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John Givens

  • Professor of Russian
  • Chair, the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures
  • Head, the Russian Program

PhD, University of Washington

408A Lattimore Hall
(585) 276-5856

Office Hours: Spring 2019: By appointment only


John Givens's first book, Prodigal Son: Vasilii Shukshin in Soviet Russian Culture, examined the life and works of one of the most popular Soviet artist to emerge in the post-Stalin period. A prolific actor, director, and writer whose life and works were a study in border crossing between artistic genres, cultural strata, political camps, and demographic divisions, Shukshin altered important paradigms through which we have traditionally understood Soviet writers and Soviet literature. In addition to his monograph on Shukshin, Givens co-translated a volume of his prose, titled Stories from a Siberian Village. The anthology is the most comprehensive collection of Shukshin's stories to appear in English and reflects Givens's interest in the art of translation. From 1999 to 2016, Givens also served as editor of Russian Studies in Literature, a quarterly journal of translations from the Russian literary press.

His second book, The Image of Christ in Russian Literature, focuses on the four authors who most famously imaged Christ in their works: Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy in the nineteenth century and Mikhail Bulgakov and Boris Pasternak in the twentieth. These authors all felt a need to speak about Christ in an age of unbelief but, at the same time, paradoxically affirmed him or his teachings through indirect or even negative means. The subject of the book is thus not so much Russia's Christian literature but rather its anxiety over its Christian heritage, specifically, its anxiety over the meaning and significance of Jesus Christ.

He is currently working on a study provisionally titled The Anxiety of Belief in Russian Cinema and plans to follow that book with a study on social justice and divine justice in Dostoevsky's works.

Research Overview

Russian Studies in Literature: New Directions in Russian Literature (image of book cover)
Prodigal Son: Vasilii Shukshin in Soviet Russian Culture (book cover)
Vasily Shukshin: Stories from a Siberian Village (book cover)
The Image of Christ in Russian Literature: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Pasternak (book cover)
six portraits of the authors Fyodor Dostoevsky, Edgar Allen Poe, Mikhail Bulgakov, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Leo Tolstoy
"What is belief in a secular age?"
   - UR Newscenter article, 12/5/18
John Givens and John Michael are Rochester scholars whose work explores how sweeping cultural and technological changes influenced the works of iconic writers. And while their latest books focus separately on the giants of Russian and American literature—Fyodor Dostoevsky, Edgar Allen Poe, Mikhail Bulgakov, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Leo Tolstoy—they both ask what religious belief might look like in an age of science and secularism.

Recorded Lectures

Ivan Karamazov's via negativa in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov. Talk given at the Herzen State Pedagogical University, Saint Petersburg, Russia, March 12, 2019.

The Christological Function of Comedy in Dostoevsky's Idiot. Talk given at the Dostoevsky Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia, March 15, 2019.

Courses Offered (subject to change)

  • CLT 389:  Research Seminar (Fall 2019)
  • RUS 101:  Elementary Russian I (Fall)
  • RUS 102:  Elementary Russian II (Spring 2018)
  • RUS 231:  Great Russian Writers (Fall 2016)
  • RUS 235:  Tolstoy's "War and Peace" (Fall 2017)
  • RUS 237:  Dostoevsky (Fall 2018)
  • RUS 244:  The Image of Christ in Russian Literature (Spring 2015)
  • RUS 265:  Russian Literature Between the Revolutions (Spring 2014)
  • RUS 267:  Russia Goes to the Movies (Spring 2016)

Selected Publications


Articles and Books Chapters


Courses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, Russian film, and all levels of Russian language

Honors and Activities

  • University of Rochester Students' Association Government's Professor of the Year in the Humanities, 2017
  • University of Rochester Goergen Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2011
  • University of Rochester Student Association Professor of the Year Award in the Humanities, 2000, 2011
  • University of Rochester Edward Peck Curtis Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, 2000
  • University of Rochester Student Association Professor of the Year Award, Finalist, 1998, 2002
  • Kennan Institute Research Scholarship, Alternate, 1996-1997
  • Fulbright-Hays dissertation award; IREX long-term research award, Russia, 1991-1992