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 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

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 has completed a basic degree 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 on a 9-point scale (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 the 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. Unofficial transcripts must contain specific information including the name of the applicant, name of the school, all courses, grades, units, & degree conferral (if applicable). 
  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, by the recommender, not the Graduate Admissions.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants who have completed a basic degree from a country or political entity in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to institutions 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.

Applicants who have previously applied to Berkeley must also submit new test scores that meet the current minimum requirement from one of the standardized tests. Official TOEFL score reports must be sent directly from Educational Test Services (ETS). The institution code for Berkeley is 4833 for Graduate Organizations. Official IELTS score reports must be sent electronically from the testing center to University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Division, Sproul Hall, Rm 318 MC 5900, Berkeley, CA 94720. TOEFL and IELTS score reports are only valid for two years prior to beginning the graduate program at UC Berkeley. Note: score reports can not expire before the month of June.


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

Faculty and Instructors

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


* Karl A. Britto, Associate Professor. Africa, cultural studies, the Caribbean, literature, francophone literature, colonial and postcolonial literature, Vietnam, gender and identity.
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, Associate Professor. Latin American literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, media studies, radio, 20th century American literature, architecture, linguistic anthropology, digital humanities.
Research Profile

Ramsey McGlazer , Assistant Professor. Italian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese, with interests in poetry and poetics, politics and aesthetics, and feminist, queer, and psychoanalytic theory.
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

Beth Piatote, Associate Professor. Native American/Indigenous literature, history, law and culture; Global Indigenous Literature; Native American visual art; American literature and cultural studies; Nez Perce language and literature; indigenous language revitalization; creative writing.
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

Mario Telo, Professor. Greek literature, ancient drama and its reception, critical theory.
Research Profile

Sophie Volpp, 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, Associate Professor. Critical theory, linguistics, narrative and the novel, 20th and 21st century Britain.
Research Profile


Maria Kotzamanidou, Lecturer.

Karina Palau, 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

Cyril Birch, Professor Emeritus.

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

Louise Clubb, Professor Emeritus.

Phillip W. Damon, Professor Emeritus.

* Francine R. Masiello, Professor Emerita. 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

Visit Department Website

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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