Program in Comparative Literature

Karen A Pagani

Assistant ProfessorPh.D., University of Chicago

Assistant Professor of French Literature
Karen A Pagani



Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century moral theory (British, French, German); Seventeenth and eighteenth-century French novel; Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie; Historical semantics; Secularization.


Karen Pagani began working at The University of Texas in 2008.  She received both her M.A. and Ph.D from the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. She recently finished a manuscript entitled, "Forgiving Men and Citizens: Anger, Forgiveness, and Authenticity in Rousseau" (forthcoming Penn State Press, April 2015)

Her current book project, "Accounting for Forgiveness in the Age of Reason: Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, and Butler" explores what was a discursive crisis in understanding the concept of forgiveness in purely secular terms during the late seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Discursive crisis denotes in this context a peculiar situation in which a concept proved to be incompatible with a specific communicative system’s historicallydeterminedvocabulary but could not be abandoned for both ideological and practical reasons. Through an historical analysis of the aforementioned thinkers, this project will provide a nuanced understanding as to why forgiveness was so difficult to speak about during this period and, in the conclusion, how these difficulties may still influence our understanding of the concept today.  Much of the impetus behind this study stems from the observation that there is a historicity to the concept forgiveness. The project thus poses a challenge to more contemporary accounts of forgiveness that advocate a transcendent, universalizing notion of the concept. One of the questions implicit within this historical study, and to which the conclusion shall be devoted, may be stated as follows: how can we relate more recent accounts of forgiveness that pretend to universality to an otherwise predominant tendency to historicize the concept of forgiveness? 


Man or Citizen: Forgiveness, Anger, and Authenticity in Rousseau (Penn State University Press, April/May 2015).
Articles and Essays
(forthcoming) “Quotable Arendt: Toward a Properly Arendtian Account of Forgiveness.” The New German Critique (estimated date of publication: February, 2016). 40 pages. Peer reviewed.

“To Err is Human, to Forgive Supine: The Problem of Forgiveness in Rousseau’s Emile and   Sophie.The Journal for Early Modern Studies, 3.2 (November, 2014): pp. 68-87. Peer reviewed.

“And if Voltaire Ceased to be Voltaire?: The Influence of Fénelon’s Quietism on Voltaire’s Later Works.” Fénelon in the Enlightenment, eds. Stephanie Stockhorst, Doowan Ahn, and Christoph Maas with a preface by Jacques LeBrun(Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi Press, 2014): pp. 25-46. Solicited/Peer reviewed.

“Living Well is the Best Revenge: Rousseau’s Reveries and the (non)Problem of Forgiveness,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 47, no. 4 (Summer, 2014): pp. 407-423. Peer reviewed.
“Judging Oswald within the Limits of Reason Alone in Madame de Staël’s Corinne.”  The European Romantic Review, volume 23.2 (February, 2012): pp. 141-56. Peer reviewed.

“The Uses and Abuses of Joseph Butler’s Account of Forgiveness:  Between the Passions and the Interests.” The South Central Review, volume 27.3(Fall, 2010): pp. 12-33. Peer reviewed.

Forgiving Men and Citizens: Anger and Subjectivity in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (forthcoming with University of Toronto Press)