World Literature Studies 2/2025

Literature, literary studies and the life sciences

Editors: Rolf Parr – Roman Mikuláš

Languages: English, German, Slovak, Czech

From a science policy perspective, it has been frequently claimed that the life sciences will shape the 21st century. With this background notion in mind, we want to use the proposed thematic focus of the journal World Literature Studies to stimulate a debate on the extent to which the expected dominance of the life sciences will also influence the position of literary studies (and with it literature) in the system of scientific disciplines and their discourse and to what extent literary studies can see itself as a life science (cf. Asholt/Ette 2009).

Discourse-theoretical and interdiscourse-theoretical approaches can provide a starting point for this, as they have been investigating constellations and hierarchies of special discourses and interdiscourses since the late 1970s. From the perspective of interdiscourse theory in particular, there are parallels between the discursive status of literature and that of the life sciences: Both bundle special discourses into new units. If this happens in the case of literature through literary procedures such as analogies that bundle several special discourses, the life sciences for their part present themselves as the result of couplings in the field of biology, chemistry and medicine, a constellation which pharmacy, agricultural sciences, ecology, forestry and environmental sciences have quickly joined. In the case of both literature and the life sciences, we are therefore dealing with highly interdiscursive subjects. This can result in both proximity and competition for literature and literary studies.

We therefore ask, on the one hand, what legitimizes the predicted dominant position of the life sciences, and on the other hand, what the preconditions and forms of communication on an equal footing between literature, literary studies and the life sciences are.

With the proposed thematic issue, we want to take up the discussion about this complementarity of literature and scientific knowledge by turning to theories and concepts that allow us to examine the specific possibilities of knowledge networking in the life sciences, literary studies and literature itself; especially with a strong analytical focus on literary texts in which the contemporary culture of knowledge is thematized or questioned.

The following specific questions are conceivable:

– How can life sciences, literary studies and humanities be differentiated from each other in the system of sciences? What overlaps are there? Does literature deal with this?

– Which discourse constellations (with which hierarchies) exist within the life sciences? Is biology sometimes more dominant, sometimes chemistry? And how does literature take this up and process it further? How are bridges built between the disciplines in the life sciences? Ultimately with literary methods?

– Where and how can elements of the life sciences be found in literary texts? Are new hierarchies of special discourses and interdiscourses being developed? One example could be recent popular crime novels (Schätzing, Rossmann, etc.).

Instructions and deadlines:

Please send abstracts for articles in English, German, Slovak or Czech to and by June 30, 2024.

Abstract length: ˂ 1,800 characters

You will be notified of the acceptance of your abstract by July 31, 2024.

The deadline for final text (German, English, Slovak or Czech): November 30, 2024.

Article length: 27,000–36,000 characters

For the journal style sheet visit



Asholt, Wolfgang, and Ottmar Ette, eds. 2009. Literaturwissenschaft als Lebenswissenschaft. Programm – Projekte – Perspektiven. Tübingen: Narr.

Buschmann, Albrecht, Julian Drews, Tobias Kraft, Anne Kraume, Markus Messling, and Gesine Müller, eds. 2016. Literatur leben. Festschrift für Ottmar Ette. Frankfurt am Main: Iberoamericana.

Ette, Ottmar. 2004. ÜberLebensWissen. Die Aufgabe der Philologie. Berlin: Kadmos.

Ette, Ottmar. 2013. “Stolz und Konvivenz – Stolz auf Konvivenz. Zum epistemologischen Potential der Literaturwissenschaften als Lebenswissenschaften.” In Literaturwissenschaft heute. Gegenstand, Positionen, Relevanz, eds. Susanne Knaller and Doris Pichler, 83–123. Göttingen: V&R unipress.