PhD at Literary Knowledge (1890-1950): Poetic Cosmos
KU Leuven, Literary Studies Research Unit



Are you interested in working at a research centre of excellence within one of continental Europe’s top-5 universities in the Arts and Humanities? Does writing a PhD in comparative literature appeal to you? The MDRN research centre at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) is looking to hire a doctoral student to work within the research programme “Literary Knowledge, 1890-1950: Modernisms and the Sciences in Europe”. The successful applicant receives a four-year scholarship (doctoraatsbursaal). The MDRN research centre houses about 30 experts in the expanding field of modernism studies. It unites scholars from various languages and disciplines. The centre offers an exciting environment that allows young scholars to pursue their individual research goals, while at the same time offering the benefits of collaborative work. To learn more about working at MDRN as a young scholar, or about MDRN’s many other projects, people and activities, just visit our site (mentioned below). The centre is based at the Arts Faculty of the University of Leuven. Located in a historic city in the heart of Belgium, the university is 20 minutes from Brussels and less than two hours from Paris, London and Amsterdam.



“Poetic Cosmos” is a PhD project that is part of the larger research programme, “Literary Knowledge, 1890-1950: Modernisms and the Sciences in Europe”. This programme is funded by the University of Leuven Research Council and is supervised by professors Sascha Bru, Elke D’hoker, Anke Gilleir, David Martens and Bart Van Den Bossche. The programme seeks to better understand the epistemic function of Western European literature between 1890 and 1950 by studying literature’s role within a larger economy of knowledge production during the period. More specifically, the programme investigates the ways in which literature related to knowledge stemming from the life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities. A large-scale research initiative coherently framed and involving scientists from various disciplines, the programme houses six smaller-scale projects for PhD students on English, French, German, Italian and Dutch literature’s ties to fields as varied as archaeology, genetics and cosmology. 

One of the most daunting insights to come out of the discipline of cosmology during the modernist period is the fact that the universe is physically infinite, if not, forever expanding. The PhD project, “Poetic Cosmos”, wants to study the ways in which highbrow modernist poets gave shape to this insight in their writings. This (post)sublime insight led poets to experiment with white space and typography as well as with chance operations in writing protocols. Yet it also led to poets drawing on older modes and templates from the literary historical stock to represent (humans’ relation to) an infinite, expanding cosmos: from poets taking recourse to Ancient Greek astrology and its model of a finite, heliocentric universe, those harking back to Blaise Pascal’s 17th-century theological thought and experience of cosmic horror, to those poets who went back to Romanticism and portrayed themselves as cosmic seers. This PhD project is to chart these and other ways in which European poets fleshed out the universe's infinite and expanding nature.


  • You hold either an MA in English (major in literature), an MA in literary studies (major in German, Italian or French), or an MA in German, Italian or French studies (major in literature)
  • You are familiar with at least two major literary traditions in Europe
  • You have a passion for literature and want to become an outstanding scholar
  • You are interested in European modernisms and the avant-gardes, and the ties between literature and science (understood in the broadest sense)
  • You are willing to communicate on your research at conferences, through publications and on social media
  • You are happy to work on campus at least three or four days a week
  • You are ready to work in team and to play an active role both within the research programme and the MDRN centre


We offer a once renewable two-year scholarship (doctoraatsbursaal). A budget for research-related travel will be available to you as well.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Sascha Bru, tel.: +32 16 32 48 40, mail: or Prof. dr. Bart Van Den Bossche, tel.: +32 16 32 48 36, mail: Candidates are invited to submit their application in English or French, consisting of: - a cv, including a detailed list of course marks/grades of bachelor and master studies - a letter of motivation stating the candidate's qualifications and reasons for interest in the position - one writing sample (published article, MA thesis, ...) - the contact information of two references (including information on relationship with the applicant). Interviews with a selection of the applicants are scheduled in late September. Candidates who are selected will be notified early that month. At that moment, they might receive a small writing assignment which is due a week before the interviews.

You can apply for this job no later than September 01, 2018 via the online application tool

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

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