Oxford University invades TWU

Langley, B.C.—In keeping with Trinity Western University’s mandate to develop outstanding leaders who are accomplished and innovative role models, TWU hires staff and faculty who possess and value those same qualities.

So it’s fitting that two of their newest faculty members have recent post-graduate degrees from England’s Oxford University.

Only one year ago, TWU’s Board of Governor’s Award winner, Dorothy Peters, accepted a prestigious, full tuition and accommodation scholarship from Oxford University to pursue a graduate degree in Jewish studies. Earlier this month, Peters’ thesis snatched up the award for ‘best dissertation’ as judged by Oxford scholars and an external Cambridge examiner. Now, after enjoying a successful time of study at Oxford, Peters heads back to her roots: Trinity Western University.

This time, however, Dorothy won’t be a TWU student; instead she’ll be Assistant Director of Biblical Studies, working alongside Dr. Martin Abegg, Co-Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, consulting and developing TWU’s Masters in Biblical Studies program.

As if that’s not enough, Peters will simultaneously be working on her PhD in Biblical Studies from the University of Manchester. She’ll be living in the Lower Mainland and ‘commuting’ to England several times a year.

Peters’ work will focus mainly on the Dead Sea Scrolls, looking at the interpretation of the biblical figure of Noah by the Dead Sea Scrolls community. “Many Jewish writings, especially those immediately preceding and following the writing of the New Testament, have often been overlooked by Christians,” explains Peters. “Studying these Jewish texts brings freshness and newness to our study of the interpretation of the Bible,” she says.

Dorothy’s uniqueness extends not only to her award-winning talents but also to her gender. “For whatever reason, few women pursue the field of biblical studies," says Dr. Martin Abegg. “I’m not sure what the ratio is. But I would estimate only one in ten, if that.”

But Dorothy says she’s not intimidated by the ratio. “I too wonder why more women are not in Biblical Studies,” she says. Peters explains that it requires a minimum of 10 to 12 years of study after High School, plus fluency in several modern languages and at least three ancient languages to complete such a doctorate. “It’s a demanding course of study for anyone, male or female,” admits Peters, “But it’s extremely rewarding.”

For Dorothy the rewards run even deeper. Three and a half years ago a car accident claimed the life of Matthew, her 15 year old son. To engage her mind in something productive during the initial years of grieving, Peters enrolled in Trinity Western University’s Masters in Biblical Studies program, and in 2002, it was she who graduated instead of her son.

“It hasn’t gotten any easier,” reveals Peters, referring to tragic loss of her son. “The memory of Matthew and the grief of losing him is a part of every day. Yet I often sense his closeness and his pleasure at what is happening in my life. I told reporters a year ago that going to Oxford for me was like the Olympics were for Matthew. Mathew was a decathlete and was aiming for the 2008 Olympics. When I won the ‘Best Dissertation’ prize from Oxford a few weeks ago, I just laughed and said out loud, ‘hey Matt, I won the gold medal at the Olympics. This one is for you!’ He would have been pleased.”

Tony Cummins, DPhil, the newest professor of religious studies at TWU, is a recent Oxford alumnus as well. Cummins has spent over a decade in post-secondary training, cultivating his skills so he can pursue his dream: to teach with excellence.

A native of Northern Ireland, Cummins has also lived in England before emigrating with his family to Southern Ontario. His academic career began with an undergraduate double major in English Literature and Religion and Culture from Wilfred Laurier University. He then went on to complete a Masters in English from the University of Ottawa.

Cummins’ breadth of study demonstrates his diversity of interests.

“I changed my major a couple of times,” says Cummins, “I wasn’t really clear on where I was headed. I just enjoyed what I was studying. But I think I knew I’d end up teaching in some way or another—I simply wasn’t sure what subject or at what level.”

But Cummins’ experience doesn’t just involve the academic realm. He’s also had a six year involvement with politics.

“While in Ottawa the opportunity came up for me to work in the House of Commons with a Member of Parliament,” explains Cummins. “And I thought, well, it’ll get me out of school, give me some money, and I can afford to get married!”

It also gave him a chance to think about other career opportunities. “My mind had been going everywhere from law school to getting an MBA to working in the civil service. The job was great because apart from being interesting in its own right, it gave me time to think through those other options.”

After several years on Parliament Hill, during which he also studied part-time for a second masters degree in biblical studies at McGill University, Cummins decided to commit himself to a career in teaching. He followed his thesis advisor to Oxford University, and after another six years of study and part-time teaching, Cummins received his doctoral degree for his thesis on early Judaism and Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It has since been published by Cambridge University Press.

Now that he is teaching in a university context, Cummins hopes to draw on his education and experiences in communicating a passion for biblical studies and theology, and to shape students’ lives in some significant ways.

“It’s one thing for students to walk out of my class with a binder full of notes and another course under their belts. It’s quite another for the course content to have made enough of an impression upon them that they are going to be different people because of it.”

Last Updated: 2015-07-13
Author: Keela Keeping