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Robert Cowan


Robert Cowan is presently on leave from Kingsborough, serving as Acting Assistant Dean for Curriculum, Assessment, & Academic Program Review in the School of Arts & Sciences at Hunter College, CUNY. He received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the CUNY Graduate Center and has taught at CUNY since 1998, as well as at Vassar College. His creative and scholarly work focuses on the relationships among identity, inequality, and ethics, primarily in modern European intellectual history and critical pedagogy. He is the author of The Indo-German Identification: Reconciling South Asian Origins and European Destinies, 1765-1885 (Camden House, 2010), which was nominated for the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst/German Studies Association Book Prize. His scholarly articles, personal essays, creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have appeared in various publications and his work has been supported by the American Association of Colleges & Universities, the American Comparative Literature Association, the Democracy Commitment, the South Asia Seminar at Columbia University, and the Mellon Foundation.


ENG 12: Freshman Composition I
ENG 24: Freshman Composition II
ENG 30: Introduction to Literature
ENG 35: Modern European Literature
ENG 40: Short Fiction
ENG 42: Poetry
ENG 65: Literature & Film
ENG 92: Developing Competence in Reading & Writing


Ph.D. Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2006
M.A. Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 2004
B.A. Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1994

College Teaching
2008-15 Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
2010, 12-13   Vassar College
2006-08 Hunter College, CUNY
2002-03 Queensborough Community College, CUNY
2000-01 Queens College, CUNY

Baruch College, CUNY

Selected Publications and/or Other Resources


Negative Ethics: Studies in Teaching Dissent (in progress)

1985: Speculative Memoirs (under consideration)

Sense Will Pass Away: a novel (under consideration)

The Indo-German Identification: Reconciling South Asian Origins and European Destinies, 1765-1885. Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, & Culture. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010

Essays on Literature & Philosophy

“Schopenhauer Lead Me to a Retarded Enlightenment.” Für eine neue Aufklärung. Camden House (forthcoming).

“Rage Against the Time Machine: Pessimism’s Ahistorical Ethics vs. Cynicism’s Resignation to Progress.” boundary 2: an international journal of literature and culture (forthcoming).

“Boys Will Not Be Boys: Idolizing the Inhuman in Musil’s Törless.” Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 44.1 (Fall 2015)

“The Fatality of Romanticism vs. The Metaphysics of Sexual Love: Wagner’s Love Letter to Schopenhauer and the Break-Up with Nietzsche.” Monatshefte für deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur 106.1 (Jan 2014)

“New Models for Indo-German Scholarship within the Critical Reappraisal of Orientalism.” The Comparatist 34 (Jun 2010)

“Fear of Infinity: Friedrich Schlegel’s Indictment of Indian Philosophy in Über die Sprache und die Weisheit der Indier.” The German Quarterly 81.3 (Sum 2008)

“Nietzsche’s Attempted Escape from Schopenhauer’s South Asian Sources in The Birth of Tragedy.” German Studies Review 30.3 (Oct 2007)

Essays on Education

“Prisoner’s Dilemma: Why Would Someone Choose Jail Over College?” Commonweal: A Review of Religion, Politics & Culture (6 Mar 2015).

“My Brokedown English is Secondhand Nature.” The Chronicle Review (17 Oct 2014)

“Unsentimental Education.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (27 Mar 2014),

“Out of Ignorance: Using Child Slave Narratives to Combat Human Trafficking in New York City.” Teaching Literature in Community College Classrooms: Traversing Practices. New York: McGraw-Hill (Nov 2012)

Poetry, Short Fiction, & Creative Nonfiction

“Close Call with Siberian Kick-boxers: How Lao-Tzu and Joyce Understand Fate.” Mayday 11 (Summer 2014),

“Return to Elements,” “Replacement for Words,” and “A Visit to the Raccoons.” Skidrow Penthouse 15 (Spring 2013)

“Attack Shirt Phone Refuge,” “Paratroopers in Space,” and “Vapors.” Word Riot 12.11 (Nov 2012),

“Cheshire Cat (Cuento de Ada IV).” Bayou 50 (2008)

Events and/or Key Dates

Recent Selected Presentations

2015 “As Persons: Literature and Real Power.” ACLA annual convention, U of Washington, Seattle, WA (26-29 Mar)

“Teaching Democratic Literature as Negative Ethics.” American Democracy Project/The Democracy Commitment National Meeting. Louisville, KY (5-7 Jun)

“ACDC Agency: Food and Politics with Community-College Students at Vassar.” Transitions and Transactions II: Literature and Creative Writing Pedagogies in Community Colleges. Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, New York, NY (25-27 Apr)

“Bursting Our Bubbles: Sloterdijk and Our Ethical Future.” ACLA annual convention, New York University, New York, NY (20-23 Mar)


“Schopenhauer Lead Me to a Retarded Enlightenment,” “Für eine neue Aufklärung” Special Seminar: Strategies for Developing New Concepts of Enlightenment. GSA annual convention, Denver, CO (3-6 Oct)

“Valences of History,” Invited Moderator. GSA annual convention, Denver, CO (3-6 Oct)

“Inspired by Pessimism: Why We Need Negative Thinking.” International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) triennial congress. Université Paris-Sorbonne, France (18-24 Jul)

“I Contradict You Because I Care: Negation as Ethical Response.” ACLA annual convention, University of Toronto, Canada (4-7 Apr)

Research Interests

The relationships among identity, inequality, and ethics, primarily in modern European intellectual history, creative writing, and critical pedagogy.

Awards Recognition, Distinctions and Grants
Recent Honors
2013-14  Research Award (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France), Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY)
2010-11 Faculty Fellowship Publications Program, CUNY

Research Award (Richard-Wagner-Museum & Nationalarchiv, Bayreuth, Germany), PSC-CUNY

President’s Faculty Innovation Award, Kingsborough CC, CUNY


Seminar Associate, South Asia Seminar, Columbia University

William Stewart Travel Award, CUNY Academy for the Humanities & Sciences

Institutional Affiliations / Professional Societies

American Comparative Literature Association
German Studies Association
International Comparative Literature Association
Modern Language Association

Personal Interests

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