Comparative Literature

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

Literature is a cultural site where the present is negotiated, the past excavated, and the future envisioned. In a globalized world where the circulation of blogs, legal documents, political manifestos, manuscripts, online journals, and images constantly shapes and reshapes human experience, understanding texts is utterly essential. 

Majoring in comparative literature provides students with tools for analyzing texts, writing, editing, translating, and thinking across disciplinary and national boundaries. Our majors engage a variety of literary traditions and historical periods, from Latin American concrete poetry to Yiddish experimental fiction. The department offers rigorous training in the following areas of strength 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, 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. As a major, you receive the opportunity to pursue rigorous research in a variety of literatures 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. All of our students have close contact with cutting edge scholars in their fields in a small classroom setting, with extensive individualized work. Our undergraduate majors publish and edit their own journal of comparative literature (CLUJ) and run an annual research conference. Most majors also choose to spend time in study abroad to deepen their cultural and linguistic knowledge.

Our students benefit from training in comparative literature and go on to work in a variety of professions, including journalism, media, publishing, translation, theater, and politics as well as in many roles in the legal, corporate, social, medical, and arts sectors. Additionally, we prepare our students to enter top graduate programs in the US and abroad.

"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you are not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong."

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Declaring the Major

If you are thinking of majoring in Comparative Literature, come meet with the major adviser at your earliest opportunity. You will probably discover that the requirements are flexible enough to suit you, and may find it to your advantage to ask the department's adviser to suggest relevant freshman and sophomore courses.

Majors must see the major adviser each semester to plan a program for the coming year in order to pre-enroll via the CalCentral enrollment system. The Major Requirements tab to the right outlines the basic requirements. Keep in mind that most of these requirements will be adjusted according to the language areas in which you plan to work and your own long range plans.

Honors Program

Students who have attained junior standing may be admitted to the honors program if they:

  1. Have accumulated at least an overall 3.55 grade point average (GPA) and at least a 3.65 GPA in the major.
  2. Have completed at least 8 upper division units in literature, including COM LIT 100 or the equivalent.
  3. Are prepared to do upper division work in one vernacular foreign literature or one classical literature.

In addition to the requirements for the regular program outlined above, candidates for the BA with honors in Comparative Literature must demonstrate, through either examination or coursework, a sense of the historical development of their principal literature, and earn a grade of B or higher for an honors thesis in COM LIT H195. Students interested in the honors program are urged to consult an adviser in the Department of Comparative Literature at their earliest opportunity.

Minor Program

The Department of Comparative Literature has a new minor program, open to all UC Berkeley students regardless of college.  The minor comprises of 5 courses; the 3 "core" classes required for the major (COM LIT 100, CL151-165, and COM LIT 190) along with two courses from the "secondary" literature.  For more information, please review the department site at complit.berkeley.edu or contact the Comparative Literature major adviser at complituga@berkeley.edu.

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Major Requirements

In addition to the University, campus, and college requirements, listed on the College Requirements tab, students must fulfill the below requirements specific to their major program.

General Guidelines

  1. All courses taken to fulfill the major requirements below must be taken for graded credit, other than courses listed which are offered on a Pass/No Pass basis only. Other exceptions to this requirement are noted as applicable.
  2. No more than one upper division course may be used to simultaneously fulfill requirements for a student's major and minor programs.
  3. A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 must be maintained in upper division courses used to fulfill the major requirements.

For information regarding residence requirements and unit requirements, please see the College Requirements tab.

Upper Division Requirements

COM LIT 100Introduction to Comparative Literature4
COM LIT 190Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature4
Select one period course of the following:4
The Ancient Mediterranean World [4]
The Middle Ages [4]
The Renaissance [4]
Eighteenth- and 19th-Century Literature [4]
The Modern Period [4]
Myth and Literature [4]
Special Topics in Comparative Literature [1-4]
Primary (formerly referred to as "major") literature: select at least three upper division courses (minimum 12 units), with readings in the original language.12
Secondary (formerly referred to as "minor") literature: select at least two upper division courses (minimum 8 units), with readings in the original language and selected to fit the student’s period of primary interest.8

Minor Requirements

For the minor in Comparative Literature, students must take five courses for a letter grade: the three departmental core courses (COM LIT 100, one from COM LIT 151–160 or 170, and COM LIT 190), and two in a secondary literature, which should be in another language aside from the student's main language. It is best that interested students meet with the major adviser to discuss planning for the minor.  

