Biblical scholar Choi to consider importance of perspective in society



This week’s speakers have addressed the topic of immigration from an outsider’s point of view, but just as she encourages her students to do, Jin Young Choi will bring a personal perspective to the podium.

“I’m a biblical scholar, not an expert in immigration, so I’d like to provide my personal experience as an Asian woman who is in transition from resident alien to permanent resident,” Choi said. “So I am not an immigrant yet, but it might be helpful to share what frustrations, struggles and hopes to be an insider in this society [I have had.]”

Choi, assistant professor of New Testament and Christian origins at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, will give a lecture titled “Mother Tongue is My Refuge” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

A native of South Korea, Choi said while she has been challenged by teaching texts written in ancient languages to English-speaking students, she tries to think beyond the words on the page.

“Reading and writing are not all about language, but perspectives, ideas and experiences,” she said. “When you read the Bible, from what perspective you read and what social location you read is more important [than the words]. Otherwise, we don’t have to read the Bible. In my teaching, I encourage students to recognize their own social location. From that position they realize their reading is particular, not universal, and then they can respect other’s interpretations as well.”

Choi said she hopes to introduce her audience at Chautauqua Institution to the necessity of learning others’ interpretations by sharing her own “social location.”

“It has been my experience to be the other in this country,” she said. “I learned that I have color. In Korea, I didn’t have any idea of race, but here I am viewed as an Asian woman. There, there was no concept of Asian. I was a Korean. That experience of being othered has been important for my reading.”

Choi also serves as co-chair of Asian and Asian-American Hermeneutics at the Society of Biblical Literature, where she works to bring the voices of Asian-American Biblical scholars into the mix with both the traditional canon of biblical scholarship and scholars from other minority groups.

“Biblical studies has been a predominantly a Western, white male discipline, and other voices, such as women, scholars of color, and those from the third world are not heard and are minoritized,” Choi said. “Even though biblical studies [are] presently viewed as universal,  I would like to challenge the dominant discourse and contribute my voice and my community’s voice to the scholarship.”

Choi said she encourages this kind of reading in her classes so, when her students become ministers themselves, they will lead more inclusive and open congregations.

“I introduce students to global interpretations of the Bible [because] there are so many others who have read the Bible as their sacred text, and we need to learn how they embrace or reject the Bible,” she said.

This global perspective is what helps her students learn what it means to be a minister, Choi said.

“I think that listening to others and learning from others is important to students who are future leaders of church and society,” she said. “I try to help students think critically and engage with others so that they will embrace others in their lives and ministries. What I help them to do is the practice of ministry.”