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Katy Chiles UTK English


As a brief look at the English department’s curriculum will confirm, our discipline is inspired by a host of different concerns, and employs a wide variety of scholarly methodologies. Critical theory is a conversation about and across these disciplinary differences, a conversation that graduate students are encouraged to join, regardless of their areas of specialization.

Faculty in critical theory teach and research in a variety of fields. Some study literature for the insight it provides into the great cultural transformations of the past millennium; some focus on human psychology and the questions of identity in their historical particularity and their more enduring forms; others look to the ethical and political questions of identity, communication, and nation that face us today. We have faculty members working in the theoretical areas of narrative, psychoanalysis, performance, rhetoric, critical race, and feminist and gender studies, as well as many other fields.

The graduate curriculum in critical theory consists of three types of courses. The first includes surveys of criticism that put key critical ideas in historical perspective. The second is genre courses focusing on poetics and narrative theory; like the surveys, these have a broad historical scope. Finally, seminars and readings courses on specific topics such as Modernism, drama and performance, literature and the new digital technologies, and the sublime, provide various and exciting offerings from year to year.

The department has an active Critical Theory Reading Group that includes both faculty and graduate students. It meets weekly to explore new work in literary theory, as well as pertinent scholarship in adjacent disciplines. It also gives graduate students the chance to interact with faculty from a variety different fields and other departments.

Faculty in critical theory regularly organize lectures by visiting scholars, symposia, and conferences on topics of current interest. The bi-annual graduate student conference, NEXUS, is an outgrowth of these conversations. Graduate students in critical theory have won a number of prestigious awards including scholarships to the School of Criticism at Cornell University.