Literary Science? The Science of Literature?: Thoughts Toward an Evolving Field, NeMLA 2015

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Jamie Carr, Niagara University
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In recent years, the function of literature and the purpose of reading have become the focus of studies in a number of fields beyond literature—including cognitive psychology, neuroscience and management and organization. In some respects, it is reassuring that some outside the discipline of literary studies have taken up literature's defense, conducting empirical studies to prove that reading fiction does indeed have value. Such inquiries may be due in part to a marked decline in leisure reading in the 1980s and 1990s and in part to a broader trend in higher education in which the humanities have lost significant funding and support due to a presumed lack of "practical" value. Yet, the discipline of literary studies, which has long made the case that reading fiction is productive – of empathy, critical thinking, the democratic process, etc., has been absented from the above studies, a disregard that, ironically, devalues the study of literature.

In contradistinction to a shift in the discipline in which some scholars make literary studies an object of inquiry rather than a subject in its own right, this roundtable explores the following types of questions: What are the implications of this interdisciplinarity? Is English being colonized by scientific inquiry? Should it become an empirically-based discipline if it is to survive? And, what contribution might literary studies make to scientific inquiry?

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