Tutorial seminars

These tutorial seminars give you the chance to explore your chosen subject in depth with an expert member of faculty and a small group of committed students.

Scio Study Abroad Osp Seminar Oxford Museum Natural History

The Tutorial seminar

SCIO’s month long tutorial seminars are based around tutorial method of teaching and

  • form the foundation for the SCIO Summer Programme (each tutorial seminar is worth 3 credits, and each student takes two tutorial seminars)
  • can be taken as stand alone online courses (each tutorial seminar is worth 3 credits, and one or two are recommended).

Tutorial seminar structure

Each tutorial seminar consists of three discussion classes, four gobbets classes, and two tutorials (gobbet is a small mouthful of text for close reading or translation and then discussion).  Students will also have the opportunity to present their research to the group.

Below you will find detailed syllabuses and reading lists so that, once your tutorial seminar allocation has been confirmed, you will be able to start some preparatory reading.

Tutorial seminar discussion classes are meetings of 1 to 2  hours with the seminar leader and fewer than 12 students. For each discussion class students read all or parts of assigned texts and then discuss them.

Gobbets classes are one hour meetings with your tutor and a small group of up to 4 students where you discuss texts in more detail. No written work is required for either the discussion or the gobbets classes.

Tutorials are individual meetings of one hour between the seminar leader and each of the seminar participants. In preparation for each tutorial the student reads assigned texts and writes an essay of 2,000 words (3,000 words in the case of graduate students) in response to a question set by the seminar leader.

Tutorial seminars: seminar descriptions available below

Applied Ethics

Dr Ana-Maria Pascal

The purpose of this course is to help you understand how to approach ethical dilemmas, using normative theories and a considered line of argumentation. You will explore both the benefits and the limitations of different theoretical frameworks – from virtue ethics, to utilitarianism and deontology; and you will reflect on the significance of the fact that these are all representatives of Western philosophy. You will then consider what is distinctive in other ethical traditions – such as the Indian, the Buddhist, the Islamic, or the Chinese; and what they share with contemporary Western ethics.

Second, you will test different ethical theories on practical issues currently at the centre of civic debate. These range from human to animal rights, war, immigration, and euthanasia. You will reflect on how these are often related to the broader socio-economic, regulatory, and cultural context; and how commercial interests on the one hand, and socio-cultural commitments, public discourse and prejudice, on the other, impact on the way these practical issues pan out in the public domain.

Third – and upon request – you may focus on business ethics and corporate social responsibility issues, exploring the relationship between corporate power and responsibility, and how this relates to government activity and the wider society. In this context, you may investigate criminal cases that combine moral and legal issues, such as bribery, fraud, money laundering or insider dealing, using major scandals to illustrate, e.g. Enron, Rana Plaza, or the fall of Lehman Brothers. You may also consider cases of complicity between major corporations and corrupt regimes, and reflect on the efforts made by international agencies like the UN, to tackle such challenges more efficiently.

C.S. Lewis and the Classics

Dr Jonathan Kirkpatrick

For Csl And The Classics SeminarWhen C.S. Lewis arrived in Oxford in 1917, he came to study Classics: the literature, history, and thought of ancient Greece and Rome. He was an atheist, and was fascinated by the pagan mythology of the classical world, and this was a fascination that never left him. In fact, it was through this love of mythology that he finally became a Christian, and he drew on this rich classical heritage throughout his career and a teacher and writer.

Lewis was a star student, and earned a prestigious ‘double first’ degree before moving on to a career in English literature. (Tolkien, by contrast, also studied Classics at Oxford, but earned mediocre grades and dropped out of the course.) Lewis’s classical education formed him: one cannot read far in his books without coming across a reference to an ancient Greek story, or a Latin quotation, and in this course we will be examining the enormous influence that Classics had on Lewis’s life and thought.

