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Ph.D. in Comparative Literature

The Ph.D. in Comparative Literature provides rigorous training in multiple languages and literatures, comparative cultural methods, and critical theory, leading to careers in the academy and beyond. Our faculty and students come from across the globe to study, teach, and publish on literatures in several dozen languages from a wide range of historical periods. Course work in at least three national literatures and related fields provides the basis for work on translation, the history of ideas, gender and women’s studies, cinema and media, Holocaust and genocide studies, multilingualism, postcolonialism, the environmental and medical humanities, globalization, and world literature. Our students and faculty also work in a variety of fields contiguous with literature, including the visual arts, film and television, music, history, law, philosophy, and medicine.

Ph.D. Requirements

The requirements for Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature:


The preliminary examinations should be taken at the conclusion of 32 credit hours of coursework or as soon as possible thereafter. These examinations are of two kinds: written and oral. The written examinations are based on reading lists chosen in consultation with the exam committee, made up of four faculty members, at least one of whom must be of the core faculty in CWL.

Take-home exam on the dissertation field, including secondary sources, and related critical theory (approximately 50 titles). Exam to consist of 4 questions, each written by one member of exam committee. The Chair of the exam committee collects the questions from the three other examiners and assembles the exam. The student chooses only two questions, answering each of them in an essay of no less than eight single-spaced pages. Graduate Services will email the exam to the student between 8:00-8:30 AM, and the answers are due by 5:00 PM of the same day.

A period exam in the second minor literature (2 hours in length), based on a reading list of 15-20 works. The exam consists of a passage in the original language, chosen by the examiner from any single work on the reading list, which the student explicates in no less than four double-spaced pages. The passage can be in the form of a short poem or a prose passage of about 500-700 words, and it should be sufficiently rich to allow for a nuanced analysis that draws out not only the specific features of the passage and the work to which it belongs, but also general characteristics of the period and the literary or cultural tradition in question, showing “the universe in a grain of sand.”

Oral exam (2 hours) focusing on the written exams and the dissertation proposal.

The Dissertation

The successful completion of the written and oral examinations results in formal admission to the dissertation stage.  A dissertation in Comparative Literature aims to make a substantial intellectual contribution to the field by analyzing together the works of two or more national literatures or of a single national literature read in a broader, multidisciplinary, comparative context.

The student’s dissertation committee is generally but not always composed of the professors on the student’s preliminary examination committee.  At the discretion of the director of the dissertation, members may be added to the committee or dropped from it in search of the most suitable fit for the topic and for the student’s professional interests.  The committee must be composed of at least four professors, three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty.  Outside readers may be invited to be on the committee, but their suitability must be approved by the Graduate College.

For further details, please see The Program in Comparative & World Literature Graduate Handbook: