My name is Leonardo Choi and I am full time 2nd year Integrated PhD student in Catholic Social Thought and New Testament. I was born and grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina although both of my parents are South Koreans. During my Master of Divinity at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (more precisely after taking a class on Second Temple Judaism) I have developed a passion for the social world behind the New Testament writings. Therefore, in my desire to combine this with my interest in the issue of poverty (much of that concern comes from my previous formation on Latin American theology in Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista de Argentina, namely all the literature on Liberation Theology), I am greatly interested to learn how insights from the Greco-Roman world can help us understand more about Paul’s view of poverty and wealth.
My PhD thesis is on the significance of Paul’s letters as a resource with which to reframe Christian notions of charity: not top-down or one-way, but reciprocal and as much with the poor as to them. This project will take me deep into the ancient economy and the question of how the poor survived, and this has immediate application to the role of churches, both in the UK and in Argentina, in relation to poverty and community development. Thus, the outcome of this study is fivefold: first, it will radically change the field of Pauline studies by highlighting the significance of gift-giving among equals (as opposed to top-down gift-giving). Second, it will demonstrate why ideas of radical altruism and one-way gift imposed on Paul’s social ethos are misleading and why these should be replaced by a more adequate conceptualisation that envisages the practices and expectations of his socio-economic milieu, namely, the reciprocal exchange of gifts. Third, this study intends to provide some fresh scriptural insights from an often-neglected source for socio-economic reflection, namely, the Pauline epistles, for our understanding and practice of the Catholic social principle of the option for the poor, and more broadly, for the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and the common good. Fourth, coming from South America (and thus the majority world), where marginalisation and poverty are a huge issue, I am interested in challenging widespread patronizing and humiliating forms of charity, within and outside the Christian context. Finally, in Argentina, the influence of Pope Francis’ socio-theological thought (and hence also la Teología del Pueblo) goes beyond the scope of the Catholic Church, reaching also to many parts of the Protestant Church. This is attested by the increasing number of publications by Protestant scholars interacting with the social reflection of Pope Francis, meaning that there is real possibility for Protestant-Catholic cooperation and mutual learning in the area of church and society. Therefore, I am approaching this project as a Protestant who wants to bring more biblical resources into a Protestant-Catholic conversation, and I believe that my engagement with both the Bible and Catholic Social Thought in this thesis could bear long-term fruit in the Argentinian situation.
The department of Theology and Religion at Durham University has a rich heritage of both publishing and supervising works on gift-reciprocity. Prof John Barclay (the primary supervisor of this project), is widely recognized as the world leading expert in the study of “gift” in the Pauline epistles. Furthermore, the Centre for Catholic Studies is establishing itself as a leading academic centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice (CSTP), working in close collaboration with the UK Centre for CSTP. At the core of this is the St Hilda post in CSTP, which is currently held by Dr Anna Rowlands (the secondary supervisor of this thesis), who has published extensively on Catholic Social Teaching and Political Theology.
Since last year (2018) Argentina (my home country) has been going through some severe financial difficulties. Hence, the funding (both the Sir Richard Abberbury Postgraduate Scholarship and the Catherine McAuley Postgraduate Bursary) that the Centre for Catholics Studies has so generously provided to me is helping me pursue my calling here in Durham.
Both my academic work and my spiritual life have been positively influenced by the CCS community here at Durham University. I do appreciate the both the ecumenical mindset of both students and staff in this community as their sincere devotion and love for the Lord and the Body of Christ.
Regarding my future career, first, I look forward to going back to Buenos Aires, Argentina after my doctoral studies in order to take a post as an adjunct professor of New Testament at a theological institution. There, I am hoping to equip and influence seminary students, pastors and Christian leaders from the majority world, who will, later on, serve in churches, and also impact in their communities. In my view, there is a lot of need for academically solid theological education among the religious institutions in South America. Second, as a Latin American scholar, my efforts will also be in fostering increased dialogue between Spanish and English scholarship in the field. Therefore, I am convinced that the highly rigorous PhD program in New Testament at Durham University can provide me with the appropriate academic preparation for this future endeavour.
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