The only classical god to appear in Narnia is Bacchus, the god of wine and license (in Prince Caspian); why did Lewis let him in? This is one of many intriguing questions we’ll be addressing. In fact, Bacchus (or Dionysus) was deeply interesting to Lewis, and closely connected to his views of Christ; and there are many other classical elements in the Narnia books, such as fauns and centaurs, that we’ll investigate. We will consider the role mythology played in Lewis’s understanding of the world, and, particularly, in his conversion to Christianity. We will look at one of Lewis’s favourite poems, Virgil’s epic Aeneid, and consider how its picture of wanderings in search of a home related to Lewis’s ideas of the Christian experience. We will examine Lewis’s final novel, Till We Have Faces, in which he retold the myth of Cupid and Psyche, a task which he had been trying to do for most of his life.

Lewis’s love of the Classics pervaded his thought, and in this course we will be looking at its influence in his fiction, his literary criticism, his poetry, his letters, and his Christian apologetics. Equally exciting is the chance to examine the Classical world through Lewis’s eyes. There is a great deal of pleasure to be derived both from reading Lewis and from investigating the classical world, and in addition to this students will gain a much deeper understanding of Lewis as a writer and as a Christian.

Contemporary British Culture: History, Politics, and Society

Dr Elizabeth Baigent

Britain in the twenty-first century is a country looking for an identity.  Having left the European Union in January 2020 Britain needs to find new policies at home and a new role abroad.  Having ‘regained our national sovereignty’, as Brexit supporters put it, Britons now need to decide how to make use of that sovereignty.  Covid-19 has forced further reappraisal of what matters to Britons:  should the country return as soon as possible to how things were before, or is this a singular opportunity to reimagine polity and society, giving priority to the things which lockdown showed us were valuable?

This course takes a succession of British tropes to probe what they tell us about contemporary Britain and how they shape discussions of the nation’s future.  What, for example, does the Union Jack (strictly speaking the Union flag) reveal about the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and their relationship with the whole? What does the British cup of tea tell us about the nation’s role in global trade and colonisation?  What does the king tell us about Britain’s version of democracy?  What can we learn from the James Bond novels and films about Britain’s fear of international decline and its sense of superiority?  In what way are soccer, cricket, and Wimbledon windows on to British class, ethnic, and regional cultures?  What does Britain’s ‘green and pleasant land’ reveal about conservation, rural life, and leisure in Britain?  What does Westminster Abbey, the national pantheon, reveal about Britons’ relationship to the past?   What does a country church tell us about religion in Britain?  Why on earth do Britons talk about the weather all the time?  What does the BBC reveal about the English language, Britain’s role in the world, free speech, and British values?  What does the Channel Tunnel tell us about Britain’s relationship to Europe?

With these and other tropes we explore Britain and its inhabitants, searching for explanation rooted in the past, and considering what the nation might look like in the future.

Creative Writing

Dr Kieron Winn and Dr Alice Stainer

Writing Ideas

If you study creative writing at OSP, you will read canonical writing with an eye to techniques you can make your own in writing that will be workshopped, one-to-one, with the tutor. In the prose section of the course you’ll read a short story by James Joyce, noting his stealthy satire of society and literary convention, then take a boat out on the stream of consciousness of Virginia Woolf. Can you pick up her knack of jumping from one person’s point of view to another’s on the turn of a comma?

The poetry section includes looking, though T.S. Eliot’s ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, at ways of communicating through music and repeated sounds. (How do you feel different saying ‘is it/visit’ compared to ‘go/Michelangelo’?) You’ll also, through reading the work of Philip Larkin, learn the right way to use metre and rhyme; the lines round a repeated stanza form make the shape not, as many think, of a ‘constricting’ container, but of a fabulous tennis court at Wimbledon.

The one-to-one tutorials are fundamentally a conversation, with a great deal of flexibility in what is discussed. Throughout the course, the emphasis will be on the pleasure of reading and the craft of writing, and on the triple literary aims of teaching, moving, and delighting both writer and reader.

