Michelle Karnes

Associate Professor of History and Philosophy of Science; Affiliated Faculty in Italian Studies

420 Flanner Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556


Areas of study

  • Medieval
  • Religion and Literature


Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
M. A., University of Pennsylvania
B. A., University of California, Berkeley

Research and teaching interests

Medieval literature, philosophy, and religion written in Arabic, Latin, English, French, Castilian, and Italian; religion and literature; comparative literature; history of science; animal studies; history of imagination


Michelle Karnes studies late medieval literature in its philosophical and religious context. Her most recent book, Medieval Marvels and Fictions in the Latin West and Islamic World investigates marvels like the evil eye and enchanted rings in both philosophy and literature, in both the Latin West and Islamic communities. It argues against the common notion that marvels are objects of belief and proposes instead that they are near impossibilities that demand scrutiny and investigation. They rely on the faculty of imagination, which is unrestricted by the distinction between the real and unreal, the true and the false. In her reading, the faculty gives marvels their indeterminacy and significance. Her first book, Imagination, Meditation, and Cognition in the Middle Ages, explores the role of imagination in medieval religious meditations and theories of cognition to show how the intellectual force of imagination contributes to its narrative power. Her current project focuses on the representation of animals and the role of species diversity in medieval literature and philosophy, again drawing on Arabic sources as well as ones from the Latin West. She has held year-long fellowships at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Huntington Library, and Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music. Along with Sebastian Sobecki, she is also editor of Studies in the Age of Chaucer.

Representative publications