Helena Phillips is in the final year of a joint honours programme in Religious Studies and Philosophy.
What attracted you to the course?
Religion plays a major role in national and international events and is increasingly involved in politics, so I wanted to better understand individual belief and the impact of different belief systems across the world and throughout history. Religion is often discussed, but generally very poorly understood. Taking Religious Studies allows you to challenge people’s misconceptions and better understand key controversies.
And why did you choose Kent?
Most other departments that I looked at focused on Christian theology, whereas Kent focuses more on world religions and has strong research in East Asian traditions. The impact of religion in contemporary society is also a big research area, as opposed to only looking at doctrine and early traditions. I came to an Applicant Day, had taster sessions with the department and got a chance to meet some of the lecturers. That was fantastic – I knew immediately that I wanted to come here, because they were so enthusiastic and engaging.
How is your course going?
The choice of modules has been the best thing because I’ve been able to study lots of different religious traditions that I didn’t know anything about. And learning about the sociology and psychology of religion as well, which isn’t offered elsewhere, has been really interesting.
What are your favourite modules?
I’m really enjoying writing my dissertation about Buddhism and mindfulness. Mindfulness is everywhere at the moment – self-help books, NHS healthcare, military, business, politics – but it’s really poorly understood. So in my dissertation I’m comparing western secular mindfulness to Buddhist mindfulness, which is far more concerned with ethical behaviour and its broader social implications.
What do you think of the support available?
All students have an academic adviser to help with choosing their modules, and peer mentoring is available too. Staff have weekly drop-in sessions, where you can ask questions and get essay advice and feedback. I’ve also felt welcome to discuss other ideas and interesting things I’ve found during research. Because it’s a small department, you get to know the staff quite well and they’re all very approachable. They make it clear you can contact them outside office hours as well.
What social activities are you involved in?
In my second year I was president of the Religious Studies Society: we organised lots of events, including a trip abroad. This year I’m on the committee of the Poetry Society, helping to run events. I’m also a Student Ambassador, because I genuinely think this is a fantastic university. I love the department and the course, and talking about it to prospective pupils and their parents.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I’m working as an Activity Leader for the National Citizenship Service (NCS) over the summer, which will be challenging, but great fun. In September I start tutoring and teaching training at a school for students with special educational needs. In the future, I’m hoping to complete a TEFL qualification and teach English in Asia. Religious Studies is non-vocational: you develop lots of skills which you can apply to many different careers.
Any advice for future students?
Come to Kent! Do the suggested reading before starting to familiarise yourself with what you’re going to be studying. Once you’re here, get involved in societies and department events – it will help you meet like-minded people and make new friends. And try not to worry too much. Everyone is nervous when they first start university and there’s lots of support available.