Comparative Literature

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Our graduate program is recognized as one of the top Comparative Literature programs in the country. The Comparative Literature department is a vibrant place for the research and study of literatures and cultures in an interdisciplinary framework, from transnational and cross-cultural perspectives. Our faculty and graduate students develop new historical and theoretical frameworks and rethink those we have inherited to open new perspectives on social and cultural forms and relationships.

Comparative Literature provides students with tools for analyzing texts, writing, editing, translating, and thinking across disciplinary and national boundaries. Our graduates engage a variety of literary traditions and historical periods, from Latin American concrete poetry to Yiddish experimental fiction to the discourses of political and race theory. The department offers rigorous training in the following areas, which are particular strengths of our internationally recognized faculty: French, German, Italian, Hebrew Studies, Classics, Critical Theory, East Asian Literatures and Arts, Performance Studies, Film and Media, Poetry and Poetics, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Postcolonial Theory, English and American Literatures, Early Modern and Renaissance Studies, and Slavic Literatures and Cultures.

All members of the department are deeply invested in the academic development of our students and value you as an integral part of the Comparative Literature community at UC Berkeley. The department aims to develop your creative and intellectual interests and talents. Graduate students receive the opportunity to pursue rigorous research in a variety of fields according to your interests, engage in team-based projects, participate in discussions about political, aesthetic, and social issues, and develop a nuanced cross-cultural understanding of historical and social processes. Many graduate students present and publish scholarly writings in the most prestigious venues as well as producing translations, literary writings, or works of theater. All of our students work closely with cutting-edge scholars in their fields in small seminars, with extensive individualized work. We have an active graduate cohort. From the first year, graduate students have a significant say in the intellectual life of the department through the First Years’ Graduate Research Conference and the Comparative Literature Graduate Committee and editing the Berkeley Comparative Literature-based journal Qui Parle. Students participate in the designated emphasis programs on campus, including Critical Theory, Film and Media, Gender and Women’s Studies, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies and Jewish Studies, or the Program in Medieval Studies. Students have opportunities to design and team-teach courses on their topics of interest. Next year, we plan to build a media lab for our graduates. Our students form a well-integrated community, but have access to all of the resources of the entire Berkeley campus departments and faculty; in fact, our program requires that students take seminars in other departments for interdisciplinary training. We have one of the most successful placement records for our graduates of any program in the country, and of any Berkeley graduate program.  Our doctoral graduates are prominent comparative literature and national literature faculty across the country and the world.

“It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.”


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Admission to the University

Minimum Requirements for Admission

The following minimum requirements apply to all graduate programs and will be verified by the Graduate Division:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;
  2. A grade point average of B or better (3.0);
  3. If the applicant comes from a country or political entity (e.g., Quebec) where English is not the official language, adequate proficiency in English to do graduate work, as evidenced by a TOEFL score of at least 90 on the iBT test, 570 on the paper-and-pencil test, or an IELTS Band score of at least 7 (note that individual programs may set higher levels for any of these); and
  4. Sufficient undergraduate training to do graduate work in the given field.

Applicants Who Already Hold a Graduate Degree

The Graduate Council views academic degrees not as vocational training certificates, but as evidence of broad training in research methods, independent study, and articulation of learning. Therefore, applicants who already have academic graduate degrees should be able to pursue new subject matter at an advanced level without need to enroll in a related or similar graduate program.

Programs may consider students for an additional academic master’s or professional master’s degree only if the additional degree is in a distinctly different field.

Applicants admitted to a doctoral program that requires a master’s degree to be earned at Berkeley as a prerequisite (even though the applicant already has a master’s degree from another institution in the same or a closely allied field of study) will be permitted to undertake the second master’s degree, despite the overlap in field.

The Graduate Division will admit students for a second doctoral degree only if they meet the following guidelines:

  1. Applicants with doctoral degrees may be admitted for an additional doctoral degree only if that degree program is in a general area of knowledge distinctly different from the field in which they earned their original degree. For example, a physics PhD could be admitted to a doctoral degree program in music or history; however, a student with a doctoral degree in mathematics would not be permitted to add a PhD in statistics.
  2. Applicants who hold the PhD degree may be admitted to a professional doctorate or professional master’s degree program if there is no duplication of training involved.

