Sascha Ebeling

Deputy Dean of the Humanities, Associate Professor in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Comparative Literature, and The College
Foster 203

Tamil language and literature of all periods, in particular nineteenth-century literary culture and Sri Lankan Tamil literature; Tamil cinema; South Indian cultural history; literary theory; theory and practice of literary translation; the global history of the novel; less commonly read literatures in Europe (e.g. Catalan, Rumantsch, Czech).

Professor Ebeling studies both modern and premodern South Asian and Southeast Asian literary traditions and cultural history, and some of the less commonly studied European literatures. He is particularly interested in entangled histories of literary practices in Europe and Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, inclduing the emergence of the novel in Asia and the global history of modernist poetry.

Sascha Ebeling was trained in South Asian Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and General Linguistics at the University of Cologne (Universität zu Köln), Germany, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. Before joining the University of Chicago in 2005, he taught Tamil literature and South Asian Studies at the University of Cologne and also worked for the Göttingen Academy of Sciences as a Tamil manuscriptologist in the project “Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections” (Katalogisierung der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland, KOHD).

His book Colonizing the Realm of Words: The Transformation of Tamil Literature in Nineteenth-Century South India was published by SUNY Press in 2010. Together with Lakshmi Holmström he has also edited and translated two volumes of poems, A Second Sunrise, a collection by the poet R. Cheran and Lost Evenings, Lost Lives, a collection of poems about Sri Lanka’s civil war. Currently, he is working on three book-length projects: a history of the present moment in contemporary Tamil writing, mapping the genealogies of contemporary Tamil literary production from a global perspective; a book that examines Tamil writing about the ethnic conflict and civil war in Sri Lanka; and a monograph with the working title The Imperial Rise of the Novel, which will address the connections between Western imperialism, Asian modernities and the global history of the novel, discussing a wide range of texts from Europe and Asia (India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia).

Professor Ebeling is also the recipient of the 2007 Forschungspreis (Research Award) of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) for his work on nineteenth-century Tamil literature, and of the 2008 Whiting Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Core teaching at the University of Chicago. In July 2010 he was honored with the award for Outstanding Achievement in Tamil Studies by the Tamil Literary Garden, Toronto. A part of his acceptance speech (in Tamil) was published by the Canadian Tamil newspaper தாய்வீடுTaay veedu. His volume A Second Sunrise was listed among “The 100 new books to watch out for in 2012” by The Economic Times of India, and his anthology Lost Evenings, Lost Lives won the PEN Translates Award of the English PEN.

Ebeling has taught diverse groups of students in Asia, Europe and the US and has been a visiting professor at the EHESS, Paris, and Hamburg University, Germany.

He has published translations from Tamil, Old Javanese, Czech, Catalan and Romansh (Raeto-Romance) into English and German.

For a list of publications and talks and further information, see also his webpage at the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Work with Students

Professor Ebeling works with PhD, MA and BA students in Comparative Literature and South Asian Languages and Civilizations on a wide range of topics, including both modern and premodern South Asian and Southeast Asian literary traditions and cultural history, and some of the less commonly studied European literatures. His students have written or are writing on topics as diverse as nineteenth- and eighteenth-century Tamil authors; the emergence of modern Malayalam; forms of Telugu modernity; poetics in medieval Andhra; Jainism in early historic south India; Tamil catholic literature and the history of the Jesuit mission in South India; literature on the civil war in Sri Lanka; the literature of the Malayan emergeny; British and Dutch juvenile colonial literature.

Selected Publications

  • “The Scandal of the Devadasi in Nineteenth-Century Tamil Theater: Caitapuram Kacivicuvanata Mutaliyar’s drama Tampacari vilacam”, forthcoming in a volume edited by Davesh Soneji and Tiziana Leucci, Oxford University Press.
  •  “Tamil Poetry and Poetics”, in: Greene, Roland (ed.). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. 4th edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. pp. 1409–1411.
  • “Love, War, and the Sea Again: On the Poetry of Cheran”, in: Schalk, Peter (ed.). 2011. The Tamils from the Past to the Present. Celebratory volume in honour of Professor Alvapillai Veluppillai at the occasion of his 75th birthday. Uppsala: Uppsala University, and Colombo: Kumaran Book House, 2011, pp. 57–104.
  • “Another Tomorrow for Nantanar: The Continuation and Re-Invention of a Medieval South-Indian Untouchable Saint”, in: Schalk, Peter et al. (Hg.). 2010. Geschichte und Geschichten. Historiographie und Hagiographie in der asiatischen Religionsgeschichte. (= Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Historia religionum 30). Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet. pp. 433–516.
  • “The College of Fort St. George and the Transformation of Tamil Philology During the Nineteenth Century”, in: Trautmann, Thomas R. (ed.). 2009. The Madras School of Orientalism. Producing Knowledge in Colonial South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 233–260.
  • “Tamil or ‘Incomprehensible Scribble’? The Tamil Philological Commentary (urai) in the Nineteenth Century”, in: Wilden, Eva (ed.). 2009. Between Preservation and Recreation. Tamil traditions of commentary. Proceedings of a workshop in honour of T.V. Gopal Iyer. Pondichéry: Institut Français de Pondichéry; École Française d’Extrême-Orient. pp. 281–312.
  • “Siva, Visnu, Buddha: Religion und Staat im Kambodscha der Angkor-Periode (9.–14. Jh.)”, in: Schalk, Peter et al. (Hg.). 2005. Im Dickicht der Gebote. (= Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Historia religionum 26). Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet. pp. 435–461. [Siva, Visnu, Buddha: Some Observations on Religion and State in Cambodia during the Angkor Period (9th – 14th c.), in German]



  • Readings in World Literatures (College, Humanities Core)
  • Advanced/Classical Tamil (Third-Year, Fourth Year, Advanced)
  • Masterpieces of European Poetry (College, Humanities Core)
  • Reading the Middle Ages: Europe and Asia (College, Humanities Core)
  • How to do things with South Asian texts? Literary Theories and South Asian Literatures
  • Colonial Fictions: Novels of Adventures, Exoticisms, and East and West
  • Modern Spain, 1800 to the Present (Western Mediterranean Civilizations Part III, College)
  • Understanding World Poetry
  • Theoretical Approaches to Literature and Colonialism