Robert Kirstein was educated at the University of Bonn, Oxford University (Christ Church) and the University of Münster. He is a former Feodor-Lynen-Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. He received his Dr. phil. (1990) and Habilitation (1999) from Münster.
His teaching and research interests focus on the Latin Literature of the Hellenistic and Roman Age (with an emphasis on poetry in general, Bucolic poetry, and Ovid), Late antiquity (Paulinus of Nola), and the History of Classical Scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century (he is co-editor of the correspondence between Theodor Mommsen and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, 1872–1903).
He is particularly interested in narratology. In 2017, he founded the Tübingen Working Group „Narrative Dynamics in Latin Texts“; together with Irene de Jong he is editor of the newly founded series Brill’s Narratological commentaries on Ancient Texts. He is also interested in the relationship between narrative theory, theories of fiction, and cultural studies; he is, among others, member of the interdisciplinary Research Training Group „Ambiguity: Production and Perception“ (GRK 1808) and of the Promotionsverbund „Theorie der Balance. Formen und Figuren des Gleichgewichts in Medien-, Kunst- und Literaturwissenschaft".