My name is Hoa Nguyen, LHC. I received my bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies (major), with minors in Music and Philosophy from Saint Xavier University, Chicago. I am currently a third year MDiv student at the Divinity School, the University of Chicago.
How did you come to study at the Divinity School?
To answer this short question of how I came to study at the Divinity School, I need to tell you a personal story. As a professed member of the Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross from Vietnam, I was invited to study theology and Biblical Studies in the United States in 2014 by the council of the congregation. I received this opportunity to help meet the needs of my religious congregation and the Church in Vietnam in forming catechists, teachers, and other church ministers. Leaving aside my worries about learning English well enough for postgraduate study, I have started my journey with absolute trust and the fruition of decades in ministry when I return to Vietnam.
My academic background and my experiences in pastoral ministry have prepared me to undertake this path of study. For the first step of the journey, I attended the intensive English program at Saint Norbert College in Wisconsin. After eight months, I enrolled in Saint Xavier University in Chicago with Religious Studies as my major and double minors in Music and Philosophy. Throughout this time, I have had ample opportunities to deepen my search for the truth, to engage in critical thinking, to work on effective communication, and to serve compassionately. Studying religious studies, philosophy, and other theological courses has not just informed my mind in comprehension and theological understanding, but has aided me in the living of this knowledge in service. In return, these pursuits have helped to shape and form my spiritual life in order to engage in ministries of outreach to those in need.
My interest in ministries and multicultural, interfaith ministries encouraged me to pursue a Master of Divinity degree program at the University of Chicago. I chose to be trained and equipped at the U of C because of its ecumenical focus in multiple contexts and dialogues, which would provide me a forum for academic, professional, and personal integration, as well as for vocational development and leadership. In this three-year program which I treasure, I have been training and developing skills for public leadership among an ecumenical community of seekers from various traditions. Additionally, the field education has given me opportunities to employ the insights of practical theology in ministerial service, thus bridging the world of academia and real-world experience.
What is a favorite course you have taken at the Divinity School and what made it a favorite?
As an MDiv student focusing on the New Testament, I seek to understand and interpret the Scriptures in their historical and cultural settings. I have several favorite courses at the Divinity School, but the Introduction to the New Testament: Texts and Contexts with Dr. Margaret M. Mitchell would be my special selection for this question. This graduate-level introductory course brought me to the immersion of the main literary genres of the New Testament to gain significant insight into the historical, geographical, social, religious, cultural and political contexts of these texts. Furthermore, the course taught me richly varied methods of interpretation to comprehend the different theological visions and cultural worldviews. With its offer, the course trained me to be a more critical thinker and interpreter of biblical scholarship both academically and theologically. Another reason that made this course a favorite is its wider Greco-Roman worldview, which invited students to work more closely with the texts, the early Christian culture, and the events that they relate. Along with in-class lectures and a discussion section, the optional Greek translation section that was offered each week nurtured my interest in this literature to enter into conversation with an open mind to learn more from others on the texts, their intersection, as well as the issues involved in their interpretation.
Who or what inspires you and your work? Why study religion? / Why is what you study important?
Coming from a hierarchical culture, as a religious sister, I have personally experienced the challenge of being a woman in Asia and living a life governed by three basic Confucian principles---(1) Before getting married, a girl should submit to her father; (2) After her marriage, her husband is the one to whom she needs to submit; and (3) If widowed, she should obey her eldest son and all her sons, according to the operative norms in Vietnamese society. These principles gradually cause women to silence themselves and to underestimate their human value and dignity. Some citizens believe that a woman’s place is primarily within the private space of the household, whereas the public realm of political, educational, social, and religious spheres is male space. I noticed that one of the main challenges for women across many countries, including mine, is to bring their gifts and contributions in those public realms since they do not have a wide variety of opportunities to study further and to be trained and prepared from institutions of higher education, as many Western women do.
With that in mind, I am privileged to be given this opportunity to study Biblical Studies with the hope that I can bring what I have learned both academically and experientially from this country to be involved in the process from the beginning of having more women in education in Vietnamese society and the church at large. These days, there are more women in leadership positions, not because they are women and they can do more or less what men can do, but women add difference and diversity in taking part in the discernment, bringing various views, benefiting society more, and collaborating for the good. It is undeniable that with the same kind of training and mindset in a space with only males to understand and analyze this complicated world, humans would be limited in their views and creativity. It is always more fruitful to have teamwork with diversity, men and women, different vocations, young people and the elderly. I think the change of having more and more women in all fields of society at large is happening with a new acceleration, and it has been an honor for me to take those steps as one among the very first biblical studies female scholars when I return to my native homeland.
I have a belief that a strong education should never just train the mind but transform the seekers’ heart for the good of others. Therefore, I do believe that my integrated education in this country will assist me with expertise in the New Testament and pastoral work in achieving the desire to empower higher education in my country. I dream of sharing with others what I have learned from my studies here in the classroom, my fieldwork, and also from the practical applications I have made during my time living in American society and the Church. I hope my experiences and expertise, in turn, will yield abundant fruits for the ministry, and in serving the needs of my religious community, the Church and society at large for years to come.