Dr. Olivia da Costa Fialho

Dr. Olivia da Costa Fialho

Assistant Professor
Comparative Literature

Olivia Fialho is Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature at Utrecht University. She is also Senior Researcher in Empirical and Computational Literary Studies at the Huygens Institute / KNAW. She holds a BA in Letters (Portuguese-English) and an MA in Applied Linguistics, both from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Alberta (2012). She has conducted postdoctoral research in Empirical Literary Studies at the Department of Media and Culture Studies at Utrecht University (2014-2018); in Comparative Literature at the Literature, Cognition and Emotions research group at the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages at the University of Oslo (2019-2021); and in Computational Literary Studies at the Huygens ING / KNAW - Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (2021-2022). She has helped acquire over 3.5 million euros in research grants for her research on transformative reading, including, most recently, the project “Uses of Narrative Fiction in Social Contexts: Changes in Self and Social Perceptions”, funded by NWO (2014-2018); the ERC Advanced Grant “MORE: Moral residue –  epistemological ramifications, ethical implications, and didactic opportunities” (2022-2027). She has over 15 years of research-intensive teaching in a broad spectrum of courses.


Research Profile

I specialize in Comparative Literature, Cognitive Literary Studies, Empirical Literary Studies, Digital Humanities, Literature Education, and Medical Humanities. I seek insights from interdisciplinary domains to study the personal and social impact of reading and promote its benefits to people’s lives. 


The interdisciplinary research line I have created is called 'Transformative Reading'; i.e., the process by means of which literature changes concepts of self and others (fictional and real). Its main tenet is that the essence of literature (and the arts) lies in its power to impart knowledge about ourselves and other human beings by allowing us to connect more deeply and conscientiously with our emotions, and, thus improve our social functioning. 'Transformative Reading' has been shaped throughout my teaching and research career, funded by grants and awards since 2005. Today, Transformative Reading is a theoretical-empirical model (2017) and an evidence-based educational program that impacts readers’ cognitive and emotional capacities, such as reflection on self and others, empathy, compassion, moral understanding, and motivation to read literature, among other benefits. 


Transformative Reading originates in my PhD dissertation Self-Modifying Reading: A Model for Reader Response (2012). In this work, I developed a phenomenological and linguistic procedure to assess reading experiences (Lexical Basis for Numerically Aided Phenomenology, or Lex-Nap), a hybrid of qualitative and quantitative methods, contributing with a typology of self-modifying reading. My doctoral dissertation inspired the several research projects I have been involved since then.


In the project “Uses of Literary Narrative Fiction in Social Contexts: Changes in Self and Social Perceptions,” funded by the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research (NWO), and carried out at Utrecht University/ICON, I developed a theoretical and empirical model of transformative reading (2018) and collaborated with a team of literary scholars, educationalists, and organization psychologists to apply the model in upper secondary school level (HAVO/VWO level) and at the workplace (leadership) (2014-2018, approx. 800,000 euros).


I further developed the phenomenology, preconditions and underlying processes of Transformative Reading, funded by the initiative Literature, Cognition and Emotions, carried out at the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages, University of Oslo. Equally important, I developed a series of innovative courses in Comparative Literature and in Psychology (on social cognition and emotions), inspired by Transformative Reading and the intersections between Comparative and Empirical Literary Studies (2019-2021).


In 2021, the phenomenology of Transformative Reading started being adapted to the context of Digital Humanities, where I collaborate with a group of scholars in Computational Literary Studies, Dutch Literature, Artificial Intelligence, and software Engineers at the Huygens ING / KNAW, in the project 'Impact and Fiction', funded by the Netherlands eScience Center (2021-2024).


Since 2022, I am part of a team awarded the ERC Advanced Grant “MORE: Moral residue –  epistemological ramifications, ethical implications, and didactic opportunities” (2022-2027). My role in this project is to develop medical ethics education by adapting Transformative Reading to this context. 


I coordinate the IGEL coalition group 'Openess, Intensive Reflection and Self-Altering Literary Reading'. For more information, please get in touch.


Currently, I co-supervise PhD dissertations and MA theses on Empirical Literary Studies, Transformative Reading, and Distant Reading.


Societal Impact:

Innovative Evidence-Based Educational Programs in Social Contexts

  • Transformative Reading Workshops at the workplace (Hakemulder, Fialho & Bal, 2016), specifically on Leadership (Fialho, 2017, 2018, 2019). 
  • Transformative Literature Teaching (TLT), at primary education level in Portugal (Fialho & Anjos, in prep.; Anjos, in prep.)
  • Transformative Dialogical Literature Teaching (TDLT), at secondary education (HAVO/VWO) level in the Netherlands (Schrijvers et al, 2016, 2019 a,b,c; Schrijvers, 2019)
  • TR-MORE: Transformative Reading for Medical Ethics Education, work-in-progress.



My monograph Transformative Reading is accepted for publication by John Benjamins, Amsterdam.

I have edited Scientific Approaches to Literature in Learning Environments (together with Michael Burke and Sonia Zyngier, John Benjamins 2016), which puts together a series of empirical research studies on the different locations of teaching and learning. These studies represent literary learning environment throughout the world, including Brazil, the USA, China, Canada, Japan and several European countries such as the Netherlands, Ukraine, the UK and Malta. The studies reported describe quantitative and/or qualitative research and cover pre-primary, primary, high school, college, university, and lifelong learning environments.



Scientific Approaches to Literature in Learning Environments