Global Shift

Kuan is the first Asian American to head a Methodist Seminary. Photo by Bill Cardoni

Methodist Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan arrives as the new dean of the Theological School.

By Bruce Wallace

The Bio

Born in Malaysia in 1957 to Chinese parents

Old Testament, 1994, Emory University

Languages learned during Ph.D. study
Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Akkadian, Syriac, Ugaritic

Previous position
Associate professor of Old Testament, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Calif.

Vice president, board of directors, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, United Methodist Church

Kuan and his wife, Valentine Poh-Gaik Toh, have two daughters: Valene, an elementary school teacher, and Janene, a high school sophomore.

After completing your undergraduate degree, you were a pastor in Malaysia. Do you find that your pastoral experience influences your academic life? Absolutely. For me teaching in a seminary is ministry. A lot of my own seminary students struggle with whether or not this is really what they are called to do and other issues as they think about moving into religious leadership. So in many contexts I have had to put myself in a pastoral role in relating to my students.

Your scholarly work often deals with issues of Biblical interpretation and Asian and Asian-American identity. Why does that area interest you? As Asian Americans continue to think about and construct Asian-American identity, I see the same thing happening in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible is written in the context of the exile. If you look at what the writers were trying to do, much of it is also about constructing their own identity of what it means to be an Israelite, what it means to be a Jew.

You’ve said that Drew is poised to be a pioneer in preparing religious leaders and scholars for global societies—how so? In theological education, Drew has perhaps the most diverse faculty. But more important is that this is an amazing collection of faculty who are pushing the edges of theological education and theological religious scholarship. And I get a sense that they are ready to rethink theological education.

What will that mean in terms of what the school looks like in a year or two or five? It’s more like five to 10 years, but it is a matter of staying ahead of the game. In terms of the U.S. population,  the demographics are showing quite clearly that probably by 2042 the non-Hispanic white population is no longer going to be in the majority. Secondly, when you think about global Christianity, the majority of Christians will no longer be in North America and in Europe. It will be in Africa and Asia. So the question that I’m posing for myself and Drew is: How do we prepare ourselves to do theological education for a new reality?

One Response to “Global Shift”

  1. [...] issue of Drew magazine, as part of my role as their occasional religion correspondent. One was on the incoming Theological School dean; the other on a Drew alum who just joined the Harvard Divinity School [...]

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