Over the course of my degree my unprecedented academic promiscuity have lead me to sampling many schools and disciplines across the humanities, sciences and social sciences. It is based on this experience that I have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that the Durham University Department of Theology and Religion is one of the most awesome university departments evers.
First of all, its location on Palace Green, no further comment needed on that point. Secondly, it is the only department in which one can achieve the rank of ‘Professor of Divinity’, which arguably is the most badass academic title ever. I mean, can you think of any other title that directly implies that you’re an expert on, well, being divine?
Where the department really shines, however, is in a 2nd year module called ‘Death, Ritual and Belief’, henceforth referred to as the ‘Module of Death’. The module is every bit as metal as it sounds, it is basically a study of death and how cultures deal with it. At one point the entire class even went to visit the crematorium, and we could look at burning bodies if we wanted to.
My little anecdote is concerned with a seminar in the module of Death.
It was a dark Monday afternoon, and a small group of fellow students and I were preparing to partake in an-hour long session in which we would face our own mortality. The seminar was taking place in the main department building on the bottom floor, because where else?
As the seminar was starting, and the gloomy reality of the fleeting nature of our existence was starting to seep into our conscious awareness, the door opened. In walked a stranger, looking wearily about with a lost and confused look drawn upon his face. He stared bewildered, yet solemnly at us for a moment, before he opened his mouth to speak:
‘Is this where I can find “God, freedom and the soul”?’
Our professor turned slowly towards the stranger and fixed his gaze upon him.
‘No, down here you will only find death. What you seek can be only be found above,’ he answered, directing his right index finger towards the ceiling to drive home the message.
Whether our bewildered ended up finding his intended seminar, salvation for his soul or both no one knows.