The Knight News sat down with Associate Professor and newly appointed Director of the Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies Department Dr. Gerasimus Katsan, about the Byzantine Center’s contributions to the campus community as well as his own research in Modern Greek literature.
As CUNY transitions back to in-person operations, the Center has organized a series of events for Spring and even Fall 2022 to help promote the program for students.
“We want to turn the Center into a place where students can come and do research,” Katsan explains. By revitalizing the department’s facilities, including the Byzantine library, the hope is that this will invite scholars to congregate and, “Participate in a broader national discussion about Byzantium, Modern Greece, and Greek culture.”
Dr. Katsan specializes in Modern Greek, Comparative Literature, and English — his PhD dissertation focused on postmodernism in contemporary Greek literature. This research would later become the basis for his first book, History and Ideology in Greek Postmodernist Fiction (2013), outlining how contemporary Greek writers approach the issue of national identity in Greece and redefine it through a postmodernist lens.
Developing a deeper understanding of Greece while visiting the country during college, Katsan began to appreciate the passion its writers expressed through their stories.“While I was aware of writers like Kazantzakis, I hadn’t read them seriously. It wasn’t until I started my English degree at the University of Utah where I slowly began to open my horizons towards Greece.”
After finishing his degree, Katsan searched for graduate programs that specialized in Modern Greek literature, eventually being referred to Ohio State University (OSU).“That summer, I spoke with [former OSU professor of Modern Greek] Vassilis Lambropoulos, and he gave me a reading list — telling me to call him the following week to talk about it,” Dr. Katsan recounts. “We had this informal conversation throughout the summer, and in the end, he finally asked me, ‘Are you going to join the program or not?’”
It was this inviting reception from Lambropoulos, who spearheaded the program, that convinced Katsan to pursue a master’s in Modern Greek Literature and PhD in Comparative Literature at OSU. The overlap of these fields as well as his previous studies in English allowed him to further expand his field of interest with such a robust program.
Katsan started teaching at Queens College as an associate professor in 2006, having previously worked at OSU and Yale University. When asked about his experience at QC, the professor explains how he enjoys the small class sizes and being able to relate more with his students — encouraging them to develop an appreciation for Modern Greek in the process.
Discussing his own teaching philosophy, Dr. Katsan explains, “The main goal for my students is teaching them the value of thinking and being able to analyze not just literary text, but analyze the world — to look critically at what’s going on. I want my students to also develop an appreciation and insight for Modern Greek culture.”
Dr. Katsan’s coursework at Queens College focuses on the stories of Modern Greek writers and the historical context in which they were written, as well as Modern Greek language, Greek American authors, and Greek cinema.“That’s why Cavafy is my favorite Greek poet, because he understood that you can’t just refer to the Classics. You have to understand Hellenism as a whole.”
It’s this understanding that guides the current efforts of the Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies Department in trying to reconnect with the academic community at Queens College as well as fellow Modern Greek programs across the country.
When asked what he wants his students to take away from his classes, Katsan says, “I implore my students to be welcoming and have φιλοξενία [love for strangers]. To bring other people into our culture and teach them something about us and to share it with them. And then, we can come to an understanding between ourselves and people who are different from us.”
The Byzantine Center is offering a wide range of both in-person and virtual events for students of Queens College. Visit the department’s website to learn more.