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Empathy and Writing – Bath Spa University

The Empathy and Writing group researches the uses and limits of empathy in personal and professional life, creativity, reading, writing and in the recovery from trauma.

What is the value of empathy in today’s world? Difference and separateness often seem to be rallying cries leading to conflict – can empathy instead help us to recognise and understand another’s point of view, beliefs, cultural values and feelings?

David Comer Kidd and Emmanuele Castano’s ‘Reading Literary Fiction Increases Theory of Mind’ - a founding paper in creative empathy studies - argues that reading literary fiction tends to improve the reader’s ability to see life from a different perspective. Our group seeks to respond to this emerging field in the creative and literary arts. 

Group leaders

Associate members

Mine Özyurt Kiliç

Associate Professor Mine Özyurt Kiliç, who leads the English Language and Literature Department at ASBU Social Sciences University of Ankara (SSUA), also leads Empathy Studies at the university.

She has been collaborating with colleagues from other disciplines and departments in the project "Building Empathy through Humanities/Social Sciences". This will investigate the respective empathy building strategies in Turkish and English culture, two countries divided by different experiences, but with many things in common. 

As a literature scholar, she observes the potential of literature, specifically of short fiction, to change perspectives, the first step of any empathy-related process. Teaching and doing research on short fiction, she believes that literary studies should be part of any scholarly program with undergraduate and graduate learners. Mine Özyurt Kiliç was recently the recipient of a Fulbright Award for research at Harvard University. She is the author of Maggie Gee: Writing the Condition of England Novel (Bloomsbury, 2012) and has also published on Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, Pat Barker and Jeanette Winterson.

Kylie Fitzpatrick

Kylie Fitzpatrick, PhD, is a novelist and Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her four historical novels have been published in eleven languages. She has a background in film and documentary television, working for the BBC, ABC Australia and Beyond Productions as script editor and researcher. She now mentors novelists and memoirists and works as a consultant editor through the Writers and Artist’s literary consultancy at Bloomsbury Publishing.

Kylie's most recent critical writing In Search of Meaning; Depth Psychology & Writing, was published in the Writing In Education Journal, Spring, 2017. Her present research into how empathy might be enabled by first-person narration is central to the development of a creative journaling program for rehabilitation and recovery from trauma.

You can find out more on her author's website.

Dr Omar Al-Khayatt

Dr Omar Al-Khayatt is a Neurologist and Neurophysiologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.

Though his day job revolves around the diagnosis of neuromuscular problems and epilepsy, his main extra-curricular interest is the intersection of literature with Medicine, particularly the uses and limits of empathy for medical practitioners. Writing and reading are invaluable tools for physicians, whether to help improve public health education or better empathise with patients’ perspectives – to this end, he has written multiple short stories, some shortlisted in Writer’s Forum Magazine, one a winner in the Fish Short Story Competition 2015.

His medical background is not the only influence on his writing. Moving from Iraq to England before a lot of the trouble started, he cannot help but wonder what might have been had he never left - this thought forms the basis of his first upcoming novel, ‘Son of Iraq’, about an ageing, exiled doctor who returns to Baghdad to find the son he left behind. 

Susan Shapiro

Susan H. Shapiro is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood and Special Education at Touro Graduate School of Education in New York City. She earned her Master's degree in elementary and early childhood education from Bank Street College of Education and her doctoral degree from the Steinhardt School at NYU in Educational Leadership. Her dissertation, entitled In the Playground Trenches: Early Childhood Directors Experiences on 9/11/01, studied the leadership abilities of early childhood directors who worked in close proximity to the World Trade Center during that turbulent day.

Dr. Shapiro’s research has focused on ethical leadership and on crises in Early Childhood Education.

She has published in journals and books on topics of early childhood leadership and ethical leadership as well as the use of mindfulness and compassion in leadership. Additionally, Dr. Shapiro has led early childhood and special education inclusion programs in the United States for the past 25 years.

Olga Dzhumaylo

Professor Olga Dzhumaylo is Head of the Department of World Literature and Criticism at Southern Federal University, Russia. She is also Editor-in-Chief of ‘Practices and Interpretations: A Journal of Philology, Teaching and Cultural Studies’, a quarterly open-access journal. In 2014 she was a Visiting Fellow at Magdalen College Oxford.

Her monograph, The English Confessional Novel 1980-2000 (2011), explores interrelated questions of the confessional turn and postmodern vulnerability in contemporary English fiction. Her published articles and book chapters focus on discussion of the confessional performance in contemporary literature and film in recent years, including the work of Kazuo Ishiguro, with special interest in the ethics of affect. She is currently working on a book, The Confessional Turn in Contemporary English Fiction, Film and Art. The courses she teaches includes an MA in ‘Russian and European Cultural Bonds’.   

Research topics

Literature and literary practice

Our group explores the myriad ways in which empathy is used in creative writing and narration. Some of our explored topics include:

  • Biography and the memoir
  • Multi-perspective narration
  • Empathy and siblings in fiction, memoir, and life
  • Writing to campaign and persuade
Psychology and medicine

The psychological component of empathy is central to our understanding of how we respond, both physically and emotionally, to uses of empathy in other subjects. Our exploration in this topic includes:

  • The cognitive and emotive components of empathy in the practice of clinical psychology
  • The limits of empathy in medical practice
  • Empathy in use treating victims of trauma (for example, when working with refugees)
  • Empathy and children - can children of un-empathic parents 'learn' empathy?
  • Empathy, the 'default mode' in the brain, and creativity 
The natural world

Empathy helps to form the way we respond to our surrounding environment. We are interested in exploring the following topics in relation to the natural world: 

  • Fostering empathy with the non-human world in nature conservation
  • Empathy with trees and water and the natural world


Projects we are proud to be associated with include:

  • Founding member Dr Tanvir Bush’s annual Senseability events in conjunction with The Pound Arts Centre, Corsham (2014 - present) and her Community Creative Writing Laboratories (2016 –present)
  • Dr Agata Vitale’s investigation of how narrative can help the recovery of migrants affected by pre- and post-migratory stress
  • The Empathy and Creativity symposium at the University of Canberra in June 2018, co-convened by Bath Spa's Creative Writing lecturer and novelist Dr Kylie Fitzpatrick and UC’s Distinguished Professor Jen Webb, Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research. 

Over the next few years we hope to collaborate in more meetings run by our members and fellow academics in universities internationally, particularly at the Social Sciences University, Ankara, Turkey, with Associate Professor Mine Ozyurt Kilic.

Meeting reports

Further information on our research and topics of discussion can be found in our Meeting Reports archive on BathSpaData.

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