Chimbuoyim Uzodimma, a doctoral student in the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (STM), was named the 2022 New Testament Emerging Scholars Fellow in March.
“I want to thank [the Catholic Biblical Association] because I didn’t imagine myself winning that fellowship in the first place,” Uzodimma said. “So for them to make that decision … knowing that this person is not even from the U.S. [and] this is a woman of color from Nigeria.”
The New Testament Emerging Scholars Fellowship is presented annually by the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) to graduate students who appear likely to make significant contributions to the biblical studies field. The fellowship, which was established in 2017, gives these students the opportunity to present their research to established scholars in the field, according to the CBA website.
“It’s a nice way to introduce the new scholar to the academy,” said Angela Kim Harkins, an associate professor of the New Testament at STM and one of Uzodimma’s dissertation directors. “I believe they try to have one person from a New Testament subject and another person from an Old Testament subject.”
Uzodimma said she was excited that the evaluation committee recognized and appreciated her research.
“The award is an affirmation of my ability to make unique contributions in biblical studies,” Uzodimma said. “It also speaks to the quality of biblical studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.”
Uzodimma said her two-year dissertation rethinks common interpretations of ancient biblical stories and applies them to the current socio-economic climate of her home country of Nigeria. She will defend her dissertation in April.
As part of the fellowship, Uzodimma will present her research at the 84th International Meeting of the CBA in Santa Clara, Calif. to various scholars in the field of Pauline studies, which explores Paul’s writings, that she focuses on in her dissertation.
“It will be a big opportunity to connect and interact with a wide range of scholars in the biblical field, particularly those in Pauline studies,” Uzodimma said. “It will be a stimulating interaction. I look forward to it with excitement.”
According to Harkins, Uzodimma’s main argument in her dissertation was instrumental in landing her the fellowship.
“[Uzodimma’s] particular application of her thesis to women in Africa today, I think that is a very important contribution,” Harkins said. “She represents an important voice, an emerging voice in the 21st century of biblical scholarship.”
In her dissertation, Uzodimma focuses on Paul the Apostle’s letters to the Romans in the New Testament. Uzodimma said her inspiration to study Paul’s writings came in part from his controversial nature within the field of biblical studies and his role in Christianity.
“People have used [his writings] to make arguments in favor of slavery, and they have used them to make arguments against slavery,” Uzodimma said. “Again, people use Paul to make arguments for submission to authority.”
Biblical scholars have also interpreted Paul’s letters to describe how sin manifests in people and the world, according to Uzodimma.
Uzodimma emphasized how “reading between the lines” of Paul’s letters inspired the topic of her dissertation, which deviates from common interpretations of the passages.
“There might be something deeper than what previous scholars have read through the text, and so it came to me that Paul might be referring to the Roman Empire, the political power of his time as the reign of sin and as the realm of death, rather than what theologians have been interpreting,” she said. “It might be that Paul was actually making a critique of the Roman Empire as he was writing that text.”
In her dissertation, Uzodimma said she wanted to “actualize” the ancient biblical writings—making the writings applicable to current events—by applying their themes to the socio-economic climate of Nigeria.
“The argument I am making is that if Paul is talking about making the critique of [Ancient] Roman imperial domination, today we can actually use that text to make a critique of patriarchal domination and colonial domination in Nigeria and how it affects women,” Uzodimma said.
Uzodimma also said her dissertation has an urgent application to the current state of the world today.
“Today, there is a need to use the scripture to address socio-political realities of the time,” said Uzodimma. “For instance, the Russia-and-Ukraine crisis: How would Jesus talk about it if he were alive? How would Paul speak about it? Those are the kind of issues I’m so interested in.”
According to Uzodimma, the award will allow her to engage with other scholars in the field and to continue this work in her academic career.
“It will be a big opportunity to connect and interact with a wide range of scholars in the Biblical field, particularly those in Pauline studies—it will be a stimulating interaction,” Smith said. “I look forward to it with excitement. Looking into the future, I believe that I can do more; the award is already a morale booster.”
Featured Image by Nicole Wei / For the Heights