Professor Karnes studies late medieval literature in its intellectual context. She investigates medieval theories about how literature affects us—how it engages us, confuses us, or amazes us—by looking at medieval literature and philosophy in tandem. Her first book, Imagination, Meditation, and Cognition in the Middle Ages (University of Chicago Press, 2011), explores the role of imagination in medieval religious meditations and theories of cognition. It argues that meditations draw on imagination, as it was newly understood by scholastic philosophers, to give the meditant new power to inhabit imagined scenes. As a consequence, such meditations expand the powers associated with literature. Her current project studies marvels in medieval romance and philosophy. In all of her scholarship, she identifies similar interests between writers of fiction and philosophy, as in the mechanisms of metaphor and the power of marvels, and even in the sort of "truth" that literature lays claim to, and uses those similarities to build arguments about the purpose of literature as it was understood in the late Middle Ages.
In 2016, Karnes claims she was pushed out of Stanford University and faced retaliation because she reported the sexual harassment of Stephen Hinton, a Music Professor and (at the time) senior associate dean of humanities and arts. Although they were both married, Hinton repeatedly invited her to lunch and tried to kiss her. She claims that Stanford tried to push her out for reporting it.
Although the dean’s office approved Karnes’ tenure in 2015, she soon after learned that her husband Shane would not have his position renewed in 2016. To the couple, it became obvious the move was retaliatory. They had been hired as a “dual-career academic couple”, and Karnes said it was highly unusual for Stanford to grant tenure to one spouse and terminate the other after years of service. Records also show that Duarte regularly received high marks on teacher evaluations, and Karnes said she even offered to forgo a raise, which would have covered a majority of her husband’s salary.