Slavic Languages and Literatures

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

249 East Pyne

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:


The aim of our graduate program is to further interest, knowledge, and scholarship relating to Russia, Slavic Central Europe, and Eurasia, primarily through the cultural humanities. To this end we urge our students to explore new intellectual paths and approaches, having first provided them with a strong background in the Russian literary tradition, an introduction to major schools of theory, and the opportunity to conduct research abroad. (Please note that the program in Slavic Linguistics has been discontinued.)

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program is a five-year program. The student studies full time in residence during the first two years, selecting courses both from within the department and outside of it. The general examinations are usually taken during the first term of the third year. After general examinations, individual programs vary. Most students combine dissertation research with teaching. (Stipends are not contingent on teaching, but students are expected to teach first-year Russian at some point in their career and are strongly encouraged to teach precepts in literature courses.) Some students spend a term or a year doing dissertation research abroad. Ideally, this research is funded by outside fellowships, but if such funding is unavailable and the faculty deems the research essential, university fellowship stipends can be used to cover these expenses.

In the early years of graduate study, students use the summer to prepare for generals or to do additional language study. After generals, most use the time to continue researching and writing their dissertation.

Because we aim to admit only two students into the program each year, we are able to help them design a program of study and develop a research trajectory that accords with individual scholarly needs and interests. Choosing from a wide range of courses, entering students arrange their programs in consultation with the director of graduate studies and faculty advisers. 

Graduate seminars in the department cover historical periods (e.g., Russian Realism, Symbolism, Acmeism, Futurism, Soviet and Post-Soviet Literature and Culture), specific authors (e.g., Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak), theoretical approaches to literature and culture (e.g., the Russian critical tradition from Belinsky to the Tartu school and Bakhtin), and core courses in the development of literary genres and film (the evolution of Russian poetic form; surveys of Russian theater and visual art; Russian film theory).


Application deadline
January 3, 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, 25 pages maximum.


Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.


Every student develops and pursues a course of study that provides a comprehensive background and branches into specific areas of interest. Until they pass the general exam, students are required to take at least one graduate seminar within the department each semester. They are encouraged to take additional courses designed to master the basic grammar and to read original texts in Slavic languages other than Russian (e.g. Czech, Polish, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian). Seminars offered by other departments (e.g., comparative literature, German, music, history, anthropology, art and archaeology) are often relevant to scholarly interests of our students, and we encourage the development of interdisciplinary connections and ideas. Course offerings are augmented by a graduate reading list of both required and recommended works intended to provide students with literacy in the field.


Students are expected to have a near-native knowledge of English and Russian. Beyond that they are encouraged, but not required, to achieve fluency in another language. That language is usually French, German, or another Slavic language.

In each of the first two years students take diagnostic tests in the Russian language to evaluate their progress. They take an additional diagnostic exam before teaching Russian language.

General exam

The general examination takes place at the beginning of the third year. It consists of two parts, each including a written section followed by an oral exam. The first is an exam on the history of Russian literature in its cultural context. It is based on a list of required readings. The second is designed to ensure that students have the ability to conduct independent research and to lead them to a productive and interesting dissertation project.

The examination process requires close cooperation between students and their committee (two faculty members chosen by the student and the DGS). By the summer of their second year, students should develop two fields of inquiry. In consultation with the faculty, they draw up (and read) a bibliography of approximately 75 items for each field.

The candidate then formulates four research questions, two concerning author and context and two concerning author and approach. From these, the examination committee chooses two questions, which they may adjust or reformulate. The candidate is given one week for each critical essay, which should be approximately 3,000 words (footnotes and bibliography excluded).

The first exam should take place early in the fifth semester; the second exam should take place toward the end of that same semester. Each exam is followed (ordinarily one week later) by a one-hour oral discussion with members of the student’s examination committee. In the second oral, the discussion should consider the feasibility of either essay to serve as the basis of a dissertation chapter.

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 earned after successfully passing all parts of the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that the following requirement is met: successful completion of at least ten approved courses, at least of eight of which must be graduate-level courses.


The department provides graduate students with supervised training in undergraduate teaching. Students normally teach at least two semesters. This experience takes the form of instruction in language courses (elementary or intermediate) and leading discussion sections of Russian literature and culture courses. Such teaching ordinarily begins only after students have completed general examinations.

Post-Generals requirements

Post-generals students are required to participate in the dissertation colloquium unless they are living so far away as to preclude such participation.

Dissertation and FPO

After the general examination has been successfully completed, the student chooses a dissertation adviser (ordinarily — though not necessarily — one of the members of the student's general examination committee). In consultation with the adviser, the student prepares a dissertation prospectus (on the basis of the earlier bibliographies and the work already undertaken). The prospectus should be submitted within a month of the completion of the second exam. Students should have a prospectus and, optimally, a completed first dissertation chapter by the end of the sixth semester.

