Comparative Literature

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

East Pyne

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:


The degree of Doctor of Philosophy in comparative literature is offered by the Department of Comparative Literature in cooperation with other departments. The program of study enables students with exceptional training in languages and literatures to profit from the increased awareness and understanding that may be derived from the considered view of more than one literature and of the theoretical presuppositions behind literary study as a whole. The program prepares candidates for scholarship in the field and for teaching in comparative literature, separate departments of literature, and the humanities.


Application deadline
December 15, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2024)
Program length
5 years
General Test - optional/not required

Additional departmental requirements

Sample of written work in English, 25 pages maximum.

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.


The curriculum in comparative literature has two major objectives: while training students in one literary tradition, it also requires them to be seriously interested in at least two other literatures as well as in the historical, critical and theoretical problems raised by the study of literature. The course of study over the four to six terms prior to the general examination reflects these objectives, and includes course work in comparative literature and in the student’s major and minor literatures.  Students must take a minimum of 12 graduate-level courses, at least 10 of which must be for credit.

Areas of Study

Major Literature. The program of study in the major literature aims at giving students a mastery sufficient to enable them to teach it in a national or a comparative context. The historical scope of work in the major literature is flexibly defined, but it may conform to the following patterns:

  • Classical Literatures. The major in classics includes the study of both Greek and Roman literatures. For a detailed description of the curriculum, see the separate Schedule for the Classics Major in Comparative Literature.
  • Post-Classical Western Literatures. Students majoring in these literatures choose one from among the following periods: (1) Middle Ages to Renaissance, (2) Renaissance to Romanticism, and (3) Romanticism to the present.
  • East Asian Literatures. Students majoring in Chinese or Japanese may follow the prescribed curriculum for comparative literature students concentrating in one or both of these literatures. For the detailed curriculum, see the separate Schedule for Chinese or Japanese Majors in Comparative Literature.
  • Near Eastern Literatures. Students majoring in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish develop individual programs with the assistance of their advisers. These programs generally involve a version of one or more topics of concentration or fields of study required by the Department of Near Eastern Studies.

Additional Literatures. Students are expected to enrich their knowledge of their special fields through work in different languages and literatures. Some of this work is done in comparative literature courses, but at least one minor literature also must be studied in the pertinent department.

Comparative Literature. The program of study in comparative literature combines the students’ work in their major and minor literatures by focusing on a specific area in which these literatures can be fully explored. This area may be a limited segment of literary history (the late Middle Ages, the 16th century, Romanticism) or a particular aspect common to all three literatures (a genre such as lyric or the novel, or a phenomenon such as neoclassicism or the modern). It also may be a critical or a theoretical problem, involving analyses of modes of interpretation; comparisons of genres and themes; questions about the relationship between different art forms (such as painting and poetry); or problems in literary aesthetics or epistemology. In this way, comparative literature functions as the core of the curriculum, exposing students to a range of literary techniques and helping them to organize their work in their chosen literatures.


In addition to English, students must have a command of one classical and two modern languages. These may be Western, East Asian, or Near Eastern.

Students must elect one of these languages as their principal foreign language. A firm reading knowledge of the other two languages must be demonstrated either through departmentally administered proficiency examinations or courses.

General exam

The general examination tests, as it reflects, the candidate’s course of study. Based on a reading list devised by the student and the student’s advisers, the written examination is divided into two parts. The first concerns the candidate’s major literature, and is comprehensive in nature. It is normally taken at the end of the fourth or fifth term. The second, in comparative literature, is usually taken at the end of the fifth or sixth term. It is intensive in nature and consists of questions based on those areas of study that the candidate has prepared in consultation with his or her faculty advisers, often in anticipation of the candidate’s eventual dissertation topic.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is awarded after a student successfully completes the required number of courses plus both parts of the written general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.


