Stefani Engelstein
Professor of German Studies

Stefani Engelstein is a Professor of German Studies with a secondary appointment in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies at Duke.  Her work addresses literature and science, aesthetics, gender, political theory, critical race theory, history of knowledge, and perspectives on nature, as well as other topics from 1770 to the present, particularly in the period of Age of Goethe / Romanticism.  Engelstein has published two monographs: Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2017) and Anxious Anatomy: The Conception of the Human Form in Literary and Naturalist Discourse (SUNY, 2008). She also co-edited the anthology Contemplating Violence: Critical Studies in Modern German Culture (Rodopi 2011).  Authors to whom she returns include Goethe, Lessing, Kleist, Blake, Mary Shelley, Hoffmann, Kant, Schelling, Darwin, George Eliot, Wagner, and Kafka.

The first of Engelstein's current projects, The Making of Oppositional Sexes, analyzes German literature, the history of science, and philosophy around 1800 to trace the impact of a shift from anatomical to physiological understandings of life on concepts of sexual difference. The emergent paradigm of dynamically oppositional sexes also underlay new formulations of the relationship of the human to the social and the natural world, becoming essential to significant biological, epistemological, ethical, and ontological debates at the time. The book will conclude with the afterlife of oppositional complementarity in cultural and legal debates in the United States today.  Her second book project, Reflections from Germany on Diversity and Violent Pasts: An Essay in Six Cemeteries, explores German engagement with responsibility for the Holocaust and reflects on its relevance for the US, also a country with a difficult past and diverse present. 

Engelstein’s most recent book, Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2017), investigated the genealogical sciences in the long nineteenth century.  Genealogies were developed to organize many historical systems and in the process transformed contemporary terms in such systems – whether languages, races, nations, species, or subjects – into siblings of varying degrees.  As a link between epistemology and affect, the sibling is a key to both knowledge-systems and identity politics that destabilizes genealogies from within.  Engelstein’s first book, Anxious Anatomy: The Conception of the Human Form in Literary and Naturalist Discourse (SUNY, 2008), explored theories of reproduction and healing at the turn of the nineteenth century.  It traced the concept of teleology at the root of the new discipline of biology to reveal its transformation from an explanatory principle in new epigenetic theories of inheritance to a rationalization for legitimating ideologies through the body. Engelstein also co-edited the anthology, Contemplating Violence: Critical Studies in Modern German Culture (Rodopi 2011) and her work has appeared in such journals as Critical Inquiry, the PMLA, the German Studies Review, the Goethe Yearbook, and Philosophy Today.

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On leave 2021-2022.

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