Religious Studies Essay writing competition - St Mary's and St John's CE School

Religious Studies Essay writing competition

The Religious Studies (RS) Essay Writing Competition began in 2018 to give students opportunities to have their work read and commented on by academics within our discipline: Philosophy, Religion and Ethics.  Initially an internal endeavour at St Mary’s and St John’s CE School, it has expanded due to popular demand to include entries from schools across London and beyond. 

A prestigious cohort of academics have volunteered their expertise to our RS Department at SMSJ including: Dr Stephen Law and Professor Richard Price; both of whom have attended our school and delivered lectures on: Humanism, The Merits of Studying RS, and Ethics.   As well as academics from top universities, including Cambridge University.  It is the intention of the RS Department at SMSJ to invite selected schools who enter the competition to attend these talks in future, and contribute to the RS SMSJ Online Journal of articles with regards to current philosophical and theological issues. 

Kyriacos Papasavva, ex-tutor at Heythrop College and author, who is our Head of Religious Studies at SMSJ, is the organiser of the competition and editor of the journal.  Please direct any questions about the competition not already answered in this section of our website to:

About the Judges

Dr Kristian Akselberg

Dr Kristian Akselberg is a practicing Orthodox priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Thyateira and Great Britain. In the academic year 2023/24, he kindly volunteered to be the Final Judge for an internal SMSJ Essay Writing Competition. In the same year, he volunteered his time, along with SMSJ Governors & Anglican priests, to give an Orthodox Christian perspective to an annual Year 10 event run at SMSJ: Ask a Priest. 

The event was a big success with students who enjoyed hearing the perspectives of Christianity from these varied groups. In his academic life, Dr Akselberg is is an editor for the Theological Journal Analogia, and a fellow of The Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius, which is situated at the prestigious University of Oxford.

Professor Richard Price

Richard Price, who achieved his PhD at Oxford, has been the final judge for the RS SMSJ Essay Writing Competition many times.  Both a priest and a renowned academic, he has previously lectured at multiple universities, including: Heythrop College - the specialist Philosophy and Theology College of the University of London, and has published numerous translations of early church texts - one of his special areas of interest; Inaugural Lecture.  Richard has kindly volunteered his time both as a judge and as a guest speaker at SMSJ.  We are very grateful for his continuing support. 

Dr Elizabeth Burnes

Repeating the success of our previous internal essay writing competitions, Dr Burnes was the first academic to judge our first London wide SMSJ Essay Writing Competition, which saw entries as far as the Midlands. We are very grateful for her support and look forward to working with her again in future.

Dr Sean Ryan

Sean Ryan was a visiting lecturer at King's University, and currently lectures at Roehampton University, which is a growing hub of excellence in the study of Theology, Religion, Philosophy and Ethics.  He kindly volunteered his time to judge and comment on the work of one of our 2018 SMSJ Essay Writing Competitions.

Dr Helen Constigane

Helen Constigane, a member of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, has studied at the universities of Glasgow, London, and Leuven (Belgium). After lecturing at Heythrop College, University of London, she joined St Mary’s University in 2017 and is now the programme director for the Master in Christian Theology.  Dr Costigane’s research and teaching interests are wide-ranging and include Christian Ethics, Canon Law, Pastoral Theology, History, and Ecclesiology.  In 2020, Helen kindly volunteered to judge the SMSJ Essay Writing Competition and provided copious feedback and advice to budding philosophers in SMSJ and beyond.

Dr Stephen Law

Stephen Law, who was previously a postman who then obtained his PhD from Oxford University was the final judge of our first 2021 competition and has given multiple talks at SMSJ to both GCSE and A Level groups. Author, Reader in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London, and editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal: THINK he has provided our students with invaluable support to understanding Humanism - one of the areas of study in our GCSE specification, and during an A Level RS Drop Down Day.  He is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and Commerce and Provost of the Centre for Inquiry UK.

Dr Gemma Simmonds

Gemma Simmonds is a sister of the Congregation of Jesus. An honorary fellow of Durham University and past president of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain, she has studied at the universities of Paris, London, Rio de Janeiro and Cambridge, where she undertook a doctorate in theology. *

After a career in secondary teaching Gemma worked as chaplain in the Universities of Cambridge and London. Returning from study and missionary work amongst women and street children in Brazil in 1992, she was a volunteer chaplain in Europe’s largest women’s prison, HMP Holloway, until its closure in 2016. From 2005-2018 she was a senior lecturer in Pastoral Theology at Heythrop College, University of London, teaching and researching in the fields of theology of religious life, Christian spirituality, ecclesiology and Catholic education.  Gemma is also a simultaneous translator and interpreter in four languages and a regular broadcaster on religious programmes for the BBC & other media..

In 2018 Gemma joined the Margaret Beaufort Institute as director of the Religious Life Institute [RLI], founded at Heythrop College in 2007. She also teaches courses in Christian spirituality.  Her most recent book, The Way of Ignatius, was published by SPCK in 2018 and featured as the online Lent retreat for Pray As You Go

* Dr Simmonds kindly volunteered her time to assist the RS Department at SMSJ in our first National Competition in collaboration with The Cambridge Theological Federation.  She, also, delivered multiple lectures at SMSJ to our 6th Form, as part of a RS Drop Down Day in 2023.

Dr Heidi Cobham

Heidi Cobham studied at the University of Sussex, she completed research on the philosophy of love and worked as a tutor.  While teaching undergraduate philosophy students, she published articles in academic journals, such as: The Journal of Philosophy of Life.  Before joining Sussex, Heidi was a tutee of Mr Papasavva.  She obtained her BA (Hons) and MA degrees in Philosophy at Heythrop College in 2016 and 2017.  In 2021, Heidi volunteered to be one of our first-round judges for our SMSJ Essay Writing Competition in order to assist in the journey of budding philosophers around the UK.  Thank you, Heidi.

Dr Ahmad Achtar

Ahmad Achtar is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, London and a member of the British Association of Islamic Studies (BRAIS).  He is also involved in Scriptural Reasoning practice and is a member of SR University Group, Cambridge.  In 2023, Ahmad volunteered to support the RS Department at SMSJ by acting as the final judge in an internal essay writing competition: The RS SMSJ Essay Writing Competition 2023.  Here, he judged and provided a summary to students who entered and selected 1st-3rd and two runners-up.

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