Sam Ross is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, working on queer readings of poetic representations of pain and trauma in the Hebrew Bible.
Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now?
I first went to the University of Glasgow as an undergraduate to study philosophy, but as part of my course I had the opportunity to study theology and religious studies too. I found that I was captivated by TRS, and biblical studies in particular. Eventually, this led to me dropping philosophy all together, and I produced my undergrad dissertation on female masculinity in the book of Judges. Following this, I undertook a research masters, in which I wrote on queer themes in the book of Jonah. This year of research compounded my interest in queer theory and the relations of biblical texts to contemporary LGBT lives, leading to my current PhD project at Leeds – a queer reading of poetic representations of pain and trauma in the Hebrew Bible.
Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?
While I have always been interested in religion, mythology, and literature, I owe my current research interests in large part to Dr. Sarah Nicholson, who was my lecturer and supervisor at the University of Glasgow. Before Sarah’s lectures on Creation to Apocalypse, a first year biblical studies module, I had not realized that the Bible could be a topic of feminist and queer interpretation. Sarah’s teaching encouraged me to pursue my interest in bringing biblical texts into conversation with critical theory and contemporary culture in ways that might be considered unorthodox by some, but I feel are highly productive and important.
What are you currently, or about to start, working on?
At the moment I am, of course, working on my PhD thesis. In particular, I’m working on a chapter that considers how I’m going to use my own experiences of pain and trauma as a queer person to inform my work. In doing this I’m influenced by the rich history of feminist and queer research which has combined the personal and the everyday with the theoretical. In particular, Maggie Nelson’s work has been a huge influence on me. I’m trying to understand what it means to include parts of my own life in my academic writing, and to consider the theoretical underpinnings and implications of doing so. I’m also working as one of the co-directors of Quilting Points, an interdisciplinary critical theory reading group at the University of Leeds, which is focusing on the work of Julia Kristeva this year.
In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two?
While my work does not, arguably, focus on religion specifically – as I tend to treat biblical texts as literary texts, rather than exploring their function in the lives of believers – it remains inextricably linked to religious discourses. In particular, I hope that my work can help to tackle and provide a counter to homophobic and transphobic public discourses, which are often fueled by religion and justified through reference to sacred texts – see, for example, the Catholic Church’s recently released polemic against gender theory. In the UK at the moment, we are experiencing a huge surge in public transphobia, and while this is often motivated by secular concerns, religious viewpoints also play a part. It is my hope that work like mine, which tries to show that biblical texts resonate with the experiences that often characterize the lives of LGBT people, can help to challenge religiously motivated incarnations of homophobia and transphobia, and to provide some comfort to believers that find their religion being pitted against their sexuality and/or gender. In addition, even for those of us without religious affiliations, the historic influence of the Bible on public life in the UK is such that I believe it is not only academically interesting but vitally important for marginalized people to turn a critical eye on this body of texts, and to cultivate a biblical literacy which allows us to perceive the ways in which they continue to shape discussion in all manner of areas.