Faith and Reason in the British Enlightenment

Dr Meriel Patrick

Ig Saturday 22The Enlightenment saw the rise and triumph of reason as the supreme power in many spheres. One area which – perhaps inevitably – provoked much discussion was religion. For some, this provided an opportunity to attempt to demonstrate a sound rational basis for religious belief; for others, it led to the challenging of old certainties.

In this course, we’ll examine the application of reason to matters of faith during this period. Our focus will be on the work of three British philosophers in the empiricist tradition, who were at work during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.

We’ll begin by exploring the key relationship between faith and reason. The two are sometimes contrasted with each other, but philosophers such as Locke argued that in fact they are complementary concepts, and need not be seen as in opposition to each other. A major question which exercised many thinkers was whether God’s existence can be proved, so we’ll also examine Locke’s version of the cosmological argument, Berkeley’s idealist philosophy (which he believed offered an antidote to atheism and irreligion), and the sceptic David Hume’s criticisms of the argument for design. There will also be a chance to look at some responses to these authors, from both contemporary writers and more modern ones.

Although written over two centuries ago, these texts raise crucial questions which remain just as relevant today, and this course provides an opportunity to harvest some of the riches of insight offered by great thinkers of the past.

Intellect and Imagination: the Rational Religion and Theological Stories of C.S. Lewis

Dr Meriel Patrick

Cs Lewis Books

C.S. Lewis is known to millions around the world as a writer of fantasy literature (most famously The chronicles of Narnia), and as someone with a gift for presenting Christian theology to a large popular audience, through works such as Mere Christianity and The problem of pain.

On the face of it, these two aspects of his writing – the imaginative and the intellectual – may seem quite different. But in this course, we’ll explore how the two work together and harmonize, and how fiction can in fact be an ideal vehicle for conveying complex concepts. We’ll look at a number of key strands of Lewis’s theological writings, examining both what he said and how he said it: we’ll delve into the arguments advanced and the claims made, and we’ll also consider what difference the form of the writing makes.

You’ll have the opportunity to investigate a variety of themes: Lewis’s trilemma (otherwise known as the ‘mad, bad, or God argument’!), his argument from desire (which suggests that the yearning we find within ourselves is an indication we were made for another world), his views on Christianity and myth, the problem of suffering, and heaven and hell. We’ll look at both his non-fiction books and essays, and his imaginative works, such as The great divorce.

You’ll be encouraged to apply your own analytical skills to Lewis’s writings and to some of the various responses to him (both positive and more critical), as we investigate his claim that religious truth requires a response from the whole person: that it must be both assented to with the reason and embraced by the imagination.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Oxford’s creator of other worlds

Dr Emma Plaskitt

Tolkien Bench Uni Parks

Oxford has been a centre of scholarship for centuries, and since the nineteenth century it has also boasted a considerable number of acclaimed and popular writers of what has come to be known as fantasy literature. Nonetheless, by the early twentieth century, the philologist and literature professor J.R.R. Tolkien felt that such fiction had fallen out of fashion and been handed over to children — ‘relegated to the nursery’. He set out to reclaim high fantasy for adults, believing that it had major literary merit and should not be dismissed as escapist or childish. In fact, he argued that fantasy can fulfil humanity’s ‘profounder wishes’, providing readers with a fresh perspective and a world stripped of its dull familiarity. Tolkien continues to dominate the genre in prose and film, setting the standard not only in fiction with The Lord of the Rings, but also in critical commentary with his 1939 lecture ‘On fairy-stories’, which remains a definitive piece of criticism.

In this course we will examine Tolkien’s life, his literary influences and source materials, the major works of fantasy, and selected critical responses, both positive and negative. For example, though Middle-earth was his attempt to create an authentic mythology for England, it has been criticized for its seeming lack of ethnic and gender diversity. Tolkien was shaped by his education, his traumatic experiences in the First World War, and a life spent in what was then the predominantly white, upper-class, male environment of Oxford. Sessions will therefore include discussion of the biographical, historical, and cultural contexts of his writings and their effect on the racial, gendered, regional, and socio-economic elements in his characterization and created world.

