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, Arabic, Hebrew Studies, Ancient Greek and Roman Studies, East Asian Literatures and Arts, Performance Studies, Film and Media, Poetry and Poetics, Critical Theory, 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 their work and research as an integral part of the Comparative Literature community at UC Berkeley. The department aims above all to develop students' creative and intellectual interests and talents. Graduate students receive the opportunity to pursue rigorous research in a variety of fields according to their interests,  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 and literary writings. All of our students work closely with cutting-edge scholars in their fields in small seminars, with extensive individualized work. 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 teach courses on their topics of interest. 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.

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Admission to the University

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. The Graduate Division hosts a complete list of graduate academic programs, departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application and steps to take to apply can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Admission to the Program

Students should have completed 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.  Applicants are no longer required to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), and any submitted GRE scores will not be reviewed.

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 graduate seminar courses (3-4 units each) in the relevant department
Literature, First Minor Emphasis: One graduate seminar course (3-4 units) in the relevant department
Literature, Second Minor Emphasis: One graduate seminar course (3-4 units) in the relevant department
Comparative Literature, Graduate Electives: Three courses selected from the COMLIT 202-266 series

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. The department recommends that students choose a third language according to their research interests. For example, 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 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. 

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 the 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

Contact Information

Department of Comparative Literature

4125 Dwinelle Hall

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Department Chair

Niklaus Largier

4125 Dwinelle Hall

Head Graduate Advisor

Robert Kaufman

4125 Dwinelle Hall

Graduate Student Affairs Officer

Rita Lindahl-Lynch

4120 Dwinelle Hall

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