Professor Receives Humboldt Research Fellowship
Stefani Engelstein, associate professor of German studies and director of the Life Sciences & Society Program, can add Humboldtian to her list of titles. Engelstein will spend a year in Berlin, Germany, on a Humboldt Research Fellowship to complete her next book, Sibling Logic: Incest, Collective Identities, and the Subject.
The Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship was created by the German government to promote cooperation between German scholars and scholars from around the world. While in Germany, Engelstein will be hosted by a humanities think tank called the Center for Literary and Culture Research, which has particular interests in the history of knowledge acquisition, and its division into disciplines like the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
Engelstein’s book outlines a new conception of relatedness that arose in late eighteenth-century Europe, and which she argues influenced modern institutions from democracy to the human sciences to understandings of the self. She gives the name “sibling logic” to the idea of comparing contemporaries to determine a history of descent with modification from a common ancestor. Eventually this idea became the keystone of evolutionary theory, but she traces its earlier beginning in comparative anatomy, linguistics, race theory, cultural history, and comparative religion.
“The concept of fraternity within a nation became a central motto of the French Revolution, while the idea of a common human fraternity motivated the abolition movement,” says Engelstein. “At the same time, plotting affinities in culture or language between some groups often was used to justify racial discrimination against others.”
Sibling relationships also became very common in literature at this time, particularly in the form of sibling incest narratives, but few people have analyzed them in the contexts of cultural encounter or social upheaval that also surface in these narratives.
“The sibling is the closest possible other,” Engelstein says, “and is therefore an ideal figure for working through the construction of individual and group identity, as well as for exploring the emotion connected to group identities.”
Beginning in June 2013, Engelstein will spend a year in Germany finishing this book. She is eager to see those portions that are now just visualized in her head become a reality.
“I am excited to be able to work with the other people at the institute,” says Engelstein. “They do amazing work.”
By Laura Lindsey, College of Arts and Science
September 4, 2012