To complete the minor, interested students should fill out the "Completion of L&S Minor" forms and submit to the departmental adviser no later than the fifth week of classes of your final semester before graduation. The College of L&S will be notified of minor completion approximately four weeks after the final minor course has been completed for inclusion in the student's diploma.

Requirements

Take Five Courses for a Letter Grade
Two core courses:8
Introduction to Comparative Literature [4]
Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature [4]
One final core course from the following list:4
The Ancient Mediterranean World [4]
The Middle Ages [4]
The Renaissance [4]
Eighteenth- and 19th-Century Literature [4]
The Modern Period [4]
Fiction and Culture of the Americas [4]
Myth and Literature [4]
Special Topics in Comparative Literature [1-4]
Two courses in a secondary language (consult with adviser about specifics)8

College Requirements

Undergraduate students must fulfill the following requirements in addition to those required by their major program.

For detailed lists of courses that fulfill college requirements, please review the College of Letters & Sciences page in this Guide. For College advising appointments, please visit the L&S Advising Pages. 

University of California Requirements

Entry Level Writing

All students who will enter the University of California as freshmen must demonstrate their command of the English language by fulfilling the Entry Level Writing requirement. Fulfillment of this requirement is also a prerequisite to enrollment in all reading and composition courses at UC Berkeley. 

American History and American Institutions

The American History and Institutions requirements are based on the principle that a US resident graduated from an American university, should have an understanding of the history and governmental institutions of the United States.

Berkeley Campus Requirement

American Cultures

All undergraduate students at Cal need to take and pass this course in order to graduate. The requirement offers an exciting intellectual environment centered on the study of race, ethnicity and culture of the United States. AC courses offer students opportunities to be part of research-led, highly accomplished teaching environments, grappling with the complexity of American Culture.

College of Letters & Science Essential Skills Requirements

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning requirement is designed to ensure that students graduate with basic understanding and competency in math, statistics, or computer science. The requirement may be satisfied by exam or by taking an approved course.

Foreign Language

The Foreign Language requirement may be satisfied by demonstrating proficiency in reading comprehension, writing, and conversation in a foreign language equivalent to the second semester college level, either by passing an exam or by completing approved course work.

Reading and Composition

In order to provide a solid foundation in reading, writing, and critical thinking the College requires two semesters of lower division work in composition in sequence. Students must complete parts A & B reading and composition courses by the end of their second semester and a second-level course by the end of their fourth semester.

College of Letters & Science 7 Course Breadth Requirements

Breadth Requirements

The undergraduate breadth requirements provide Berkeley students with a rich and varied educational experience outside of their major program. As the foundation of a liberal arts education, breadth courses give students a view into the intellectual life of the University while introducing them to a multitude of perspectives and approaches to research and scholarship. Engaging students in new disciplines and with peers from other majors, the breadth experience strengthens interdisciplinary connections and context that prepares Berkeley graduates to understand and solve the complex issues of their day.

Unit Requirements

  • 120 total units

  • Of the 120 units, 36 must be upper division units

  • Of the 36 upper division units, 6 must be taken in courses offered outside your major department
Residence Requirements

For units to be considered in "residence," you must be registered in courses on the Berkeley campus as a student in the College of Letters & Science. Most students automatically fulfill the residence requirement by attending classes here for four years. In general, there is no need to be concerned about this requirement, unless you go abroad for a semester or year or want to take courses at another institution or through UC Extension during your senior year. In these cases, you should make an appointment to meet an adviser to determine how you can meet the Senior Residence Requirement.

Note: Courses taken through UC Extension do not count toward residence.

Senior Residence Requirement

After you become a senior (with 90 semester units earned toward your BA degree), you must complete at least 24 of the remaining 30 units in residence in at least two semesters. To count as residence, a semester must consist of at least 6 passed units. Intercampus Visitor, EAP, and UC Berkeley-Washington Program (UCDC) units are excluded.

You may use a Berkeley Summer Session to satisfy one semester of the Senior Residence requirement, provided that you successfully complete 6 units of course work in the Summer Session and that you have been enrolled previously in the college.

Modified Senior Residence Requirement

Participants in the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP), Berkeley Summer Abroad, or the UC Berkeley Washington Program (UCDC) may meet a Modified Senior Residence requirement by completing 24 (excluding EAP) of their final 60 semester units in residence. At least 12 of these 24 units must be completed after you have completed 90 units.