Practice teaching forms a significant part of graduate education in comparative literature. It is not only a crucial element in a graduate student’s preparation for teaching and research, but it is also an essential credential for future employment, especially if a student wishes to qualify for a position in his or her major literature. As a matter of departmental policy, therefore, all students, after their first year, are normally required to accumulate at least four classroom hours of teaching experience during their time at Princeton.  (“Classroom hours” refers to the number of hours per week, over the course of a semester, during which the student is in charge of the classroom as the primary instructor present.)

Dissertation and FPO

Upon successful completion of both parts of the general examination, students consult with a committee of advisers to write an exposition of the dissertation project.  This dissertation prospectus is then defended orally by the student, typically in the next examination period after successful completion of the second part of the general examination, but in any case before the end of the seventh semester of study.

The dissertation should demonstrate the candidate’s competence in writing a substantial work of scholarship and criticism, and his or her proficiency in maturely handling the foreign languages chosen. Under certain circumstances, candidates may be permitted to submit an original translation of a work of particular difficulty. A dissertation based on translation, however, must be preceded by a comprehensive introduction that examines in depth the comparative context of the translated work as well as the linguistic and theoretical problems arising from the translation itself.

A final public oral examination is required after the dissertation has been read and approved by representatives of the faculty. This examination consists of two parts. The first is a 30-minute lecture in which the candidate justifies the subject treated and the methods employed, accounts for any new contributions made to literary history and criticism, and projects plans for future scholarship and publication based upon the dissertation. The second is a series of questions growing out of subjects presented in the lecture and relating to both the criticism and the teaching of literary material dealt with in the dissertation.


  • Chair

    • Wendy Laura Belcher (acting)
    • Thomas W. Hare
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Claudia Joan Brodsky
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Karen R. Emmerich
  • Professor

    • April Alliston
    • Wendy Laura Belcher
    • David M. Bellos
    • Sandra L. Bermann
    • Claudia Joan Brodsky
    • Marina S. Brownlee
    • Maria A. DiBattista
    • Susana Draper
    • Thomas W. Hare
    • Daniel Heller-Roazen
  • Associate Professor

    • Benjamin Conisbee Baer
    • Karen R. Emmerich
    • Lital Levy
  • Assistant Professor

    • Erin Y. Huang
  • Associated Faculty

    • Eduardo L. Cadava, English
    • Steven Chung, East Asian Studies
    • Devin A. Fore, German
    • Rubén Gallo, Spanish & Portuguese
    • Simon E. Gikandi, English
    • Anthony T. Grafton, History
    • Brooke A. Holmes, Classics
    • Thomas Y. Levin, German
    • F. Nick Nesbitt, French & Italian
    • Sara S. Poor, German
    • Rachel L. Price, Spanish & Portuguese
    • Efthymia Rentzou, French & Italian
    • Michael A. Wachtel, Slavic Lang & Literatures
    • Christy N. Wampole, French & Italian
    • Max D. Weiss, History
  • Lecturer

    • Daniel Hoffman-Schwartz
    • Robin Kello

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

AAS 522 - Publishing Journal Articles in the Humanities and Social Sciences (also COM 522/ENG 504/GSS 503)

In this interdisciplinary class, students of race and gender read deeply and broadly in academic journals as a way of learning the debates in their fields and placing their scholarship in relationship to them. Students report each week on the trends in the last five years of any journal of their choice, writing up the articles' arguments and debates, while also revising a paper in relationship to those debates and preparing it for publication. This course enables students to leap forward in their scholarly writing through a better understanding of their fields and the significance of their work to them.

CLA 506 - Greek Tragedy (also COM 502/GER 507/HLS 506)

The origin and development of tragedy, the Greek theater, and the history of our texts. The course involves the reading and analysis of selected tragedies, with an emphasis on the language, meter, and interpretation of the plays. Lectures and report.