Applicants may apply only to one single degree program or one concurrent degree program per admission cycle.

Required Documents for Applications

  1. Transcripts: Applicants may upload unofficial transcripts with your application for the departmental initial review. If the applicant is admitted, then official transcripts of all college-level work will be required. Official transcripts must be in sealed envelopes as issued by the school(s) attended. If you have attended Berkeley, upload your unofficial transcript with your application for the departmental initial review. If you are admitted, an official transcript with evidence of degree conferral will not be required.
  2. Letters of recommendation: Applicants may request online letters of recommendation through the online application system. Hard copies of recommendation letters must be sent directly to the program, not the Graduate Division.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants from countries or political entities in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to applicants from Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Latin America, the Middle East, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, most European countries, and Quebec (Canada). However, applicants who, at the time of application, have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a US university may submit an official transcript from the US university to fulfill this requirement. The following courses will not fulfill this requirement:
    • courses in English as a Second Language,
    • courses conducted in a language other than English,
    • courses that will be completed after the application is submitted, and
    • courses of a non-academic nature.

If applicants have previously been denied admission to Berkeley on the basis of their English language proficiency, they must submit new test scores that meet the current minimum from one of the standardized tests.

Where to Apply

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page

Admission to the Program

Students should have done advanced work in at least one language other than English and, ideally, have begun the study of a second language as well. They should be able to demonstrate the skills of close rhetorical analysis of literary texts through the submission of a writing sample, usually a college-level essay.  As of this writing, students are required to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) administered by ETS (Educational Testing Services).

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative Time Requirements

Normative time to advancement: 8 semesters
Normative in candidacy: 6 semesters
Total normative time: 14 semesters

Time to Advancement


The Doctoral Program is designed to provide familiarity with one (major) literature in comprehensive historical and critical ways, and the demonstrated ability to do comparative work in national literatures. Normally, as illustrated under the course list below, students study three literatures (two minor literatures in addition to the major), but they may choose, with their adviser’s permission, to study two major literatures instead of one major and two minors.* The PhD is awarded upon completion of all required course work, passing the qualifying examination (QE), and filing a doctoral dissertation.

* In the case of students who elect two major literatures, there is a 12-course requirement (instead of 10); 4 courses in Comparative Literature, and 4 courses in each of the two major literatures.

COM LIT 200Approaches to Comparative Literature4
Literature, Major Emphasis: Four courses
Literature, First Minor Emphasis: One course
Literature, Second Minor Emphasis: One course
Comparative Literature, Graduate Electives: Three courses

Foreign Language(s)

Doctoral students are expected to work in three literatures. They are expected to demonstrate competence in at least three languages other than English. We recommend that you choose a third language according to your research interests. You may wish to learn the language of the scholarship in your field, to gain historical knowledge of your primary language, to strengthen your profile as a comparatist, to gain exposure to a culturally remote body of literature, or to broaden the cultural range of your literary knowledge.

Permission to Proceed Review

Permission to proceed to the PhD program in Comparative Literature is granted by the Second Year Review Committee. The review is designed to be diagnostic in nature; it should assess the student’s progress toward the degree and assist students in planning their course of study toward the PhD.

No later than the fourth semester after entrance into the PhD program, all students will be reviewed by a committee identified by them and approved by the vice chair in charge of graduate studies (the head graduate adviser) and consisting of three faculty members, two of whom should be members of the department. The committee should include the student’s adviser. 

The student submits a one-page statement to the committee in which s/he indicates courses taken and future course plans. Statements should include student progress in the languages chosen for study and the competence already attained in each. The committee should include the student’s adviser.

Based on submitted materials and an oral interview with the student, the committee will assess the work done toward coverage in the major literature, recommend further course work, assess language preparation and the student’s overall preparation to date. This report constitutes a binding recommendation concerning future course work and advancement toward the degree.

Qualifying Examination

Students should plan to take their qualifying examination no later than their eighth semester in the program.