Upper Division Residence Requirement

You must complete in residence a minimum of 18 units of upper division courses (excluding UCEAP units), 12 of which must satisfy the requirements for your major.

Student Learning Goals

Learning Goals for the Major

  1. Achieve solid proficiency in at least one language other than English, to the level needed to work with original texts in at least two national literary traditions.
  2. Attain a solid grounding in at least two national literary traditions, one of which is considered the student’s primary literature.
  3. Understand key characteristics of historical periods in the primary literature.
  4. Recognize and understand the workings of genre in literature (novel, poetic form, epic, drama).
  5. Achieve fluency in the use of major critical and theoretical modes of analysis.
  6. Situate literary movements in their relation to historical and cultural contexts.
  7. Analyze aspects of literature that can or must be studied cross-culturally (such as translation, avant-garde movements, romanticism, modernism, diasporic literatures).

Skills

  1. Critical reading. Students develop the capacity to:
    • Perform a strong and revealing close analysis of a text.
    • Recognize the literary and rhetorical features that structure texts and shape their reception.
    • Employ the conceptual tools and insights of literary theoretical texts in reading and interpreting texts drawn from various literary genres, literary criticism, historical materials, and literary theory itself.
    • Present accurately the arguments of a literary critic or theorist, uncovering unarticulated assumptions to illuminate the context in which the argument is made.
    • Understand the implications of different interpretive approaches, considering the benefits and limitations of different strategies.
  2. Argumentation. Students learn to:
    • Develop a line of questioning that leads to the construction of a logical, well-supported argument.
    • Evaluate their own arguments and those of others on the criteria of logical coherence, good use of evidence and comprehensiveness.
    • Respond to new evidence or new perspectives on the evidence by refining or revising their argument.
  3. Oral and written expression. Students learn to:
    • Present complex information and ideas orally, both in a prepared presentation and spontaneously.
    • Participate in a discussion with multiple participants by asking questions, listening closely to others, building upon their contributions, and formulating productive and relevant responses.
    • Write formal expository prose that is clear, persuasive, and economical.
    • Revise their own writing to improve its clarity and effectiveness.
  4. Research. Students learn to:
    • Formulate a productive research question that has a rigorous conceptual framework and makes good use of the available evidence.
    • Use databases, indices, and other tools to identify and locate relevant materials.
    • Assess the relevance and reliability of available materials.
    • Cite published work properly.

Academic Opportunities

Study Abroad

Many Comparative Literature students study abroad. The department actively encourages this experience. International study can be enlightening and fulfilling, both personally and academically. Although study abroad requires some planning ahead, the benefits are well worth the effort for most students.

Berkeley Study Abroad (BSA) is a University of California, system-wide program. Located in 160 Stephens Hall, BSA administers education abroad for Berkeley students. To begin planning an overseas program, or for more information, contact an adviser in the BSA Office or phone 510-642-1356.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions offers assistance to students who want to participate in non-BSA programs. The office at 110 Sproul Hall provides advising during scheduled drop-in hours.

The Department of Comparative Literature expects its students to make normal degree progress and will review standing in the major before approving a semester or year abroad. Advanced consultation with the department adviser is highly recommended.

Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal (CLUJ)

Students have the opportunity to run their own departmentally-supported journal, including writing, editing, and publishing. For more information, contact the Comparative Literature undergraduate academic adviser or look for the corresponding DeCal course at DeCal course listings.

Comparative Literature Research Symposium

Another opportunity is to participate in the annual Research Symposium, where scholars from around the world discuss their research. Typically the Symposium is held in early April. For more information, contact the Comparative Literature undergraduate academic adviser. 

Courses

Comparative Literature

Faculty and Instructors

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

Faculty

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, and 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

Tom McEnaney, Assistant Professor.

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 and the novel, 20th and 21st century Britain.
Research Profile

Lecturers

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

Visit Department Website

Department Chair

Sophie Volpp

4125 Dwinelle Hall

volpp@berkeley.edu

Undergraduate Faculty Adviser

Ellen Oliensis, PhD

7233 Dwinelle Hall

eolien@berkeley.edu

Undergraduate Adviser

Anatole (Tony) Soyka

4118 Dwinelle Hall

Phone: 510-642-1202

complituga@berkeley.edu

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