CLA 513 - Ancient Literary Criticism (also COM 516/HLS 513)

Study of a selection of critical texts, such as the following: Plato, <I>Republic</I> and <I>Phaedrus</I>; Aristotle, <I>Poetics</I> and <I>Rhetoric</I>; "Longinus," <I>On the Sublime</I>; Cicero, <I>De oratore</I>, etc.; Horace, <I>De arte poetica</I>; and Quintilian, <I>Institutio Oratoria</I>.

CLA 529 - Topics in the Hellenic Tradition (also COM 527/HLS 529)

An interdisciplinary seminar devoted to the study of aspects of the post-classical Greek literary and cultural tradition, including modern Greek literature, and its relation to classical literature and civilization.

COM 500 - Comparative Literature Graduate Pedagogy Seminar

Discussion, exploration, and refinement of critical skills in teaching literature. Topics covered include: setting goals for the classroom, starting and facilitating discussion, and grading. Wider professional issues, such as developing a statement of teaching philosophy, the appropriate use of technology in the classroom, designing syllabi, using translations, and preparing a teaching dossier, will be discussed.

COM 513 - Topics in Literature and Philosophy (also MOD 513)

Chance and contingency were long thought to lie outside the realm of knowledge. Then there arose new means for measuring probabilities of the most varied kinds. This seminar will explore the conditions and occurrence of that shift, as well as its consequences, as they are reflected in a few literary and philosophical works.

COM 521 - Introduction to Comparative Literature

This course provides a general introduction to the theory and methods of comparative literature, with an emphasis on issues of interdisciplinarity. We consider the relationship of comparative literature to fields of study extending beyond the literary: aesthetics; semiotics, Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, and postcolonialism. The aim is to discover within and among these diverse and formidable fields some promising avenues for comparative literary research.

COM 532 - Publishing Articles in Literature, Art, and Music Studies Journals (also ART 531/ENG 591/MUS 533)

In this class, students of literature, art, and music read deeply and broadly in peer-reviewed journals in their disciplines and fields as a way of learning current scholarly debates and placing their scholarship in relationship to them. Students report each week on the trends in the last five years of any journal of their choice, writing up the articles' arguments and debates, while also revising a paper in relationship to those debates and preparing it for publication. This course enables students to leap forward in their scholarly writing through a better understanding of their fields and the significance of their work to them.

COM 534 - How does History Appear? Critical Aesthetics, Lessing through Benjamin

The study of literary and aesthetic theory and the production of critical theory from the relationship between them. Readings primarily in Lessing, Diderot, Baudelaire, Benjamin.

COM 535 - Contemporary Critical Theories (also ENG 538/GER 535)

Criticism as an applied art and as an autonomous discipline. Exploration of its place in intellectual history and a theoretical analysis of its basic assumptions. &#91;Topics vary each year.&#93;

COM 536 - Topics in Critical Theory

A course exploring some of the critical modes of inquiry at work in the practice and theory of different human activities, including: language, literature, philosophical reflection, aesthetic form, epistemology, historical and social formation. Topics may include: dialectical thought, concrete experience and abstraction, differential value, sensation and intellectual mediation; temporal experience, graphic and architectural form; line and figure; historicity; origins of language and society; political and cultural theory. See current course listings for specific topic(s) when course is offered.

COM 540 - Ocean Media: Islanding, Space, Modernity (also EAS 528)

This seminar explores the oceanic imaginary of space and the spatial technologies of islanding in the modern world-including the emergence of mega-ports, artificial islands, and the creation of political and economic zones of exception and military bases, with an emphasis on East and Southeast Asia. Posing islanding in the verb form, the readings deconstruct "island" as a natural geographic setting and probe its role in mediating the relations between individual and totality, insularity and world, mainland and periphery, land and sea, etc. We explore different mediations of oceanic imaginary and work toward theories of resistance.

COM 542 - Feminist Poetics and Politics in the Americas (1960s to the present) (also GSS 542/LAS 512/SPA 558)

This course aims to explore different forms that the question of liberation has taken in writings by women philosophers and poets whose work helped to create cultural and political movements in the U.S. and Latin America. Starting in the 1960s, the course touches upon different philosophical concepts and poetic figures that have shaped the language of women's struggles (intersectionality, black and third world feminism, subalternity and feminist epistemologies, capitalist accumulation and "witch"-hunting, (re)transmission of knowledge).