Notwithstanding, why does the Middle-earth legendarium continue to fascinate readers and to inspire new generations of fantasy writers? Are the wildly successful film adaptations of these books a testament to Tolkien’s vision or is Christopher Tolkien correct when he claims that the ‘commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing’? These are some of the questions we will consider.

Jane Austen in Context

Dr Emma Plaskitt

Bath H2018 227Since the publication in 1811 of a novel called Sense and Sensibility, ‘by a lady’, the works of Jane Austen have enjoyed both popularity and critical acclaim, and scholarly interest shows no sign of waning.

Nor does what can be described as a popular mania for all things Austen, especially in film and television: the so-called ‘Austen brand’ is thriving. In this course will find out why, examining Austen’s life and writings to assess her novelistic technique and development and her place among women writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In addition to studying the major novels, we will look at Austen’s juvenilia and place each text in its literary and historical context, examining, for example, the eighteenth-century cult of sensibility when we discuss Sense and Sensibility and the contemporary vogue for gothic novels when we study Austen’s burlesque of the gothic genre, Northanger Abbey.

Other themes that will be covered include Austen’s treatment of class, economics, education, female friendship, courtship, and politics.  Finally, students will be given the opportunity to assess selected screen adaptations of the novels to decide if they testify to the timelessness of Austen’s wit and the ongoing relevance of her social satire, or damage her reputation as a writer with the addition of romantic elements that distract from the commentary and limit Austen’s appeal to a female audience.

Oxford and the Pursuit of Beauty: Art and Criticism in the Nineteenth Century

Dr Jonathan Kirkpatrick

Two of the greatest Victorian art theorists, John Ruskin and Walter Pater, studied and taught at Oxford, and their influence both in the city and further afield was immense. While Ruskin sought to link the visual arts to a serious moral vision of society, based in his evangelical upbringing, Pater preached the gospel of Aestheticism, pursuing beauty as an end in itself and advocating art for art’s sake. Their writings are theoretically challenging and controversial, as well as being masterpieces of prose, and we will examine their ideas and put them in their wider context.

We will examine the influence of these ideas as well. Ruskin’s love of medieval society and gothic architecture influenced buildings and painting in Oxford, where the battle between the classical and gothic styles was seriously and bitterly pursued. His ideas spurred revolutionary young painters: the original PreRaphaelites; and subsequently William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, both undergraduates at Oxford, whose work laid down the foundations of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Walter Pater’s elevation of beauty made him a pariah in conservative Oxford, but his shocking ideas enraptured young people looking to break free from stuffy social expectations. Oscar Wilde, another Oxford undergraduate, was captured by his spell, and worked out his philosophy in masterpieces of creative literature.

We will study at the buildings in Oxford whose design reflects competing ideologies about art: the Martyrs’ Memorial, the Ashmolean Museum, the University Museum, and Keble College, among others. We will examine the artists who worked in Oxford, from professionals such as Dante Gabriel Rosetti to amateurs such as the passionate photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (otherwise known as Lewis Carroll). We will also consider patrons, such as Thomas Combe, printer to the university, whose love of PreRaphaelite art combined with his commitment to the High Church and whose prize painting, Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”, hangs today in Keble Chapel.

In this seminar we will look at revolutionary texts about the place of visual art in society: texts which propose opposing views about what is valuable in art and which still have an impact on the way we look at art today. We will also look at the art that inspired and was inspired by these writings, aiming to enjoy it, understand it, and place it in its historical context.

