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Sebastian Lecourt

Assistant Professor

Sebastian Lecourt’s work situates Victorian literature amid questions of secularization, colonialism, and world literature. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University’s Department of English and has published essays in PMLA, Representations, Victorian Studies, and Literature Compass. His first book, Cultivating Belief: Victorian Anthropology, Liberal Aesthetics, and the Secular Imagination (Oxford UP, 2018), traces how Victorian liberal writers such as George Eliot and Walter Pater rejected a classical liberal secularism that identified religion with private belief and instead took up non-voluntaristic constructions of religion as racial or cultural identity. He is currently at work on a second book entitled The Genres of Comparative Religion, 1783-1927, which explores how Victorian writers used literary form to establish terms for comparing different religious traditions – how volumes such as Paul Carus’s The Gospel of Buddha (1894) gave a Bildungsroman-like arc to the lives of various religious founders, or how poets like Romesh Chunder Dutt used the Romantic rubric of the national epic to frame their versions of the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata. By treating Victorian comparative religion as a case of genre-construction, the book argues, we can develop a more complex sense of how both literary and scholarly categories globalize. 

Professor Lecourt has taught a range of courses on subjects including the literature of the British Empire, nineteenth-century science fiction, children’s literature, and literary theory. His research has been supported by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Konstanz in Germany. 

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Research Interests

British and Anglophone literature of the long nineteenth century; religion and secularism; world literature and transnational literary studies; literary theory and the history of literary studies.

Education

  • Ph.D., English, Yale University
  • M.Phil. and M.A., Yale University
  • B.A., English, Macalester College

Selected Publications

  • “Greek to Me: Two Versions of Modern Epic in Victorian Bengal,” ELH (forthcoming) 
  • “Reading World Religions in the 1890s,” in Dustin Friedman and Kristin Mahoney (eds.), Nineteenth-Century Literature in Transition: The 1890s (Cambridge UP, forthcoming) 
  • “Matthew Arnold and the Institutional Imagination of Liberalism,” Victorian Literature and Culture 49.1 (Spring 2021; forthcoming) 
  • “Pitching the Discipline” (review of Eric Hayot, Humanist Reason [Columbia, 2021]). LARB. February 17, 2021. Available at: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/pitching-the-discipline/ 
  • “Nineteenth-Century Literature, New Religious Movements and Secularization.” Introduction to special double-issue of Nineteenth-Century Literature 73:2 (September 2018): 147-60. Co-authored with Charles LaPorte. 
  • “Prophets Genuine and Spurious: The Victorian Jesus Novel and the Ends of Comparison.”Representations 142.1 (Spring 2018): 33-55. 
  • The Light of Asia and the Varieties of Victorian Presentism.” boundary 2 online 1.2 (October, 2016).  Available at: http://www.boundary2.org/2016/10/sebastian-lecourt-the-light-of-asia-and-the-varieties-of-victorian-presentism/  
  • “Idylls of the Buddh’: Buddhist Modernism and Victorian Poetics in Colonial Ceylon.” PMLA 131.3 (May 2016): 668-85. 
  • “That Untravell’d World: The Difficulties of Thinking Globally in Victorian Studies.” Literature Compass 13.2 (2016): 108-17. 
  • “The Mormons, the Victorians, and the Idea of Greater Britain.” Victorian Studies 56.1 (Autumn 2013): 85-111. 
  • “‘To surrender himself, in perfectly liberal inquiry’: Walter Pater, Many-Sidedness, and the Conversion Novel.” Victorian Studies 53.2 (Winter 2011): 231-53. 
  • “Matthew Arnold and Religion’s Cosmopolitan Histories.” Victorian Literature and Culture 38.2 (September 2010): 467-87. 

Teaching

  • 3316 – Literature of the Victorian Age
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