Thinking the European Republic of Letters


Research focus

We will study Europe from the perspective of its transnational intellectual heritage. The starting point for our research group is the need to understand Europe not just in terms of politics, economics, and geography, but also as an intellectual endeavour. Thus, we will specifically stress the continuing centrality of a Europe of Ideas. It is in Europe where philosophy emerged as a specific form of rationality and where it has arguably played a bigger role for the self-understanding and self-reflection of its populations than anywhere else. Without it, Europe would be literally unthinkable.

Closely related to the shapes and traditions of European thought are the languages and literatures of Europe. Together they form the European Republic of Letters: a complex network of intellectual and artistic expressions, influences, practices, genres and institutions across epochs, borders, languages and media. By achieving a sense of understanding for the co-emergence of European philosophy and literature, we wish to acknowledge the historic and systematic diversity of thought and to argue for the persistent necessity of a European Republic of Letters.

The group’s historical focus is on the modern period from the Renaissance and Humanism until today. Whereas in the Classics, medieval and early modern studies, philosophy, rhetoric and poetics are often studied together, this is seldom the case in contemporary academic philosophy. Ideals of knowledge taken from the natural sciences and mathematics have dominated for a long time at the expense of literary contextualisation and analysis. In literary studies, on the other hand, philosophy has often been met by scepticism in the name of theory. This group will go beyond such intellectual stereotyping and stress the essential interdependence of scientific, normative, aesthetic, and historical modes of thinking in a Europe in touch with the rest of the world.

Purpose of the research group

This group is aiming to broaden the scope of European studies and European cultural history by concentrating on European thought in the context of (comparative) literary and philosophical discourses. Its purpose is to provide both an open forum for intellectual exchange and to pioneer new approaches to intellectual history for a core group of scholars from various disciplines, in particular from philosophy, modern language and literature studies, comparative literature and bibliography/genetic criticism. We wish to become the foremost centre for studies within the philosophy & literature paradigm in Scandinavia, in close cooperation with our national and international partners. Our research projects, workshops, seminars and guest lectures will focus on:

  • The historicity of concepts and ideas, including those of philosophy and literature themselves
  • Linguistically mediated yet non-propositional forms of knowledge
  • The figurality of thought: metaphor, style, genre
  • Manuscripts, book history and editorial practices of European thought: the role of critical philology and bibliography for the European Republic of Letters
  • The Enlightenment as a literary critique of philosophy and philosophical critique of literature
  • Literary-philosophical constellations: institutions, conventions, media (including the culture of intellectual correspondences across Europe)
  • The role of women in intellectual history
  • The contribution of the Republic of Letters to Europe’s cultural memory
  • Critical topology
  • The transformations of Ancient philosophy and poetry in modern thought and literature
  • Linguistic diversity of thinking and writing
  • European thought and global history: colonialism and beyond

Just as diversity is essential to the European Republic of Letters itself, the foundation of our group lies in the participants’ own research. We will pool these efforts and our many different scholarly and linguistic competencies into larger units in order to achieve a complexity of enquiry unavailable to the individual. Our results will be disseminated and made public through teaching, conferences, academic and non-academic publications, as well as media talks.


You can find information about upcoming and past events of the research group here.


Christian BenneProfessor with special responsibilities Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, University of Copenhagen 
Sabrina EbbersmeyerAssociate Professor Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen ( 

For questions regarding activities or membership of the research group, contact the group's coordinators.

Research group members

You can find members of the group here.

Research networks

One of the European Centres of Excellence is a major partner of our group: The Morphomata Center for Advanced Studies, Cologne already financed and co-hosted a conference at the University of Copenhagen in September 2016. A research group on the ethical aspects of "philosophy and literature" in Lucerne, led by Prof. Chrisdne Abbt, is also an important partner. We also cooperate closely with the Hamburg based Centre for Manuscript Studies and with an Anneliese-Maier-group on text curatorship 5 (Prof. Glenn Most, Scuola Normale, Pisa).