COM 543 - Topics in Medieval Literature (also FRE 543)

Comparative studies in selected Latin and vernacular texts of the European Middle Ages, especially, but not exclusively, from the period 1250-1400. The seminar intends to provide an introduction to the methods of literary research in the medieval period.

COM 547 - The Renaissance (also ENG 530)

A study of selected major genres and modes of Renaissance literature, such as pastoral, satire, romance, picaresque, confession, lyric, epic, comedy, and tragedy. Attention is given to important cultural, social, and intellectual currents affecting their development, such as Christian Humanism, Reformation and Counter Reformation, mysticism, neo-Platonism, and skepticism. Representative works from various national literatures are chosen for close analysis.

COM 553 - The Eighteenth Century in Europe (also ENG 546/GSS 554)

A consideration of the primary topoi and defining oppositions of Enlightenment thought. Texts and specific focus vary from year to year.

COM 560 - The Novel and Romance

Major types of written fiction from the Greek romance to 18th-century novels, including non-Western texts; the cultural background of written fiction; and romance (ancient, medieval, and baroque), the picaresque novel, the psychological novella, and early realist fiction are studied.

COM 566 - Arabs, Jews, and Arab-Jews in Literature, History, and Culture (also NES 566)

This course examines the idea of the Arab, the Jew, and the Arab-Jew as represented in history, literature, and film. It revisits the interdisciplinary scholarship around "Jews and Arabs" since the 1990s in order to reassess past and current approaches and to assist students with their own research agendas. We consider the following analytical frames: memory studies and its politics; historiography, recovery and the archive; hybridity and cosmopolitanism; and passing and cross-identification. We also utilize the Katz Center (U Penn)'s 2018-19 program on Jews in modern Islamic contexts.

COM 572 - Introduction to Critical Theory (also ENG 580/FRE 555/GER 572)

Through a comparative focus on the concepts of dialectics and difference, we read some of the formative theoretical, critical and philosophical works which continue to ground interdisciplinary critical theory today. Focal works by Lukacs, Freud, Heidegger, Adorno, Derrida, de Man, Arendt, and Benjamin are included among the texts we read.

COM 579 - Translation and World Literature (also TRA 502)

This course probes the intersection of world literature and translation, in relation to conditions of multilingualism, processes of cultural transfer, and the consolidation/contestation of national literary traditions. In reading key texts from the debates around the concept and practice of world literature, we will ask whether its universalizing drive can be reconciled with literary/scholarly investments in inaccessibility, locality, and specificity, and what role translation plays in these formations. Throughout, we will consider the implications of these debates for our own work as scholars.

COM 581 - Topics in Non-Western and General Literature (also EAS 589)

By examining one or more literatures of the Near East or East Asia, and by referring to Western examples as well, the course raises literary issues that cannot be aired through the study of Western literature alone. Emphasis in any given year falls on Arabic, Persian, Chinese, or Japanese literature viewed in a comparative context.

COM 592 - Extramural Teaching Internship

Students teach a semester long undergraduate course in literature at an institution other than Princeton University. Objectives and content of the course are determined by the student's advisor in consultation with the host. The student enrolled in the course submits monthly progress reports that include the syllabus of the course taught, a description of the subject matter covered, of teaching methods employed, and of examinations conducted. The student also submits any course evaluations they may receive from the host institution. There are no exams and take-home exercises for this not-for-credit course.

EAS 536 - Cultures at Play: The History, Aesthetics, and Theory of Games (also COM 544)

This class explores games and the culture of play through a variety of angles, ranging from the aesthetic to the ideological, from the historical to the technological. By doing so, we familiarize ourselves with the increasingly prolific literature on (video) games as well as the longer history of game theory. Though the class serves foremost to explore the theoretical readings within this new discipline, game studies, it also allows the hands-on exploration of particular games, entertains the question of how to teach games, and encourages students to apply game theory beyond the realm of games studies itself.