Preparation for the PhD qualifying examination is intended to encourage students to pursue advanced, independent, and intellectually mature work. The PhD QE constitutes the last review of students’ academic progress before the writing of the dissertation. Students are required to prepare a written Statement of Interest and Reading List in advance of the examination for approval. The final QE consists of two written sections and an oral section.


No later than one semester after passing the PhD qualifying examination, students are required to schedule a prospectus meeting with the members of their dissertation committee. At least two weeks before the meeting, the prospectus, which should not exceed 20 pages, must be distributed to the committee. At the meeting, the student and committee will discuss the prospectus, and plan the writing of the dissertation.

Time in Candidacy


The student advances to candidacy upon successful completion of written qualifying exams, an oral examination by a five-person committee, and approval of the Application for Candidacy for the Doctoral degree by the Graduate Division.

Required Professional Development


Most students will teach reading and composition courses for the department as part of their professional development. Opportunities for teaching foreign languages are also available in other departments. Students are required to take a pedagogy course in the first semester of teaching.


Comparative Literature

COM LIT 200 Approaches to Comparative Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2018, Fall 2016, Fall 2015
Lectures on literary theory, on the study of criticism, and on the methods of comparative literary theory.

Approaches to Comparative Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 201 Proseminar 1 Unit

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2017, Fall 2016
This course is designed to give all new graduate students a broad view of the department's faculty, the courses they teach, and their fields of research. In addition, it will introduce students to some practical aspects of the graduate career, issues that pertain to specific fields of research, and questions currently being debated across the profession. The readings for the course will consist of copies of materials by the department's facult
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COM LIT 202B Approaches to Genre: Lyric Poetry 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Spring 2016
Application of the methods of Comparative Literature to the study of genres.

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COM LIT 202C Approaches to Genre: The Novel 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2015, Fall 2013, Spring 2013
Application of the methods of Comparative Literature to the study of genres.

Approaches to Genre: The Novel: Read More [+]

COM LIT 210 Studies in Ancient Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2018, Fall 2017, Spring 2017
Comparative investigation of a topic in ancient literature between the eighth century B.C.E. and the fourth century C.E. with some attention to subsequent developments.

Studies in Ancient Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 212 Studies in Medieval Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Fall 2016, Spring 2016
Comparative investigation of a topic in literature and culture between the fifth and the fourteenth centuries.

Studies in Medieval Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 215 Studies in Renaissance Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Spring 2017
Comparative investigation of a topic in Western literature in the Renaissance period.

Studies in Renaissance Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT C221 Aesthetics as Critique 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2015, Spring 2013, Spring 2011
A close reading and discussion of the major texts of modern aesthetics, from the 18th century to the present, with emphasis on the Continental tradition of Kant, Adorno, and Derrida.

Aesthetics as Critique: Read More [+]

COM LIT 223 Studies in the 19th Century 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2016, Fall 2013, Spring 2010
Comparative investigation of major themes in nineteenth-century literature and culture.

Studies in the 19th Century: Read More [+]

COM LIT 225 Studies in Symbolist and Modern Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2015, Spring 2014
Comparative investigation of a topic in literature and culture of the modern period.

Studies in Symbolist and Modern Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 227 Studies in Contemporary Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2018, Spring 2016, Spring 2014
Comparative investigation of a topic in contemporary literature and culture.

Studies in Contemporary Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 232 Studies in Near Eastern-Western Literary Relations 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2013, Spring 2008, Fall 2006
Comparative investigation of a literary topic requiring the study of both Near Eastern and Western documents.

Studies in Near Eastern-Western Literary Relations: Read More [+]

COM LIT 240 Studies in the Relations Between Literature and the Other Arts 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2016, Spring 2016
Comparative study of the historical and systematic relations between literature and other arts such as the visual arts, music, and film.

Studies in the Relations Between Literature and the Other Arts: Read More [+]

COM LIT 250 Studies in Literary Theory 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Spring 2017
Comparative investigation of a topic in the theory of literature.

Studies in Literary Theory: Read More [+]

COM LIT 254 Studies in East-West Literary Relations 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Fall 2016, Spring 2015
Comparative investigation of a literary topic requiring the study of both East Asian and Western documents.

