PhD student Byung Ho Choi is not only studying World Christianity — he’s helping bring the field to a wider audience. In early 2021, Choi launched a podcast channel on the New Books Network in which he interviews World Christianity scholars about their latest work. In the 12 episodes currently released, topics range from the Latin American evangelical left to Protestantism in Ottoman Syria.
Choi started the channel both to develop his own skills as a scholar and to contribute to his field. His own research is about Christianity and its interactions with other religions in the majority-Muslim nation of Indonesia, but he believes that the entirety of world Christian history can help Christians today understand their place in the world.
“Why do we study history? We want to learn more about how we’ve come to this stage in our lives or in our faith,” Choi says.
Choi grew up in Indonesia as the son of Presbyterian missionaries from South Korea. He spoke English at school, Korean at home, and Indonesian with his friends. “I lived in an atmosphere in which I had to constantly negotiate my identity,” he says. And it was largely through this experience living in Indonesia that he became interested in studying topics like religious identity and conversion.
He returned to South Korea for university and then began an MDiv program there. During that program, he came to the United States for a monthlong internship at Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. While in the U.S., he visited several institutions where he was interested in continuing his studies. One of those schools was Princeton Theological Seminary.
“I remember stepping inside the library, stepping inside Miller Chapel, and [feeling] that fire of wanting to come here to study,” he says. That fire kept burning, and in 2018, Choi came to the Seminary to earn a ThM. Now, he is in his third year in the PhD program in World Christianity and History of Religions and has recently completed his comprehensive exams.
Choi credits the three professors with whom he’s worked most closely — Richard Fox Young, Afe Adogame, and Raimundo Barreto — with helping him find his voice in his academic journey. “Every time I interact with my professors, their passion for teaching and the sparkle in their eyes when they talk about their research challenges me to follow in their footsteps,” Choi says. “And that is one of the key ingredients in helping you become a good scholar.”
But joining the Seminary community also meant adjusting to a foreign culture and academic system. It was fellow international students, Choi says, who helped him feel most “at home” at the Seminary. Choi soon began to return the favor by volunteering with the International Student Orientation Program, and he later served as one of the program’s organizers.
In 2020, Choi helped found the Korean Students Association (KSA), which exists to support Korean international students as well as Korean American students and to educate the broader Seminary community about Korean culture, history, and church life. Choi is now in an advisory role as new student leaders continue KSA’s mission.
Choi is also currently serving as the online study program manager at the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), which recently moved to Princeton Seminary. “[The OMSC] brings so much richness and tremendous value for scholars and church leaders, not only here in the United States, but also across the world,” Choi says.
Choi wants all his work, from research to organizational roles to podcast interviews, to help the church see itself and its history more clearly. “There’s Christianity everywhere,” he says, and it’s all worth a listen.