EAS 580 - Script Theories: Korea, East Asia, and Beyond (also COM 580)

This seminar considers the issues of language, writing, and inscription in a broad comparative perspective that brings together critical theory and recent scholarship on Korea and East Asia. It traces the issues of language and inscription against the frameworks of semiology (Derrida, Irigaray), discursive order (Foucault, Kittler), folds of matter and power (Deleuze), and ideological control (Althusser). The class also uses this theoretical framework to build our understanding of Korean (and, when applicable, East Asian) writing systems, from calligraphy, to the development of print and digital culture. All readings available in English.

EAS 594 - Seeing the Interior: Cinema, Media, Inverse Visuality (also COM 594)

From the invention of microscope, X-ray, representations of biological contagion and virus, to surveillance camera, the world is increasingly mediated and constituted by visual technologies and new forms of visualities that collapse the boundary between visibility and invisibility. This seminar explores visual representations of the interior and their mediating roles in larger historical and social processes of colonialism, modernization, urbanization, and global capitalism in the East Asian and global context. Readings intersect cinema and media studies, globalization, urban studies, theories of the body, and science and medical studies.

ENG 532 - Early 17th Century (also COM 509)

An examination of some major writers of the period.

ENG 571 - Literary and Cultural Theory (also AAS 572/COM 506)

A study of the role of culture in literary practice and theory. Topics include postmodernism, post-colonialism, feminism, performance theory, queer theory, and popular cultures, among others.

ENG 572 - Introduction to Critical Theory (also COM 590/HUM 572)

The ethical, historical, and political dimensions of Jacques Derrida's thought and writings.

ENG 573 - Problems in Literary Study (also COM 596)

An examination of selected issues or texts that offer radical challenges to the profession of literary study today. Intended for students in all periods of specialization.

FRE 517 - Looking for the Beast: Animals in Literature, Film and Culture (also COM 512)

This course focuses on the way literature, film, but also cultural events and spaces (circus, zoo, museum) present animals as objects of admiration and subjects of performance. We consider the fascination that animals inspire in humans, which might lead to question the distinction between "us" and "them". What is at stake, what are the consequences, for us and for them, when animals are seen or shown as an elusive Other who still beckons a closer encounter? How does the poetic power of language, or the evocative nature of images, affect their agency and our empathy, and eventually our mutual relationship?

FRE 532 - Charles Baudelaire (also COM 576)

This course discusses Charles Baudelaire's poetry, prose, art and literary criticism, autobiographical texts, and translations, and their pivotal role for perceptions of modernity. Baudelaire's oeuvre is approached through different perspectives, ranging from poetics, aesthetics, literary history, the political and social context of his time, sexuality and gender, popular culture, reception history, trauma studies, etc. We take into consideration influential readings of Baudelaire's work, while particular emphasis is given to Baudelaire's relevance for the 21st century and specifically in contemporary literature and art.

FRE 560 - Medieval Signs (also COM 557/PHI 504)

A seminar on medieval practices and theories of performative speech, from lies to oaths, promises, blessings, curses, deeds and sacraments. Readings are drawn from Old and Middle French poetry as well as earlier and later medieval grammar, logic and theology, where doctrines of "efficacious" signification and the force of words play major roles. To bring into focus the medieval treatments of speech acts, we also consider selected twentieth-century philosophical, linguistic and sociological accounts of performative speech (particularly by Austin, Benveniste and Goffman).

FRE 583 - Seminar in Romance Linguistics and/or Literary Theory (also COM 583)

An examination of either the intersection of linguistic and literary analysis as illustrated by the Romance languages or the theoretical foundations of literary study.

