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Comparative & World Literature

Founded in 1967, the Program in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has been at the forefront of interdisciplinary teaching and research in the humanities, offering courses that work across different national languages and literary traditions, as well as those that combine the study of literature with other disciplines, including film and visual culture, science and medicine, economics and law.  Our program was one of the first to offer and emphasize non-Western and cross-cultural perspectives, and World Literature – from Asia and Africa, to Europe and the Americas – is an area where we continue to excel today.

CWL faculty teach a broad range of subjects, from introductory “Great Books” courses spanning the world’s literary traditions to advanced seminars in fields such as postcolonialism, translation studies, gender studies, film and media, modern critical theory, psychoanalysis, Jewish studies, trauma and memory studies, medieval studies, and much more. Beyond working closely with national literature departments, we collaborate with multiple interdisciplinary units on campus, including: the Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory; the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities; the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies; Jewish Culture & Society; the Center for Translation Studies; Medieval Studies; Gender & Women’s Studies; Media & Cinema Studies; and Fine & Applied Arts.

At the undergraduate level, we offer two majors: the major in Comparative Literature is an engagement with two or more literary and cultural traditions, studied in their original languages; and the major in World Literature that focuses on works from across the globe, read in translation. A minor in World Literature introduces students to the study of literature as a discipline, with emphasis on cross-cultural, transnational, and interdisciplinary practices.

At the graduate level, we offer a program of study that provides rigorous competence in multiple languages and literatures, comparative cultural methods, and critical theory. Our students come from all over the world and study a variety of different languages and literatures – from Arabic, Ancient Greek, Basque, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Sanskrit, and Portuguese, to Yiddish and Wolof – and focus on a variety of intellectual areas, including: classical and Medieval literature, film, queer studies, detective fiction, diasporic and exilic literatures, comics and graphic novels, autobiography, and the novel.

In line with the interdisciplinary mission of the program, CWL students are also encouraged to complete graduate minors and certificates from units across the campus, including: Cinema Studies, Gender & Women’s Studies, the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies, Jewish Studies, Medieval Studies, Translation Studies, and Unit for Criticism & Interpretive Theory.