Degree Programs - Comparative Literature

Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature

The major in Comparative Literature requires students to enroll in a set of core courses offered by the department, to complete electives in the department, and to enroll in additional literature courses, or other courses approved by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies, offered by other departments. This flexibility to combine literature courses from several departments and to address literature from multiple traditions is the hallmark of the Comparative Literature major. Students may count courses which read literature in translation; however, students, and especially those planning to pursue graduate study in Comparative Literature, are encouraged to develop a command of non-native languages.

Declaring the Major—Students declare the major in Comparative Literature through Axess. Students should meet with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies to discuss appropriate courses and options within the major, and to plan the course of study. Majors are also urged to attend department events such as public talks and conferences.

Advising—Students majoring in Comparative Literature should consult with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies at least once a year. The chair monitors progress to completion of the degree. Students are also encouraged to develop relationships with other faculty members who may act as mentors.

Overseas Campuses and Abroad Programs—The Department of Comparative Literature encourages time abroad, both for increased proficiency in language and the opportunity for advanced course work. Course work done at campuses other than Stanford is counted toward the major at the discretion of the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and is contingent upon the Office of the University Registrar’s approval of transfer credit. To that end, students abroad are advised to save syllabi, notes, papers, and correspondence.

Honors College—The Department of Comparative Literature encourages honors students to enroll in the honors college scheduled during the weeks preceding the beginning of every academic year. Applications to the college are available from the DLCL student affairs officer. The honors college is coordinated by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (DLCL).


All majors in Comparative Literature (including honors) are required to complete the following requirements.  All courses applied to the major must be taken for a letter grade, and a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or better must be achieved in each core course.

1.   COMPLIT 101. What is Literature? (5 units). This gateway to the major is normally taken by the end of sophomore year. It provides an introduction to literature and its distinctions from other modes of linguistic expression, and a fundamental set of interpretive skills. This course fulfills the Writing in the Major requirement.

2.   The genre core—(5 units each)

a.    COMPLIT 121. Poems, Poetry, Worlds: An Introductory Course

b.    COMPLIT 122. Literature as Performance

c.    COMPLIT 123. The Novel, the World

        Students should complete these courses as soon as possible. Each course draws on examples from multiple traditions to ask questions about the logic of the individual genres.

3.   COMPLIT 199 (5 units). This senior seminar is designed as a culmination to the course of study while providing reflection on the nature of the discipline. Topics vary.

4.   Electives—Majors must complete at least 40 units of electives. Three of these electives must be Comparative Literature courses. The remaining courses may be drawn from Comparative Literature offerings, from other literature departments, or from other fields of interdisciplinary relevance to the student's interest. Up to 10 units of IHUM or SLE courses may be counted towards the elective requirement. Electives are subject to adviser consultation and approval.

5.   Total unit load—Students must complete course work for a total of at least 65 units.


Undergraduates may major in Comparative Literature with a special track in interdisciplinary studies at the intersection of literature and philosophy. Students in this option take courses alongside students from other departments that also have specialized options associated with the program for the study of Philosophical and Literary Thought. Each student in this option is assigned an adviser in Comparative Literature, and student schedules and course of study must be approved in writing by the adviser, the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of Comparative Literature, and the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of the program. See

A total of 65 units must be completed for this option, including the following requirements:

1.   Seven courses taught by Comparative Literature faculty. Of the seven, the following five (5 units each) are required courses:

·      COMPLIT 101. What is Literature?

·      COMPLIT 121. Poems, Poetry, Worlds: An Introductory Course

·      COMPLIT 122. Literature as Performance

·      COMPLIT 123. The Novel, the World

·      COMPLIT 199. Senior Seminar.

·      The remaining two courses must be instructed by Comparative Literature faculty and approved by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies.

2.   Philosophy and Literature Gateway Course (4 units)COMPLIT 181 (same as PHIL 81).  This course should be taken as early as possible in the student’s career, normally in the sophomore year.

3.   Philosophy Writing in the Major (5 units)PHIL 80. Prerequisite: introductory philosophy class.

4.   Aesthetics, Ethics, Political Philosophy (ca. 4 units)One course from the PHIL 170 series.

5.   Language, Mind, Metaphysics, and Epistemology (ca. 4 units)One course from the PHIL 180 series.

6.   History of Philosophy (ca. 8 units)Two courses in the history of philosophy, numbered above PHIL 100.

7.   Related Courses (ca. 8 units)Two upper division courses relevant to the study of philosophy and literature as identified by the committee in charge of the program. A list of approved courses is available from the undergraduate adviser of the program in philosophical and literary thought.

