During his visit to campus this March, Colgate class of 1998 alumnus Paul S. Cha gave an interview with current student Zhelun Zhou ‘20 about his time as a History and Asian Studies major and his career trajectory after graduation. He was very happy to be back on campus and remarked on the many changes at Colgate and in the History department since his time as a student, most notably the creation of the History lounge, and how it has become a central place for History students to study and gather as a community. He also noticed the increase in department sponsored talks and activities for students, and the smaller class sizes.
Cha recalled his fascination with the array of courses offered during his time as a student. One subject he remembered fondly was Professor Harsin’s teachings on the French Revolution and French cultural history. Cha also spoke extensively of the study abroad term he did in Nanjing, China during his junior year, and shared that his experience in Nanjing really helped him to think deeper about his research interests; his experiences during this time are what ultimately led him to pursue a Ph.D. later on. During the interview, Cha admitted that getting a Ph.D. was a very hard task. He pointed out that if students do plan to get a Ph.D., they must be very passionate about their subject, and have a realistic expectation of its difficulty, and also be strategic in their career planning. He explained that while students should consider continuing in academia, they should always think of other prospects, as not all Ph.D. students end up teaching. He also emphasized that his path is just one of the many ways to use a history degree.
The interview then moved to discuss Professor Cha’s current research focus and specialization. As exhibited in his lecture, Cha’s work focuses on modern Korean history. Specifically, he looks at the interaction between religion and nationalism, and issues that surround nationalism. He is keen to explore how Christianity, as a foreign religion, interacted and intersected with the formation of the modern South Korea nation-state and modern Korean nationalism as a whole. He explores the questions of how did the Korean Christians negotiate with the foreign missionaries, and how was Christianity connected to Korean nationalism. In other words, his research looks at how Christianity is not only a national religion, but also a channel for Korean Christians to make contacts with the international communities. He tries to contextualize Korean Christians under a global, transnational framework and the international flowing of ideas. Ultimately, Cha’s work tries to show how the Protestant Korean Christian community mirrored Korean nationalism. It is the balancing act between the Korean citizenship and Christianity that currently interests him and drives his research.
Article by Zhelun Zhou ‘20