Fiction and Other Minds: Mindreading — Cognitive Theory and Cultural Practice

To quote Webb Keane, an anthropologist who writes on religion and ethics, while “theory of mind and intention-seeking are common to all humans,” they are “elaborated in some communities [and] suppressed in others” (Ethical Life, 131). As a literary scholar working with theory of mind and fiction, Prof Lisa Zunshine is interested in historical contexts that encourage or discourage certain types of mindreading associated with fictional characters, their authors, and their audiences. In this talk, she presented a series of case studies from a wide range of cultures to speculate how implied values of different communities may foster or suppress particular patterns of mindreading in literature.

Lisa Zunshine is Bush-Holbrook Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, a former Guggenheim fellow, and the author or editor of twelve books, including Bastards and Foundlings: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century England (Ohio State UP, 2006), Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel (Ohio State UP, 2006), Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible: Cognition, Culture, Narrative (Johns Hopkins UP, 2008), Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Popular Culture (Johns Hopkins UP, 2012), The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies (edited volume; 2015), and The Secret Life of Literature (MIT, 2022).


The seminar is convened by Professor Ben Morgan ( and Dr Naomi Rokotnitz (

As always, the talk will be followed by drinks for all attendees.


About the Seminar Series: The Fiction and Other Minds seminar series showcases current research in the Cognitive Humanities by hosting scholars working at the interface between literary studies, visual and performance art, phenomenology, philosophy, and the cognitive sciences. The seminars explore how features investigated by the cognitive sciences can be tested and expanded across different cultural contexts, media, and artistic genres. In particular, we explore how literary texts often challenge and differentiate theoretical insights—especially through their attention to the culturally situated aspects of cognition—and how cognitively informed approaches to literature can deepen our understanding of the embodied and affective processes that underpin meaning-making, including literary reading. For more information, please see the Fiction and Other Minds research strand page.