GER 521 - Topics in German Intellectual History (also COM 597/MOD 520)

The course examines in their entirety mostly short texts that advance solutions to the intellectual problems preoccupying major German religious thinkers, writers, and philosophers, viz. justification, selfhood, theodicy, play, contingency, asceticism, estrangement, malaise, authenticity.

GER 523 - Topics in German Media Theory & History (also COM 518/HUM 523/MOD 523)

Historical and theoretical investigations of media from the advent of writing systems, paper and the construction of single-point perspective to phonography, radio, telephony, and television and up through the critical reflection on cyberspace, rhetorics of PowerPoint, surveillance and data shadows. Issues explored include the relationship between representation and technology, the historicity of perception, transformations of reigning notions of imagination, literacy, communication, reality and truth, and the interplay of aesthetics, technics and politics.

GER 525 - Studies in German Film (also COM 524/MOD 510)

Course explores movements in German cinema, with attention given to the cultural and ideological contexts as well as recent debates in contemporary film theory. Attention may focus on such pivotal topics as Weimar or the New German cinema, issues in German film theory, questions of film and Nazi culture, or avant-garde cinema, and on genres such as the "Heimatfilm," the "Street Film," and works by women and minority filmmakers.

HUM 599 - Interpretation (also ANT 599/COM 599)

The arts of interpretation across the disciplines.

MUS 515 - Topics in the History of Opera (also COM 517)

Critical, historical, and analytic studies of music, language, and drama in the European operatic tradition are studied.

NES 569 - Classical Arabic Poetry (also COM 575)

Introduces students to the major Arabic poets and poems from pre-Islamic times to the Mamluks. Goals: Increase the ease with which students read classical Arabic poetry, learn how to scan Arabic meters, and expand knowledge of styles, genres and development. Students prepare assigned poems and put together brief biographical sketch of poets. Advanced knowledge of Arabic required.

PHI 510 - German Philosophy since Kant (also COM 510)

Course topics vary from year to year.

SLA 515 - Language & Subjectivity: Theories of Formation (also ANT 515/COM 514)

The purpose of the course is to examine key texts of the twentieth century that established the fundamental connection between language structures and practices on the one hand, and the formation of selfhood and subjectivity, on the other. In particular, the course focuses on theories that emphasize the role of formal elements in producing meaningful discursive and social effects. Works of Russian formalists and French (post)-structuralists are discussed in connection with psychoanalytic and anthropological theories of formation.

SLA 529 - Seminar on Andrei Bitov (also COM 528/RES 529)

Analysis of works of one of Russia's most important contemporary writers. Focus on major novels, including "Pushkin House," the first Russian postmodernist novel. We explore his wide-ranging concerns, such as psychology; philosophy; science; other arts (including jazz and cinema); people's relationship to other biological species; integrity and societal and psychological obstacles to it. We examine him as a Petersburg writer. Focus also on his relationship to time, history, and other writers; his place in Russian and Soviet literature and culture.

SLA 531 - Topics in Russian Literature or Literary Theory (also COM 533)

Topics may include individual authors (e.g., Herzen, Bely, Pasternak, Tsvetaeva) or significant literary and critical trends (the "superfluous man," "skaz," Russian formalism, Bakhtin, the Moscow/Tartu School, and Soviet literature and censorship).

SPA 538 - Seminar in Golden-Age Literature (also COM 578)

To suit the particular interests of the students and the instructor, intensive study of special topics, such as the <I>Celestina, </I>the mystics, <I>Don Quixote, </I>Renaissance, and baroque.

TRA 501 - Practicing Translation (also COM 501)

Academic work in disciplines across the humanities and humanistic social sciences are fueled in part by practices of translation, and many disciplines are moving toward a consideration of translation as scholarship in its own right. Yet few graduate students are trained practices of translation, either within their discipline or as an interdisciplinary node of intellectual engagement. This graduate translation workshop aims to help students from various departments hone a practice of translation that can stand on its own as a scholarly endeavor, while also deepening and enriching the other forms of research and writing in which they engage.