Studies in East-West Literary Relations: Read More [+]

COM LIT 256 The Craft of Critical Writing 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2006
The course will proceed chiefly through exercises in writing reviews and critical essays, with class discussion of the work that will be done by members of the seminar. Some analytic attention will also be devoted to existing models of critical prose. The class will deal with the minute details that make for lucidity and felicity of style and will also consider larger issues of organization, critical focus, and audience.

The Craft of Critical Writing: Read More [+]

COM LIT 258 Studies in Philosophy and Literature 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2015, Fall 2011, Spring 2011
Comparative investigation of a topic in the relationship between philosophy and literature.

Studies in Philosophy and Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 260 Problems in Literary Translation 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Fall 2016, Spring 2015
Theory and practice of translation. Students will complete a project in literary translation.

Problems in Literary Translation: Read More [+]

COM LIT 265 Gender, Sexuality, and Culture 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2012, Fall 2010, Spring 2010
Comparative investigation of a topic related to the study of gender and/or sexuality in literature and culture.

Gender, Sexuality, and Culture: Read More [+]

COM LIT 266 Nationalism, Colonialism, and Culture 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2014, Spring 2013, Fall 2012
Comparative investigation of a topic in ideology, politics, and identity and its relation to the formation of national, colonial, and/or post-colonial literatures and cultures.

Nationalism, Colonialism, and Culture: Read More [+]

COM LIT 270C Continuing Seminars: Renaissance 2 Units

Terms offered: Prior to 2007
Discussion on problems of the literature of the period.

Continuing Seminars: Renaissance: Read More [+]

COM LIT 298 Special Study 1 - 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2017
Primarily for students engaged in preliminary exploration of a restricted field, involving the writing of a report. May not be substituted for available seminars.

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COM LIT N298 Special Study 2 - 4 Units

Terms offered: Summer 2018 8 Week Session, Summer 2017 8 Week Session, Summer 2016 8 Week Session
Primarily for students engaged in preliminary exploration of a restricted field, involving the writing of a report. May not be substituted for available seminars.

Special Study: Read More [+]

COM LIT 299 Directed Research 1 - 12 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Summer 2018 First 6 Week Session, Summer 2018 Second 6 Week Session
Writing of the doctoral dissertation.

Directed Research: Read More [+]

COM LIT 300 Supervised Teaching in Comparative Literature 1 - 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2017
Course credit for experience gained in academic teaching through employment as a graduate student instructor.

Supervised Teaching in Comparative Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 375 Methods of Teaching Literature and English Composition-Comparative Literature 2 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Fall 2017, Fall 2016
Discussion of the theory and practice of teaching composition at the college level in a department of comparative literature. Prerequisites: Appointment as a graduate student instructor or consent of instructor.

Methods of Teaching Literature and English Composition-Comparative Literature: Read More [+]

COM LIT 601 Individual Study for Master's Students 1 - 8 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2017
Individual study for the comprehensive or language requirements in consultation with the Graduate Adviser. Units may not be used to meet either unit or residence requirements for the master's degree.

Individual Study for Master's Students: Read More [+]

COM LIT 602 Individual Study for Doctoral Students 1 - 8 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2018, Spring 2018, Fall 2017
Individual study in consultation with the Graduate Adviser intended to provide opportunity for qualified students to prepare themselves for the various examinations required of candidates for the Ph.D. May not be used for unit or residence requirements for the doctoral degree.

Individual Study for Doctoral Students: Read More [+]

Faculty and Instructors

+ Indicates this faculty member is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award.


Frank Bezner, Associate Professor. Medieval Latin literature; Medieval literary culture; Neo-Latin; Intellectual history.
Research Profile

+ Karl A. Britto, Associate Professor. Africa, cultural studies, the Caribbean, literature, francophone literature, colonial and postcolonial literature, Vietnam, gender and identity.
Research Profile

Judith Butler, Professor. Critical theory, gender and sexuality studies, comparative literature, 19th and 20th century continental philosophy, social and political thought, philosophy and literature.
Research Profile

Anthony J. Cascardi, Professor. English, comparative literature, literature, Spanish, Portuguese, philosophy, aesthetics, early modern literature, French, Spanish Baroque.
Research Profile