8.   One course, typically in translation, in a literature distant from that of the student’s concentration and offering an outside perspective on that literary tradition.

9.   Capstone Seminar (ca. 4 units)In addition to COMPLIT 199, students take a capstone seminar of relevance to philosophy and literature approved by the undergraduate adviser of the program in philosophical and literary thought. The student’s choice of a capstone seminar must be approved in writing by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of Comparative Literature and by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of the program.  Offered this year is: PHIL 194. Montaigne (Winter Quarter).

10. Seminar Paper Requirement—Students must write at least one seminar paper that is interdisciplinary in nature. This paper brings together material from courses taken in philosophy and literature, and may be an honors paper (see below), an individual research paper (developed through independent work with a faculty member), or a paper integrating materials developed for two separate courses (by arrangement with the two instructors). Though it may draw on previous course work, the paper must be an original composition, 18-20 pages in length. It must be submitted to the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and receive approval no later than the end of Winter Quarter in the fourth year of study.

At least two of the courses counted toward requirements 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 must be taught by Comparative Literature faculty. Transfer units may not normally be used to satisfy requirements 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. Units devoted to acquiring language proficiency are not counted toward the 65-unit requirement.


The honors option offers motivated Comparative Literature majors the opportunity to write a senior honors paper. During Spring Quarter of the junior year, a student interested in the honors program should consult with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and submit a thesis proposal (2-5 pages), an outline of planned course work for the senior year, and proof of a 3.5 GPA or higher within the student's Comparative Literature course work to date. During this quarter, the student may enroll for 2 units of credit for independent research in COMPLIT 189B to prepare this statement and undertake initial planning for the honors paper. The proposal is reviewed by the honors committee, including the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and the chair of the department.

The Chair of Undergraduate Studies designates a faculty tutor appropriate to the topic and a second reader for approved honors papers.

Students in the honors program enroll in DLCL 189 (5 units) in Autumn Quarter of the senior year to refine the project description and begin research in preparation for composing the honors paper. During Winter Quarter of the senior year, the student enrolls in COMPLIT 189A (5 units), independent study with the faculty tutor, to draft the honors paper.

At the end of the quarter, the student submits a completed draft to the tutor. If approved, two copies are forwarded to the honors committee, which ultimately awards honors. If revisions are advised, the student has until the fifth week of Spring Quarter to submit the final paper. Students who did not enroll in a 189B course in the junior year may enroll in COMPLIT 189B in Spring Quarter of the senior year while revising the thesis, if approved by the thesis adviser. 10-12 units of course work associated with the honors paper (DLCL 189 and COMPLIT 189A and 189B) may be counted toward the 65 units required for the major.

Honors papers vary considerably in length as a function of their topic, historical scope, and methodology. They may make use of previous work developed in seminars and courses, but display an enhanced comparative or theoretical scope. Quality rather than quantity is the key criterion. Typically, however, honors papers are 40-70 pages.

Honors Awards—The two readers of any honors thesis in Comparative Literature may elect to nominate the thesis in question for University-wide awards. In addition, the department honors committee evaluates on a competitive basis the honors theses completed in a given year and nominates one for University-wide awards competitions.


Minors in Comparative Literature

The undergraduate minor in Comparative Literature represents an abbreviated version of the major. It is designed for students who are unable to pursue the major but who nonetheless seek an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of literature. Plans for the minor should be discussed with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies. The minimum number of units required for a minor at Stanford is 20, and all courses must be taken for a letter grade.  Requirements for the minor in Comparative Literature include:

1.   COMPLIT 101. What is Literature?

2.   One course from the genre core: COMPLIT 121, 122, or 123

3.   At least two other Comparative Literature courses.


The Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages offers an undergraduate minor in Modern Languages. This minor draws on literature and language courses offered in this and other literature departments. See the “Literatures, Cultures, and Languages” section of this bulletin for further details about the requirements.


Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature

University requirements for the Ph.D. are described in the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin.

The Ph.D. program is designed for students whose linguistic background, breadth of interest in literature, and curiosity about the problems of literary scholarship and theory (including the relation of literature to other disciplines) make this program more appropriate to their needs than the Ph.D. in one of the individual literatures. Students take courses in at least three literatures (one may be that of the native language), to be studied in the original. The program is designed to encourage familiarity with the major approaches to literary study prevailing today.

