Army medic turned religious scholar wins Rothermere Fellowship

Josh Pennell Josh.pennell@thetelegram.com
Published on April 21, 2014
Trevor Pomeroy has won the Rothermere Fellowship. The religious studies scholar will be doing his PhD at Oxford University with his tuition paid and living stipend provided. <br />— Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

It would have taken a lot of faith to believe Trevor Pomeroy was destined to win MUN’s prestigious Rothermere Fellowship this year. At least 15 years ago it would have.
“It’s been a bit of a journey,” he laughs

At 39 Pomeroy isn’t a typical graduate student. But then his life path has been somewhat atypical, too. Pomeroy was an army medic for six years. He then went to work at a live music venue in Edmonton called The Sidetrack, primarily as a bartender. When that venue closed in 2007 he did some odd jobs before heading back home to finish an undergraduate degree in religious studies and philosophy that he had started years earlier. That led him down a path toward the priesthood. He did two years at St. Augustine's seminary in Toronto.

“I guess it was sort of during my time there that I realized I really loved the academic study of the Bible,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in religion. I entered the Catholic Church in 2007. Prior to that, like many people today, I would have said I was more spiritual than religious.”

It was while volunteering on an archeological dig in Israel with Tel Aviv University that Pomeroy’s scholarly path would start to take shape. A German archeologist who found out he had been in the seminary asked how somebody could worship a God who would command the sort of violence seen in the Old Testament.

“And at the time I wasn’t able to give a very satisfying answer. And I must say I still can’t,” Pomeroy says.

But he started reading the texts, and  reading about them, and when he was picking out a topic for his master’s, he realized he had done a significant amount of research into the violent texts known as the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

People try and understand the texts from an ethical point of view, Pomeroy argues. He’s put all that aside and presumed that work still needs to be done to understand how the texts work in the context in which they were written. He’s taking what he calls a sociological approach to reading and understanding the writings. In other words, it’s not about justifying them so much as understanding the circumstances that led to them being written.

“While the texts continue to jar us and disturb us, they’re a lot more understandable in their own context,” he says.

His master’s focuses on the Book of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. His PhD will tackle a more complete analysis of the Hebrew Bible. The Rothermere Fellowship he just won means he will complete that PhD at Oxford University with his tuition paid and a living stipend.

“I hope that on the one hand (my research) will help ... some believers who are troubled by the texts come to a place where maybe they can understand them better. On the other hand, I do think and hope that it can help us understand warfare generally today,” Pomeroy says.