Anne-Lise Francois, Associate Professor. Popular culture, English, comparative literature, the modern period, comparative romanticisms; lyric poetry; the psychological novel, novel of manners; gender, critical theory; literature, philosophy; fashion.
Research Profile

+ Timothy Hampton, Professor. Culture, politics, English, comparative literature, French, renaissance and early modern European culture, the romance languages, the ideology of literary genre, the literary construction of nationhood, the rhetoric of historiography.
Research Profile

Victoria Kahn, Professor. Rhetoric, comparative literature, Renaissance literature, poetics, early modern political theory, the Frankfurt School.
Research Profile

Robert G. Kaufman, Associate Professor. Modern/contemporary poetry and poetics; aesthetics, literary theory, & history of criticism; Frankfurt School Critical Theory and the arts.
Research Profile

Chana Kronfeld, Professor. Comparative literature, modernism, Hebrew, Yiddish, modern poetry, minor literatures, politics of literary history, feminist stylistics, intertextuality, translation studies.
Research Profile

+ Leslie V. Kurke, Professor. Classics, Greek literature and culture, archaic Greek poetry, Herodotus.
Research Profile

Niklaus Largier, Professor. Religion, literature, German, history of medieval and early modern German literature, theology, mysticism, secularism, senses, sensuality, history of emotions, passions, asceticism, flagellation, sexuality.
Research Profile

Michael Lucey, Professor. Pragmatics, the novel, sexuality studies, comparative literature, French, French literature, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, British literature and culture, social and literary theory, cultural studies of music, studies of language in use, theories of practice, twentieth-century American literature.
Research Profile

Eric Naiman, Professor. Sexuality, history, comparative literature, Slavic language, ideological poetics, history of medicine, Soviet culture, the gothic novel.
Research Profile

Ellen Oliensis, Professor. Latin Literature, Ovid.
Research Profile

Harsha Ram, Associate Professor. Russian and European romanticism and modernism, Russian and European avant-gardes, Russian, European, Near Eastern and South Asian poetic traditions, Indian literature, Italian literature, Georgian history and literature, theories of world literature, literary theory, comparative poetics, genre theory, literary history, comparative modernisms and modernities, vernacular and high culture, cultural and political history of Russia-Eurasia and the Caucasus, postcolonial studies, theories of nationalism, imperialism and cosmopolitanism, the city and literature.
Research Profile

Miryam Sas, Professor. Comparative literature, 20th century avant-gardes, Japanese literature, film, theater and dance, contemporary art, critical theory, gender theory.
Research Profile

Barbara Spackman, Professor. Feminist theory, psychoanalysis, culture, fascism, gender studies, comparative literature, Italian studies, narrative, European decadence, travel writing.
Research Profile

Sophie Volpp, Associate Professor. East asian languages and cultures, history of performance, gender theory, the history of sexuality, material culture, material objects in late-imperial literature.
Research Profile

Dora Zhang, Assistant Professor. Critical theory, linguistics, narrative & the novel, 20th and 21st century Britain.
Research Profile


Maria Kotzamanidou, Lecturer.

Annalee Rejhon, Lecturer.

Emeritus Faculty

Robert B. Alter, Professor Emeritus. Comparative literature, Near Eastern studies, 19th-century European and American novel, modernism, literary aspects of the bible, modern and biblical Hebrew literature.
Research Profile

+ Bertrand Augst, Professor Emeritus. Literary criticism, semiology.
Research Profile

Phillip W. Damon, Professor Emeritus.

Eric O. Johannesson, Professor Emeritus.

+ Francine R. Masiello, Professor Emeritus. Gender theory, culture, globalization, comparative literature, Spanish, Latin American literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, comparative North and South literatures.
Research Profile

James T. Monroe, Professor Emeritus.

Contact Information

Department of Comparative Literature

4125 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-2712

Fax: 510-642-8852

Visit Department Website

Department Chair

Sophie Volpp

4125 Dwinelle Hall

Head Graduate Adviser

Frank Bezner, PhD

4335 Dwinelle Hall

Graduate Student Services Adviser

Sandra Richmond

4120 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-2629

Fax: 510-642-8852

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