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Professor Kathryn Banks


MA, M.Phil, PhD Cambridge

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Professor in the School of Modern Languages and CulturesA40, Elvet Riverside I+44 (0) 191 33 43434
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies +44 (0) 191 33 43434


I am a specialist of sixteenth-century French literature and culture. My research is driven by two interrelated questions. First, what kinds of ‘thinking’ does literature engage in or elicit, and how do they relate to other kinds? Second, what specific sorts of insights into other cultures – in particular, sixteenth-century France – can literature provide, and why?

I am currently writing a book on 'Rabelaisian Cognitions'. The book brings Rabelais's fiction into dialogue with approaches to social and embodied cognition from the sciences. The project is funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize, and builds on research carried out as a Research Lecturer on the project ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’ directed by Terence Cave.

My second book project examines Literature and Apocalypse in France, 1532-1628. The book takes as its starting point the fact that the Reformation saw a concomitant revival of both ‘poetic prophecy’ and interest in apocalypse. It argues that literary texts – texts which might be conceived as ‘poetic prophecy’ – could therefore do things with apocalypse which other texts did not. Research for this project was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

My book Cosmos and Image in the Renaissance took as its starting point the observation that in the Renaissance human and cosmic images could constitute images not only when employed in language as metaphors but also in their real existence as objects: for example, it was often believed that the human body was literally an image of the cosmos, and the sun an image of God. I show that poets reflected on these real ‘images’ by depicting them in poetic images: for example, poetic representations of the cosmos as human body explored the relationship between cosmos and ‘man’, and did so differently from theological or natural-philosophical (scientific) prose. Thus, through its use of images, poetry made distinctive contributions to thinking about relationships between God, ‘man’, and the world, relationships which were fundamental to the questions at the heart of the Reformation, as well as to topics as diverse as nature, politics, and love. The book operates through case studies of two poems, namely Du Bartas’s Sepmaine, a sixteenth-century ‘scientific’ poem and European bestseller, and Scève’s Délie, which belongs to the European vogue for Petrarchist lyric and accentuates its underlying tendency to bring religion into love poetry.

I am a member of Durham’s Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and participate in events at the Institute of Advanced Study. Previously I have been Lecturer at King’s College, London, a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard, and a pensionnaire étrangère at the Ecole normale supérieure in Paris. I am a graduate of the University of Cambridge.

Postgraduate Supervision

I have supervised theses on aspects of sixteenth-century literature and culture, and am keen to receive applications from potential PhD students interested in sixteenth-century literature and culture and/or cognitive approaches to literature. 

Research interests

  • Sixteenth-century French literature, culture, thought, and history
  • Cognitive sciences and literature
  • Apocalypse and 'poetic prophecy'
  • Specificities of literary 'thinking' in relation to other modes of knowledge
  • Movement and embodiment in literature


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Edited Journal

  • Banks, Kathryn (2012). Apocalypse Now and Then. Literature and Theology, 26 (4): Oxford University Press.

Journal Article

Supervision students