Norm Klassen


Photo of Norm Klassen.
DPhil, Oxford
MA, Waterloo
BA, Waterloo
BTh, Canadian Bible College

Extension: 28223
Office: SJU Sweeney Hall 2205


Photo credit: Thomas Brauer


A prairie boy, I first completed a theology degree and then majored in English and History at the University of Waterloo before going on to doctoral work at the University of Oxford. After one decade out west, I am now in my second back on the campus of UWaterloo, where I enjoy teaching undergraduate courses ranging from introductions to literature and literary theory and the survey of British literature to upper-level courses on pre-modern rhetoric, Chaucer, and medieval literature.

I work at the intersections of literature, art, and intellectual history. The title of my most recent book, Rationality Is … The Essence of Literary Theory (May 2022), invites two different interpretations. For many, the essence of literary theory is the unmasking and redescription of rationality in other terms. Put ironically, rationality is male; rationality is white; rationality is repression…. The book’s title can also be read in a second way. On this reading, rationality itself is the essence of literary theory and central to literature, art, and society. Certain conceptions of what it entails can be problematic – the critique in the first way of reading the title remains relevant. Yet one can affirm rationality as integral to human flourishing, including the processes of creating, analyzing, and enjoying literature, art, and culture.

My second book about Chaucer’s poetry, The Fellowship of the Beatific Vision (2016),concerns a basic human question, How do we overcome tyranny? The symbolic pilgrim fellowship in The Canterbury Tales embodies the answer. Chaucer aligns himself with that other great poet-theologian of the Middle Ages, Dante, as a Christian humanist. He recognizes in art a fragile opportunity: not to reduce reality to a set of dogmatic propositions, but instead to participate in an ever-deepening mystery. Chaucer celebrates the way in which all human activity, even the most fraught of human interactions, ultimately bears witness to a created reality that resonates with a Word from God. 

My early work, including Chaucer on Love, Knowledge, and Sight (1995) and articles on French and other medieval literature, explored relational aspects of knowing in terms of the motif of sight. I have been interested in the ways in which Chaucer in particular complicates our understanding of knowledge, love, and belief. This interest developed into an exploration of the situatedness and self-knowledge involved in all attempts to make sense of things, not least those flying under the banner of humanism. I articulated some of these ideas in an introductory way in a co-authored book, The Passionate Intellect (2006). I have also written on literature and poetry for the Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality and, more recently, for The Chaucer Encyclopedia.

I enjoy travel, creative writing, working around my house and garden, and keeping active. I live in Hamilton with my wife. We have three grown-up sons.

Selected Publications


Rationality Is … The Essence of Literary Theory, Eugene: Cascade Books, 2022.

The Fellowship of the Beatific Vision: Chaucer on Overcoming Tyranny and Becoming Ourselves. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2016.

The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Chaucer on Love, Knowledge, and Sight. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1995.


“Ambiguity (ambages),” The Chaucer Encyclopedia, Oxford: Wiley, 2022.

“Beauty is the Church’s Unity: Supernatural Finality, Aesthetics, and Catholic–Orthodox Dialogue,” Analogia: the Pemptousia Journal for Theological Studies 10 (2020): 63–76.

“George Grant as a Philosopher of Fittedness for the Contemporary Canadian Situation or Overcoming Our Self-Incurred Immaturity,” Communio Circle of the Diocese of Hamilton, 8 June 2017.

“Mary’s Swollen Womb: What It Looks Like to Overcome Tyranny in The Second Nun’s Prologue and Tale.” Renascence 68.2 (2016): 77-92.

“The Coherence of Creation in the Word: The Rhetoric of Lines 1-34 of Chaucer’s General Prologue.” Christianity and Literature 64 (2014): 3-20.

“To Seek To Distant Shrines: A Syntactical Problem in Chaucer’s General Prologue 12-16.” Modern Philology 111.3 (2014): 585-92.

Lewis for Our Times: Principles of Cultural Apologetics in the Writings of Rowan Williams.” Communio Circle of the Diocese of Hamilton, 3 October 2011.

“City of Lights: Natural and Transcendent Light Sources for Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s ‘Good City-Republic.’” Quaderni d’Italianistica 28 (2007): 31-44.

Fellowships & Awards

  • 2017 Excellence in Publishing Award – Theology (3rd place) – Association of Catholic Publishers
  • Council of Christian Colleges and Universities “Networking Grant: Neohumanism and the Ethical Turn in Theological Perspective”
  • The Dean’s Innovative Teaching Award (TWU)
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship
  • Overseas Research Scheme Award

Current research

For the Peter Martyr (English) Library project, published by Brill, I am translating Peter Martyr Vermigli’s sixteenth-century commentary on Romans. I am also drafting a second novel about the detective work of Francine Pettigrew, on leave from Paris’s Brigade criminelle and drawn into the emotional mystery of the discovery of the body of a young girl hidden between boats along Regent’s Canal in north London. My main project is a cultural history of love and reason and the tension between them. Literature, art, and philosophy wrestle with an ambivalent reception of Plato’s picture of reason as a charioteer controlling the horses of the passions and appetites, which are irrational, the Stoic conviction that the soul is entirely rational and all emotions derive from faulty judgements, and the Christian assimilation of reason to love.

Areas of graduate supervision

  • Chaucer
  • Medieval English Literature
  • Medieval Humanism
  • Literature and Theology
  • Literary Theory