Jessica Sanders

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Biographical Sketch



I am a doctoral candidate beginning my final year of work on my dissertation.  I began studying Russian as a freshman in college purely as a means of satisfying a GE requirement.  A fascination with the powerful role given to literature in Russian culture led me to switch to Russian as a major and then toward pursuit of a graduate degree in Slavic studies.  That fascination has been the guiding force of my scholarly work and blossomed into my dissertation work.

My research concerns the insertion of culture into Russian politics that begins in the late 18th century and reached it's fullest flower in the mid 19th century.  Specifically, my interests concern the Romantic conceit of the poet as prophet.  While this conceit is expressed explicitly in some of the best known poetry of the first half of the 19th century, my work concerns poetry in which the poet adapts or refigures the words of the biblical prophets rather than describing the poet as a prophet.  By tracing these prophetic poems through Derzhavin and the late 18th century, the peak of fused poetic and political ambition among the Decembrist poets, and into the post-Decembrist Golden Age poets whose work established the ongoing importance of the poet in Russia, I attempt to claim that these poets were using religious subtexts as one means of leveraging a space for the poet and culture within the constrictions of the autocratic Imperial state.

I would someday like to study how this conflation of poet and prophet morphs through the Silver Age, when so many poets actually began to claim psychic abilities, and into the Soviet era, when the position of dissident poet seems so clearly rooted in the image of Isaiah as cultivated in a much different context by Pushkin, Baratynsky, and others. 

In addition to studying the struggle of poets for power against the state, my earlier scholarly research has delved into questions of how the state co-opts culture in order to subvert its subjects or justify acts of unthinkable cruelty (specifically in the literary attempt to justify the gulag through The Stalin White Sea-Baltic Canal: History of the construction.  I have also dabbled in questions of the ways in which one cultural movement searches for ways to connect and assert power over another in my work on Elena Guro.  While all of these projects deal with religious subtexts to a certain extent, my predominate interests lie in the intersections of art, faith, politics, power, and culture.




  • B.A. Russian, Reed College, 05/2005
  • M.A. University of Southern California, 12/2008