Does reading develop empathy? KU professor Marike Janzen presents a case study from Germany

Marike Janzen presents “Reading about Refugees in Germany: A National Project to Become World Citizens” as part of Eastern Mennonite University’s Writers Read series. The reading is Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. in Martin Chapel at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Janzen is assistant professor of humanities in the Humanities Program and coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at University of Kansas.

From 2004-07, she was assistant professor of German at Eastern Mennonite University and from 2003-04, an instructor of Spanish at Bridgewater College.

Janzen offers the following summary of her lecture:

Books and reading are commonly noted to allow readers to transcend borders and thus develop empathy for those very different from themselves. In Germany, the educated class has historically understood reading as the means for cultivating a sense of world citizenship. Paradoxically, this view of reading also serves as the hallmark of a specific kind of German national identity, the Bildungsbürger, or educated citizen.

The arrival of over a million refugees in Germany over the past two years poses challenges to German conceptions of citizenship and national identity, including the role of reading in shaping citizens.

In my talk, I will examine two recent German novels that show how books and reading actually limit educated Germans’ capacity to connect with refugees, thereby arguing for the need to rethink how books are able to create a feeling of one’s belonging in the world.

Janzen earned her PhD in comparative literature from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 and her MA in comparative literature, also from University of Texas at Austin, in 1999. She earned her BA in German and English at Bethel College in 1995.

Her research and teaching interests focus on world literature, human rights literature, and notions of solidarity. She has published on the authors Alejo Carpentier, Anna Seghers and Bertolt Brecht, as well as teaching human rights through service learning.

In July 2016, she participated in a two-week seminar on Germany’s literature industry in Berlin. Janzen’s newest publication is Writing to Change the World: Anna Seghers, Authorship, and International Solidarity in the Twentieth Century (Camden House, 2018).

Discussion on “Does reading develop empathy? KU professor Marike Janzen presents a case study from Germany

  1. Professor Janzen:

    Are you familiar with the work done in the 1940’s and 1950’s at Espelkamp/Mittenwald by my Grandparents Joe & Salome Roth and others?

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