Graduate Theological Union

A Lived Theology: Graduate's Work Focuses on Faith and Identity

For Uriah Kim, May 2004 marked a new transition: graduating from the GTU with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, and preparing to move east for his new position as assistant professor of Hebrew Bible at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. Kim’s story reflects a series of such changes and life-transformations, as he explores what it means to be a person of faith, a scholar, a teacher, and an Asian-American.

Born to a Buddhist family in Korea, he came to the United States at the age of ten and converted to Christianity at eighteen. Kim was struggling at the time with existential questions about morality and death that he could not resolve through Buddhism. He was also trying to understand what it is to be “‘a hyphenated being.’ Am I a Korean living in the United States,” he explains, “or an American who happens to be Korean, or something else?” In Christianity Kim found a resolution to his central concerns, both about salvation and about his own identity.

Kim had many more changes ahead of him. He went to engineering school first, then switched to philosophy. After graduating from New York University, he enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary, intending to work in a parish. He earned his M.Div. from Princeton, and a Th.M. (magna cum laude) from Emory University.

When the 1992 Los Angeles riots took place, Kim found that his faith journey was shifting again. As he saw it, the Korean immigrant churches weren’t able to respond effectively to the crisis, reacting in a more insular way. “As second-generation Koreans, I felt we needed to formulate a theology that could respond to situations like that,” he says. Kim went into doctoral work so that he could contribute to such a theology.

Drawn to the GTU by its interdisciplinary approach and the depth and diversity of the faculty, he was also, he admits, impressed by its location overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Kim’s doctoral work culminated in a dissertation exploring the need to newly interpret the Hebrew Bible to readers in their local contexts today, particularly in Asian-American contexts. “How can we read the Bible,” he asks, “by bringing in our experience and our history, rather than leaving them at the door?”

PSR’s Jeffrey Kuan, who was Kim’s advisor during his doctoral work, comments that he is “one of the finest students we have had in the last 10 years. His dissertation demonstrates his competence, not only in historical criticism and reconstruction, but also in the areas of postcolonial and postmodern criticisms and Asian American studies.”

Kim’s academic achievement was recognized by the Fund for Theological Education, which granted him three years of financial support during his doctoral work. He also received a Newhall Award and a Presidential Scholarship, two of the most prestigious awards granted by the GTU.

His time at the GTU has been rich both inside the classroom and in the community; he has been active in local churches and organizations such as PSR’s PANA Institute, and has taught extensively at SFTS and PSR. His wife Crystal and he are raising two children, Hope and Adam, who are eight and four.

Kim’s future colleagues and students are sure to encounter a professor whose love of the subject matter will offer them new perspectives that connect scholarship to their life contexts. Teaching, he has learned, is his true calling. “When you see students grasping a complex idea, it’s really fun,” he says. “The respect and affection that develop between students and teacher is very meaningful.”

Uriah Kim’s remarks at the 2004 commencement, “Knowledge and Jeong on Holy Hill,” can be read here