecturer in Hebrew (later Semitic Languages) in 1891, and Theodore H. Robinson, who took over as lecturer in 1915, were both Baptist ministers, and joint appointments with the Baptist College.

In 1927 Theodore Robinson was appointed to a newly established chair in Semitic Languages at the University College, bringing to an end the joint appointments with the Baptist College. The new arrangements were formalised a few years later through the creation of the Cardiff Faculty of Theology and Cardiff School of Theology. An assistant lecturer was added in 1930, and the resultant Department of Semitic Languages was further enlarged to a staff of five in the 1940s, after the 1944 Education Act created a need for Scripture specialists in schools.

Theodore Robinson (1881-1964), who continued as Professor and Head of Department until 1944, was an eminent Biblical scholar, and the Department became a major centre for the study of Semitic languages. Robinson had previously taught at Serampore College in Calcutta and he retained a strong interest in Hinduism and other world religions. His works include an Outline Introduction to the History of Religions (1926), though he is best known for his work on prophets and prophecy in the Old Testament, and area in which he shows a considerable awareness of the anthropological writing of his day.

His successor as Professor and Head of School, Aubrey R. Johnson (1901-85) was an equally distinguished scholar, known for his work on kingship in ancient Israel. During his time at Cardiff, St Michaels College Llandaff joined the Cardiff School and Faculty of Theology, and a Collegiate Centre of Theology was set up with funds from the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen, which had been closed in 1963. A lecturer in Religious Studies, Dr Cyril Williams, was also appointed at the University College. Dr Williams, who further developed the teaching of world religions at Cardiff University, left in 1968. His achievements included a Welsh translation of the Bhagavad-Gita.

Aubrey Johnson retired in 1966, and was succeeded as Head of Department by the noted Assyriologist, Harry Saggs (Henry W. F. Saggs, 1920-2005). Dr Paul Ballard, who was appointed as Warden of the Collegiate Centre in 1968, was responsible for the development of pastoral theology within the University. Following Professor Saggs’ retirement in 1983 and the merger of University College Cardiff with UWIST in 1988, the Department was restructured as a Department of Religious Studies, including Semitic languages, world religions, and pastoral theology, and Dr Humphrey Palmer took over as Head.

The Department continued as a School of Religious and Theological Studies after the subsequent administrative restructure. The Bachelor of Divinity degree was replaced by a new, more pastorally-oriented Bachelor of Theology degree, and Religious Studies was further developed as a component of the Bachelor of Arts degree. Teaching on non-Western religions was also progressively expanded. Dr (later Professor) Paul Ballard took over as Head of School in 1995, with Professor Stephen Pattison following him in 2001. The School also grew considerably in size, and became one of the leading departments in religious and theological studies in the UK.

During the first decade of the 21st century the School of Religious and Theological Studies at Cardiff retained a major emphasis on textual and historical studies, now extending over both Western and Asian religions. Research in these areas was now organised through the Centre for Late Antique Religion and Culture (CLARC) and the History of Asian Religions research group. Further appointments since 2000 led to the growth of anthropological and sociological approaches to religion as a further major element within the School. Research in the anthropological and sociological study of religion was organised through the Body, Health and Religion research group and the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK. The School’s focus on pastoral and practical theology also continued, with this area now largely taught through the two affiliated Theological Colleges (St Michael's College and the South Wales Baptist College). A new Centre for Chaplaincy Studies was launched to promote research in this field.

In August 2010, the School of Religious and Theological Studies merged with the School of History and Archaeology to become, in the new School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE), the Department of Religious Studies and Theology.

The Department now has three centres of research, the Centre for Late Antique Religion and Culture, the Centre for the History of Religion in Asia (CHRA) formed in 2009, and the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK. The Body, Health and Religion research group and the Centre for Chaplaincy Studies are now part of a contemporary research unit in the new School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

On 7 February 2011 Cardiff University entered into a new partnership agreement with St. Michaels College and South Wales Baptist College, to succeed the Collegiate Faculty of Theology.