Research Stream


Kenneth Chong
The University of Queensland

Literary Theologies: The Medieval Poetics of Scholasticism

From early musings about theology’s place among the sciences to the remarkable visions of Julian of Norwich, this project tracks the fortunes of theology as they played out in the universities and in late medieval culture, where a distinctive theological poetics emerged in Middle English.

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This project considers the development of theology from the professional beginnings of scholasticism to its literary instantiations in the fourteenth century. Observing how theologians thought about their own discipline, especially in prologues to commentaries on Peter Lombard’s remarkably influential Book of Sentences, Dr Kenneth Chong traces changing attitudes to Scripture, rationality, and knowledge, and argues that a crisis in scholasticism opened up new possibilities for doing theology in poetry. Against some prevailing views on vernacular theology, Dr Chong shows how fragments of scholastic discourse are adapted by and revitalized as Middle English narrative. This occurs in a variety of ways. While the elegiac poem Pearl draws on economics and natural philosophy in a debate about salvation, Piers Plowman critiques academic theology and registers its disappearance. Julian of Norwich’s Shewings, on the other hand, is a revelatory vision that produces its own answer to the longstanding problem of future contingents.

Related Publications

Chong, Kenneth (2015) Review Essay: Trees of Knowledge. Books and Culture (2015): 33‒34.

Related Presentations

Chong, K. ‘Inarticulate Signs: The Tears of Margery Kempe’, 'Art and Affect' CHE Meanings Program Collaboratory, UQ, 12‒14 July 2017.

Chong, K. '"Alle shalle be wele": Rethinking the Future in Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Love', 'Emotions in Middle English Literature V: Emotional Practices' Study Day, The University of Melbourne, 3 June 2016.

Chong, K. ‘Seeing, Feeling, Learning: Julian of Norwich’s  Vision and Revelation’, 'Passions for Learning in Religious Perspective: from Jerome to the Jesuits' symposium, The University of Western Australia, 5‒6 November 2015.

Image: Peter Lombard, Sententiae (The Sentences), Bibliotheque Municipale at Troyes MS900, fol. 1r. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.