Sam Catlin

I’m a joint Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. As a scholar in the interdisciplinary subfield of “religion and literature,” my research and teaching span Jewish studies, literary theory and criticism, religious studies, and transatlantic modern intellectual history. In the 2021–22 academic year, my research is generously supported by a Dissertation Writing Fellowship from the Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies and a Junior Fellowship from the Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion.


My dissertation, “The Rest is Literature: Midrash and the Institution of ‘Theory’ in America” traces and interprets the brief, unlikely explosion of interdisciplinary contact between rabbinics and literary theory in American academia during the 1980s. By situating this so-called “midrash-theory connection” within the longer, tangled modern histories of literature and literary criticism, academic Jewish studies (especially rabbinics), religious studies, and American postsecondary education, I argue that the midrash-theory connection is not simply a curious relic of the heyday of “theory,” but a point of crystallization for tensions around religion, nationalism, race, identity, pluralism, and secularization, tensions which have always been internal to—and constitutive of—the very category “literature” in Western modernity. The dissertation thus uses the midrash-theory connection to stage an intervention by the subfield of “religion and literature” into urgent current methodological debates over the limits of secularism, the function of institutions of postsecondary education in the contemporary US, and the legacies of “critique” in the humanities and social sciences.


Other in-progress projects at various stages of preparation include essays on Erich Auerbach’s biblical criticism; the position of Judaism in Paul Ricoeur’s concept of “the hermeneutics of suspicion”; the trope of the “parable” in the critical reception of Franz Kafka’s stories; and the politically fraught debates over John Milton’s tragedy Samson Agonistes in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


Workshops: Jewish Studies (coordinator, AY 2019-20)

Subject Areas: Jewish Studies, Religion and Literature, Intellectual History, Literary Theory

Research Interests: Literary criticism and theory; scriptural hermeneutics; Rabbinic Judaism; modern Jewish thought and literature; Bible as/and/in literature; Continental philosophy and critical theory; secularism and its discontents; critical university studies; anti-Judaism and antisemitism; fragments.




“Rabbinic Literature and Literary Theory.” Oxford Bibliographies: Jewish Studies, ed. Naomi Seidman. Under contract with Oxford University Press, forthcoming Autumn 2021.


Teaching Experience at the University of Chicago:


CMLT 28881: Secrecy and Exemplarity: On Parables and Their Interpretation from the Bible to Walter Benjamin (Instructor, Winter 2020)


JWSC 12000: Jewish Civilization I: Ancient Beginnings Through the Medieval Period (Teaching Assistant, Autumn 2019)


CMLT 29801: B.A. Thesis Workshop in Comparative Literature III (Preceptor, Spring 2019)


CMLT 29801: B.A. Thesis Workshop in Comparative Literature II (Preceptor, Winter 2019)


CMLT 29801: B.A. Thesis Workshop in Comparative Literature I (Preceptor, Autumn 2018)


HUMA 12300: Humanities Core: Human Being and Citizen (Writing Intern, Autumn 2017)



M.A. Comparative Literature, University of Chicago, 2017

B.A. Literary Studies, Middlebury College, 2015