Before starting graduate work at Stanford, students should have completed an undergraduate program with a strong background in one literature and some work in a second literature studied in the original language. Since the program demands an advanced knowledge of two non-native languages and a reading knowledge of a third non-native language, students should at the time of application have an advanced enough knowledge of one of the three to take graduate-level courses in that language when they enter the program. They should be making enough progress in the study of a second language to enable them to take graduate courses in that language not later than the beginning of the second year, and earlier if possible. Language courses at the 100- or 200- level may be taken with approval from the Chair of the department or the Chair of Graduate Studies. Applicants are expected to take an intensive course in the third language before entrance.

Students are admitted under a financial plan which attempts to integrate financial support and completion of residence requirements with their training as prospective university teachers. Tenure as a Ph.D. student, assuming satisfactory academic progress, is for a maximum of five years.


Competition for entrance into the program is keen. The program is kept small so that students have as much opportunity as possible to work closely with faculty throughout the period of study. Because of the special nature of comparative literature studies, the statement of purpose included in the application for admission should contain the following information besides the general plan for graduate work called for on the application:

1.   A detailed description of the applicant’s present degree of proficiency in each of the languages studied, indicating the languages in which the applicant is prepared to do graduate work at present and outlining plans to meet additional language requirements of the program.

2.   A description of the applicant’s area of interest (for instance, theoretical problems, genres, periods) within literary study and the reasons for finding comparative literature more suitable to his or her needs than the study of a single literature. Applicants should also indicate their most likely prospective primary field, including the literatures on which they intend to concentrate.

3.   All applicants should arrange to have the results of the general section of the Graduate Record Examination sent to the Department of Comparative Literature.

4.   A letter of recommendation that focuses on the applicant's language skills, or a current ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) certificate, or a critical paper written in a non-native language.

5.   Recommendations should, if possible, come from faculty in at least two of the literatures in which the student proposes to work.

6.   Applicants must submit a copy of an undergraduate term paper which they consider representative of their best work.

For further information see the Graduate Admissions web site.


Residence—A candidate for the Ph.D. degree must complete three years (nine quarters) of full-time work, or the equivalent, in graduate study beyond the B.A. degree. The student must take 135 units of graduate work, in addition to the doctoral dissertation. At least three consecutive quarters of course work must be taken at Stanford.

Languages—Students must know three non-native languages, two of them sufficiently to qualify for graduate courses in these languages and the third sufficiently to demonstrate the ability to read a major author in this language. Only the third language may be certified by examination. The other two are certified by graduate-level course work specified below. Language preparation must be sufficient to support graduate-level course work in at least one language during the first year and in the second language during the second year. Students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of the third non-native language no later than the beginning of the third year.

Literatures made up of works written in the same language (such as Spanish and Latin American) are counted as one. One of the student’s three literatures usually is designated as the primary field, the other two as secondary fields, although some students may offer two literatures at the primary level (six or more graduate courses).

Teaching—Students, whatever their sources of financial support, are ordinarily required to undertake a total of five quarters of supervised apprenticeships and teaching at half time. Students must complete whatever pedagogy courses are required by the departments in which they teach. The department’s minimum teaching requirement is a total of three quarters.

Minimum Course Requirements—Students are advised that the range and depth of preparation necessary to support quality work on the dissertation, as well as demands in the present professional marketplace for coverage of both traditional and interdisciplinary areas of knowledge, render these requirements as bare minimums. The following are required:

1.   COMPLIT 369

2.   COMPLIT 396L

3.   A sufficient number of courses (six or more) in the student’s primary field to assure knowledge of the basic works in one national literature from its beginnings until the present.

4.   At least two additional complementary courses, with most of the reading in the original, in each of two different national literatures. Students whose primary field is a non-native language are required to take two courses in one additional literature not their own.

Minimum course requirements must be completed before the student is scheduled to take the University oral examination. These requirements are kept to a minimum so that students have sufficient opportunity to seek out new areas of interest. A course is an offering of 3-5 units. Independent study may take the place of up to two of the required courses, but no more; classroom work with faculty and other students is central to the program. The principal conditions for continued registration of a graduate student are the timely and satisfactory completion of the university, department, and program requirements for the degree, and fulfillment of minimum progress requirements. Failure to meet these requirements results in corrective measures which may include a written warning, academic probation, and/or the possible release from the program.

Examinations—Three examinations are required. The first two are one-hour exams, taken at the end of the first and second year of study. The first of these is on literary genre, designed to demonstrate the student’s knowledge of a substantial number of literary works in a single genre, ranged over several centuries and over at least three national literatures. This exam is also designed to demonstrate the student’s grasp of the theoretical problems involved in his or her choice of genre and in the matter of genre in general. The second of these examinations is on literary theory and criticism, designed to demonstrate the student’s knowledge of a particular problem in the history of literary theory and criticism, or the student’s ability to develop a particular theoretical position. In either case, this exam should demonstrate wide reading in theoretical and critical texts from a variety of periods. The third and last is the University oral examination, which covers a literary period, to consist of in-depth knowledge of a period of approximately a century in three or more literatures with primary emphasis on a single national literature or, in occasional cases, two national literatures.

