School of Humanities



Ashok Collins

Phone: (+61 4) 3991 8849

Start date

Mar 2007

Submission date

Oct 2011

Ashok Collins


A Trinitarian Poetics: Deconstructing Christianity in Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe


The French novelist, playwright, musicologist, biographer, historian and essayist Romain Rolland (1866-1944) was particularly well known for his unique perspective on the religious experience. After an abandonment of Catholicism during his teenage years, Rolland went on to explore a religious world opened up by his readings of Spinoza, Tolstoy and the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Art became the tool through which he sought to explore and communicate this divine truth. Rolland’s “musical novel,” Jean-Christophe (1904-1912), is a central testament to his understanding of divine truth due to its unique combination of the artistic languages of literature and music. As well as manifesting a strong trend towards a pantheistic conception of the divine, this œuvre de foi contains numerous references to the Bible. Past studies have neglected to undertake an in-depth analysis of the significance of this imagery within Rolland’s literary method, an oversight that the current study proposes to redress. I utilise the contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s Déconstruction du christianisme as a theoretical framework, applying it to the novel through the concept of a personnification poétique, a key term Rolland utilises to describe the Christian God. Deconstruction allows us to observe how this personnification functions through what I define as a “Trinitarian poetics,” which shapes both the textual narrative of the Beethovenian hero Jean-Christophe’s life, and the narrative of Christian revelation in the Bible. By focusing on the action of the primary theological mysteries (the Trinity, incarnation and resurrection) within the musical genius of the central protagonist, the thesis carries out a deconstruction of the divine truth that the Trinitarian poetics crafts in the novel.

Why my research is important

My current research focuses on Romain Rolland, an important figure within 20th century thought who is no longer much studied. My approach seeks to re-evaluate Rolland's thinking on religion in particular, and analyse the way in which his writing allows us to come to a new understanding of how religious truth functions within literary language. Through the utilisation of contemporary French 'post-theological' philosophy, Rolland's religious perspective begins to reveal its relevance for a 21st century pluralistic and globalised world which is still confronting many of the same problems. Such research therefore seeks to contribute not only to a renewed appreciation for Rolland's thought, but also to the realm of contemporary interreligious dialogue and engagement.