An MPhil Degree is short for ‘Master of Philosophy’ although it usually has nothing to do with philosophy. Normally, to qualify to do this you need a first degree and a master’s degree in the subject you’re wanting to study. An MPhil is halfway between a master’s degree and a doctorate or PhD, although it’s nearer the doctorate than the master’s.
It’s a ‘research’ degree which means you teach yourself – it’s up to you to find all the relevant books, resources, journals and online articles which you need to think things through and make your case. You also need time with your tutors.
You have to produce a thesis of 60,000 words (80-100,000 for a doctorate) and you have to show that you’ve broken new ground in research and thinking on the subject, in order to persuade your examiners to award your degree to you.
I started mine when in Romania, not realising just how difficult it would be. For a start, no bookshops there sold English theological books, nor did the libraries stock them. All my resources had to be found on the internet or on the trips I had to do to the UK, when I saw my tutors (and also visited my parents and family!) There were virtually no resources for what I wanted to do anyway, because nobody was doing any thinking or reflection in the area in which I was interested, so I had to learn to do some serious ferreting.
I did it as a part-time ‘external’ student ie one who is not resident in the college, and I needed to fulfil the required number of face-to-face tutorials each year – so I would book into my college for a week or so and have an intensive time! I could also raid the college library and do loads of photocopying and fill up my case and trundle it back to Romania full of books and paper. As some of this was at the height of the terrorist attacks I had some very full-on airport searches sometimes!
I have learned a HUGE amount and not least, about how God answered my prayers and led and helped me continually, so that I had a strong sense all the way through that He wanted me to do this. For a start, my first degree is not in theology and I don’t have a master’s. This in itself would normally disqualify me but in view of my ‘life experience’ the college staff decided that they could make the case for me to the university.
Not that I ever set out to do a research degree – I just wanted to do an ordinary Master’s and have done with it! – but such a course did not exist at that time.
Then I couldn’t find a theological college to take me on. I was looking at why the relationships between the different church denominations in Romania are so bad. I was asking why, and I wanted to look at a way in which they might improve. So I needed somewhere with staff who could cover Eastern Europe, and ecumenism (study of relationships between churches) and trinitarian theology (study of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit). So I prayed about it, and finally, after being turned down by college after college because they didn’t have the staff to cover all those areas, to my surprise St John’s College in Nottingham said they could cover it all and even got very enthusiastic about it.
Then there was the money angle. Although studying as an external student is much cheaper, it was still far more than a couple of mission partners on £5,000 a year could afford.
So I prayed about that too … and again, after a lot of searching and being turned down, I discovered two grant-making agencies whose bursaries kept me going.
Then there was the study itself! Trinitarian theology is incredibly complex and I had to start almost from scratch, although of course I had some background through my training for ordination. Some of it was REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT and forced me to do the hardest thinking I’ve ever done. Sometimes I got totally stuck and just didn’t know how to take an argument forward. I would pray about it and it was amazing how often, next time I sat down and thought furiously about it, the answer would come. After a while I began to rely on it – it was almost like God and me working in partnership, with him teaching me about himself.
So although it was so demanding it was also an amazing privilege. I’ve learnt so much and I’ve been changed by it, and I can now understand things I didn’t understand before – and to be even more aware of how much else there is to learn.
So it’s been a long and arduous journey, but I don’t think it’s over yet. I am very vexed by the way westerners – both missionary and secular – arrive in other people’s countries and set about trying to ‘help’ or ‘put things right’ without understanding a thing about the culture of that country. In an Orthodox country like Romania,
most missionaries feel they can only work by completely ignoring the Orthodox and behaving as if they are not a true church. This just makes relationships even angrier and more violent, and is an irresponsible way of behaving. So I hope that my studies will eventually help those going to countries with a national Orthodox church, so that they can try and work with the church, rather than against it.
However, I can’t face doing any more with it at present. I’m going to have a break and I’m hoping to have a proper graduation in the summer. But I have a feeling that God hasn’t finished with it yet – which means, neither have I!