River Hobel Vic 2T1 first became interested in the academic study of religion after taking some history and world religion classes in high school. He recalls being curious about the “processes by which Christianity went from a small community in the backwaters of a Roman province to a massive tradition to which late Roman emperors converted.”
Hobel was pleased to learn that the Department of Religion offered a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian origins. For his academic achievement in this area, he has been awarded the Prince of Wales Gold Medal as the graduand with the highest overall A standing among B.A. candidates.
Hobel describes his undergraduate experience as “illuminating . . . rigorous . . . and critical.” His first years in the program were both foundational and formative, providing him with the necessary methodological tools and language necessary for deeper, analytical study. Some ancient Greek and Latin, for example, were necessary for investigating historical texts. But in his final two years, Hobel had the skills to investigate more particular interests.
“My time with professors such as John Marshall brought me into contact with more theoretical questions about Christianity. One of my favourite classes for this involved discussing early heresy in the Christian movement. Identifying the phenomenon of heresy in a non-normative way was a challenging and thorough process which let me better interrogate the ways that history—and its terms—are written by the groups that ‘won out’ over their competitors. Discussing the difference between ‘heresy,’ ‘schism’ and ‘dispute’ was another favourite moment of mine, if only because of the difficulty in trying to delineate these conflicts.”
Like many students who have participated in the program, Hobel points to the Scholars-in-Residence program as one of his most influential experiences. “I worked within a small research group headed by Professor Cillian O’Hogan, with time dedicated for seminars and various outings organized by Professor Ira Wells. The program was immensely enjoyable and influential both on a social and academic level. O’Hogan’s projects helped me to develop the critical tools necessary for academic analysis and scholarly reflection.”
As Hobel was a commuter student and did not live on campus, the experience of living in residence for the Scholars-in-Residence program was a welcome change from his usual routine. Like many Vic students who live in residence, Hobel appreciated being part of a closer community within Victoria during his time in the program. When commenting on his four years of commuting as an undergrad, Hobel says, “I greatly appreciated the accessibility and inter-connected nature of both Vic and, more broadly, U of T. Places like Old Vic and the Goldring Student Centre gave me a spot to relax between classes, while also providing me with information about various events and clubs across campus. I particularly enjoyed Que(e)rying the Bible offered at Emmanuel College, and Monday musical performances at Trinity College Chapel. Despite the many hours on the train, I was still able to interact with the vibrant communities on campus.”
In the fall, Hobel looks forward to beginning his master’s degree with the Department for the Study of Religion. He hopes to continue investigating the world of antiquity and religion and will start by studying the place of early Christianity in Ethiopia. “The literature preserved by the Ethiopic church is, I believe, a ready site for new analyses. I hope to better connect the material to larger phenomena/patterns across ancient Christianity and Judaism.” Eventually, Hobel hopes to embark a PhD and is thinking of a career in academia: “I genuinely enjoy struggling through ancient tales in an attempt to situate the stories of bygone communities in a larger understanding of the past.”