As I am scoping out my thesis and trying to figure out which are going to be the most fruitful lines of enquiry there are three major shifts that have been going on in Paul studies over the last few decades. Depending on who you talk to you will receive different answers as to how important they really are to understanding Paul, but as far as I am concerned they are all important for me to take into account at this stage.
1. The shift from viewing Paul as being in opposition to 1st century Judaism to seeing him as a product of it. (This often goes hand in hand with seeing Paul not as a convert to Christianity but as a Jew who had found in Jesus the messiah)
2. The shift from viewing Paul as a writer-of-theology to a writer-to-people. This might seem like hair splitting, but much scholarship has attempted to extract systems of Pauline theology from the letters. Now a greater appreciation of the unique circumstances that each letter was written to suggests that Paul's letters (with perhaps the exception of Ephesians?) are not examples of a systematic thelogy but of closely contextualised situational theology.
3. The shift from seeing Paul's primary opposition as being against Judaism to seeing Paul being primarily opposed to the Roman Empire. This understanding has come to light mainly as a result of post-colonial sensitivities discovering in the text what seems to be layer upon layer of anti imperial rhetoric and a growing historical awareness that most of the positive view of the empire we have from ancient literature is from the elite within that empire rather than those living in the lower social strata.
Now for some people these shifts are deeply worrying and to be resisted because they have radical implications for the way we read and understand Paul's letters. For me however they are a real ray of hope showing the possibility of a Paul who is not so difficult to connect to the rest of the New Testament as, say, the Paul of Luther. I have always been uncomfortable with the way 'Paul's gospel' seemed to have a radical disconnect from the rest of the NT and indeed the OT too. In these shifts there is at least the possibility that Paul's gospel has had this disconnect only because of the way we have been reading him through the distorted lenses of 16th century reformers and western emperialism individualism. So I will be paying close attention to the way these shifts will inform my research.