James Phelan is a Distinguished University Professor and Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor in English at Ohio State. He has been a worldwide leader in building the field of narrative theory since the mid-1980s. Narrative theory looks at how stories help people make sense of the world, while also studying how people make sense of stories. Through his expertise and efforts, Ohio State has arguably one of the best concentrations of faculty expertise in narrative studies in North America and has become a major center for narrative research.
He is the founder and editor of Narrative, which publishes essays on narrative theory, essays on narrative and its relations to other modes of discourse, and essays of practical criticism based in diverse theoretical modes. In 2018, Narrative was the most cited journal in the field of literary studies worldwide.
Phelan is the first person in the English Department to be awarded both the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Scholar Award.