1.   First One-Hour Examination: The genre exam is generally administered the second week of April of the student’s first year. All first-year students take the exam during the same period, with an examination committee established by the department. Exam lists should be approved by the Chair of Graduate Studies well in advance of the exam. Students are urged to focus on poetry, drama, or the novel or narrative, combining core recommendations from the department with selections from their individual areas of concentration. Any student who does not pass the exam has the opportunity to retake the exam the second week of May of the same quarter. Students who do not pass this exam a second time may be dismissed from the program.

2.   Second One-Hour Examination: The theory exam is administered the Autumn Quarter of the student’s second year. All second-year students take the exam during the same period, with an examination committee established by the department. Exam lists should be approved by the Chair of Graduate Studies well in advance of the exam. Any student who does not pass the exam has the opportunity to retake the exam the second week of the Winter Quarter. Students who do not pass this exam a second time may be dismissed from the program.

3.   University Oral Examination: Students are required to take this exam during the Autumn Quarter of their third year. The oral exam is individually scheduled, with a committee established by the student in consultation with the Chair of Graduate Studies.  The reading list covers chiefly the major literary texts of a period of approximately one hundred years but may also include some studies of intellectual backgrounds and modern critical discussions of the period. Students must demonstrate a grasp of how to discuss and define this period as well as the concept of periods in general. This examination is not to be on the dissertation topic, on a single genre, or on current criticism, but rather on a multiplicity of texts from the period. Students whose course work combines an ancient with a modern literature have the option of dividing the period sections into two wholly separate periods.

Qualifying Procedures—The department meets at the end of each year to review all graduate student progress. Students may be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. upon successful completion of the first year examination and a thorough review of the student's academic record, after which the faculty will vote on whether or not to advance the student to candidacy.  A student will only advance to candidacy if, in addition to the student's fulfilling departmental prerequisites, the faculty makes the judgement that the student has the potential to successfully complete all the requirements of the degree program in a timely fashion.  Should a student not be admitted to candidacy, s/he will be dismissed from the doctoral program.  In unusual cases, the faculty may decide to extend the pre-candidacy period and require the student to complete specific steps in a predetermined time period prior to evaluating the student for advancement to candidacy.

Prospectus Colloquium—The prospectus colloquium normally takes place during the spring of the third year.  The student should furnish the committee with a five-page prospectus, 20-page draft of a chapter, and working bibliography well before the colloquium. The colloquium lasts one hour, begins with a brief introduction to the dissertation prospectus by the student lasting no more than five minutes, and consists of a discussion of the prospectus by the student and the three readers of the dissertation. At the end of the hour, the faculty readers vote on the outcome of the colloquium. If the outcome is favorable (by majority vote), the student is free to proceed with work on the dissertation. If the proposal is found to be unsatisfactory (by majority vote), the dissertation readers may ask the student to revise and resubmit the dissertation prospectus and to schedule a second colloquium.

The prospectus must be prepared in close consultation with the dissertation adviser during the months preceding the colloquium. It must be submitted in its final form to the readers no later than one week before the colloquium. A prospectus should not exceed ten double spaced pages, in addition to which it should include a working bibliography of primary and secondary sources. It should offer a synthetic overview of the dissertation, describe its methodology and the project’s relation to prior scholarship on the topic, and lay out a complete chapter by chapter plan.

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the colloquium no later than the first half of the quarter after that quarter in which the student passed the University Oral Examination. The student should arrange the date and time in consultation with the department administrator and with the three examiners. The department administrator schedules an appropriate room for the colloquium.

Members of the dissertation reading committee are ordinarily drawn from the University oral examination committee.


Ph.D. Minor in Comparative Literature

This minor is designed for students working toward the Ph.D. in the various foreign language departments. Students working toward the Ph.D. in English are directed to the program in English and Comparative Literature described among the Department of English offerings. Students must have:

1.   A knowledge of at least two foreign languages, one of them sufficient to qualify for graduate-level courses in that language, the second sufficient to read a major author in the original language.

2.   A minimum of six graduate courses, of which three must be in the department of the second literature and three in the Department of Comparative Literature, the latter to include a seminar in literary theory or criticism. At least two of the three courses in comparative literature should originate in a department other than the one in which the student is completing the degree. Except for students in the Asian languages, students must choose a second literature outside the department of their major literature.