Oxford women philosophers, on God and the good

Dr Ana-Maria Pascal

A hundred years ago, British philosophy was dominated by a group of male scholars who would be later referred to as ‘analytic philosophers’; more specifically, they were associated with ‘ordinary language philosophy’, because of their focus on logic and ordinary language. Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein in Cambridge, and Gilbert Ryle, JL Austin and AJ Ayer in Oxford, defined the remit and methods of philosophy, for the better part of the 20th century. One would have to dig deep into the footnotes of an elaborate history of British philosophy, to find any reference to female intellectuals, like GEM Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, or Philippa Foot. And yet, it was these women who redefined moral philosophy, when it mattered most – in the post-war period. For them, defending the objectivity of morality was more than a matter of language, or argumentation. It was a matter of life and death.

In this course, you will have the opportunity to explore how each of these women solved the problem of good and evil; how they defended the rational roots of morality; and what their relationship with God was. You will learn that, although they had different religious commitments (or none), they all took the notion of metaphysical goodness seriously. For Anscombe, the anchor was always her Roman Catholic faith; for Murdoch – it was a belief in metaphysical values; similarly, for Foot – it was a conviction that one ought to be able to make ethical pronouncements, because there were such things as fundamentally good, bad, right, or wrong behaviour. In addition, we will explore the practical consequences of their philosophy on the public scene, for each of these women engaged with applied ethics in her own way, whether helping refugees (Murdoch), supporting Oxfam and writing on euthanasia (Foot), abortion and contraception (Anscombe).

While in Oxford, you might find yourself walking down the road between St Hugh’s (where Anscombe studied Classics) and Sommerville – the home of Foot and Murdoch; as you do, you might notice the Radcliffe Humanities building on your right, nowadays home to the Faculty of Philosophy. Walk in, and you will see pictures of all three women up on the wall, alongside those of more ‘representative’ figures of mainstream analytic philosophy.

Prohibition and Transgression: the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Gothic Novel

Dr Alice Stainer

Full Moon And Clouds 36

The eighteenth-century gothic movement was a reaction to the dominance of the Enlightenment emphasis on reason and rationalism. The Marquis de Sade saw it as the natural literary result of the violence and terror of the French Revolution.  Its conventions included aristocratic villains and persecuted maidens, the supernatural, the victory of nature over man’s creations and of chaos over order, and the theme of imprisonment with the consciousness forced back upon itself.

As a transgressive sub-genre of the novel, it was anti-Catholic, anti-nostalgic, and anti-aristocratic.  It evolved in the Victorian age to reflect nineteenth-century concerns about religion, race, gender, imperialism, and cultural degeneration.  This course will trace its development from the first gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), to Bram Stoker’s presentation of fin-de-siècle anxiety in Dracula (1897).

Other novels to be discussed include Ann Radcliffe’s highly influential novel of ‘sublimity’, A Sicilian Romance (1790), Jane Austen’s witty and complex parody of the genre, Northanger Abbey (1817), and Charlotte Brontë’s domestic re-imagining of the gothic romance in Jane Eyre (1847). Students will also have the opportunity to read gothic fiction by Mary Shelley and Oscar Wilde and each piece of fiction will be placed in historical and cultural context.

Students can explore how gothic themes caught the imagination of contemporary artists and architects and how they translated them into paintings and drawings, many of which acted as inspiration for the writers themselves. Why does the Gothic genre refuse to die? Why do we remain fascinated with the forbidden and enjoy being terrified? What is the difference between terror and horror and why did Romantic poets like Coleridge, Byron, Shelley view the former as such a rich source of inspiration? These are some of the questions we will address.

Psychology and Literature: from Margery Kempe to Sylvia Plath

Dr Richard Lawes

Ig Sunday 181It has often been said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity and the relationship between literature and mental health has been of intense interest to both literary scholars and psychologists.

This seminar will explore mental illness and instability in several major authors, focusing on Margery Kempe, a medieval housewife and mystic who became the first autobiographer in English; John Bunyan, the seventeenth-century author of Pilgrim’s Progress; John Clare, a nineteenth century nature poet who became incarcerated in an asylum; and two key twentieth-century female authors, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. Both iconic figures in the history of women’s writing, Woolf and Plath each struggled with extremes of mood and ultimately committed suicide. We will read their writings in the light of psychological theory and of cultural and feminist contexts.

Complex questions will emerge as we study these authors; what is the true nature of ‘mental illness’? To what extent is it valid or helpful to apply modern psychology to writers from a very different age? How is emotional disorder expressed within the texts themselves? To what extent can other modern theories, especially feminism, help us in encountering these key authors, their lives and their legacies? Led by a literary scholar who is also a psychologist and psychiatrist, this seminar will bring unusual insights to the study of these distinctive texts.

Science and the Christian Tradition

Dr Rebekah Wallace

Natural Museum Cropped

Science and religion are two of the most powerful forces that shape contemporary life. Yet, a popular perception persists that these disciplines are necessarily in conflict with one another. As Alister McGrath notes, some scientists and religious believers view science and religion as ‘locked in mortal combat’. Those who subscribe to this ‘conflict model’ to depict the relationship between scientific and religious modes of thought often reference historical events such as the persecution of Galileo by the church, the debate in 1860 between Thomas Huxley and  Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, (which took place in Oxford!), or the Scopes trial of 1925 as evidence to support their position. Some vocal dogmatic scientists today call for the cessation of religion in light of the developments of modern science.

There are complicated questions to address here: must science and religion be viewed as necessarily in conflict with one another? Are there other models to help us understand how these disciplines ought to relate to one another? Does science raise questions that point beyond itself? Can theological questions be informed by scientific disciplines?

This course draws on historical and theological scholarship to investigate key issues in science and religion. We begin the course by examining the historical events often used to support the notion that science and religion are in conflict—Galileo, Darwin, and the Scopes trial. As we will see, studying these events in more detail makes it more difficult to interpret them as straightforward examples of science and religion at war with one another. The course will also provide an opportunity to examine more recent questions at the intersection of science and religion: does evolution undermine the biblical notion that humans are ‘made in the image of God’? Does the concept of original sin need to be reformulated in light of developments in evolutionary biology? Can God act in a world increasingly predictable to science?

Sharing a Crowded Planet: Thinking about Nature, Ecology, Religion, and Ethics 1750–1960

Dr Elizabeth Baigent

Our planet is small, beautiful, and crowded. We might expect that Christians, with their duty to be good neighbours, would be at the forefront of efforts to keep it beautiful and share it generously with neighbours. Yet in a famous polemic in 1967 Lynn White Jr declared that, as ‘the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen… Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt’ for the present environmental crisis.

The article became received wisdom in environmental studies, leading to Christianity’s being considered the problem, not part of the solution, and to a focus on the work of those who found in nature itself the prospect of peace, fulfilment, and even salvation.

Yet the roots of nature conservation, particularly in the old world, were often Christian: the UK’s foremost conservation charity, the National Trust, for example, was founded by three devout Anglicans. Moreover conservation was impelled not thwarted by anthropocentrism: the Commons Preservation Trust, for example, the UK’s oldest preservation society with many Christians among its founders, campaigned to save commons for, not from, people. Can White’s argument and empirical research about early naturalists be reconciled? Can attentiveness to Christian motivation enrich our understanding of nature conservation? Can the experience of Christian nature conservationists give us a language for discussing the relationship between Christianity and ecology, and a basis for constructing our own authentic ethics of ecology and conservation? By close reading of nature texts we move the discussion back in time to consider a new starting point, to recover a Christian environmental ethics recover from conservation’s roots and adapt it for today’s purposes.

You might also be interested in:

Study Abroad Scio Tutorial
Read More

The tutorial: SCIO Summer Programme

The extension of your summer seminar

Scio Study Abroad Oxford Tutorial Jonathan Thorpe
Read More

The tutorial

The heart of both our programmes

Scio Study Abroad Tutorial
Read More

What is a tutorial like?

Students reflect on their tutorial experience

Scio Study Abroad Oxford Radcliffe Camera
Read More

The Oxford Experience

One of the most beautiful cities in the world

Back To Top
Get in Touch