The dissertation normally emerges from work already undertaken in seminars or other courses under the guidance of department faculty and in the readings for the exams. It should be an in-depth essay on a subject that can be treated in 150 to 200 pages. After the dissertation has been approved by at least two readers from the faculty, the student advances to the final public oral examination. At the final public oral examination, the candidate defends the dissertation in the presence of department faculty and other informed or interested scholars, and is expected to demonstrate a mastery of the subject and effectiveness in oral discourse.


  • Chair

    • Ilya Vinitsky
    • Michael A. Wachtel (acting)
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Yuri Leving
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Elena Fratto
  • Professor

    • Ellen B. Chances
    • Yuri Leving
    • Simon A. Morrison
    • Serguei A. Oushakine
    • Ilya Vinitsky
    • Michael A. Wachtel
  • Assistant Professor

    • Elena Fratto
  • Professor Emeritus (teaching)

    • Caryl Emerson
  • Senior Lecturer

    • Ksana Blank
  • Lecturer

    • Margaret H. Beissinger
    • Ana Cohle
    • Tamara Hundorova
    • Svetlana Korshunova
    • Laura E. Matthews
    • Mark R. Pettus

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.

HIS 534 - Russian Lies: Forgeries and Mystifications in History and Culture (also SLA 534)

This course explores how the boundaries between the fake and the authentic were established, contested, and employed in Russian literature, art, politics, and historiography. In a series of scholarly investigations of major forgeries and mystifications, the course tests various methodologies of working with (seemingly) "unreliable sources" (Lotman). The topics include: values and dangers of mystifications; ethics and art of forgery; political impostors and con men, imaginary works and personalities, pseudo-translations, etc.

RUS 549 - Russian for Academic Purposes I

This course focuses instruction on skills required to perform in a Russian-speaking academic context across core subject areas of literary analysis and cultural studies. The targeted language skills - reading, writing, speaking, and listening - are tied with the specific needs of students (e.g., reading and writing proposals, presentations for conferences, academic articles, and correspondence). In addition, students get acquainted with various academic sub-styles and genres as well as differences in academic standards (citation, bibliography). The course includes a comprehensive review of Russian grammar and syntax.

RUS 550 - Russian for Academic Purposes II

In this course, graduate students continue developing skills required to perform in a Russian-speaking academic context across core subject areas of literary analysis and cultural studies. Students are expected to discuss and assess the results of their research and present papers in their field of study at a "mock" conference in Russian. The course includes a comprehensive review of Russian grammar and syntax as well as academic genres and styles.

SLA 511 - Critical Approaches to Literature: Russian Contributions

A survey of major 19th- and 20th-century schools of literary and cultural criticism (from Belinsky to the Tartu School), with some direct application to selected literary texts.

SLA 512 - The Evolution of Russian Poetic Form

An introduction to Russian poetics through selected readings, from Trediakovsky to Joseph Brodsky, organized by poetic genre. Specific subjects include the ode, the elegy, folk adaptations, blank verse, and the significance of translation.

SLA 514 - Pushkin

A study of Pushkin's major lyrics, narrative poems, drama and prose in the context of Russian and European literary developments.

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 516 - 19th-Century Master Novelists

A study of either Dostoevsky or Tolstoy.

SLA 518 - Major Russian Poets and Poetic Movements

Readings selected from the nineteenth century (e.g., the "Golden Age," the Romantics) or the twentieth century (e.g., the Symbolists, the Futurists, the Acmeists).

SLA 520 - Topics in Contemporary Soviet and Post-Soviet Culture:Narratives of Loss:Trauma,Victims & Witnessing

Based on the Slavic Department's graduate student reading list, this seminar is designed to help students prepare for the general examination and to develop productive ways to approach large bodies of material-whether for preparing syllabi or working on research projects. It explores socio-political and cultural contexts in which major literary movements arose in Russia, considering generic and stylistic developments and attending to European influences that were alternately absorbed and rejected. It looks closely at representative works in the settings in which they first appeared and at how they signify in later periods.

SLA 528 - The Poetics of Space

This seminar takes into account space in its manifold definitions: from the diegetic space investigated by semiotics, to alternative, non-conventional geometries, and their aesthetics; from space/time to the outer space and its claiming; from desired or imagined spaces to post-human ones; from cybernetic to global positioning systems to the environment. By looking at literary and theoretical texts, produced in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the course tracks the poetics of space and the epistemological consequences of its literary expression.

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).

SLA 535 - Methods of Teaching Slavic

A practical course required of graduate students who are teaching beginning Russian. The course covers all issues relevant to the teaching of the language: phonetics, grammar presentation, efficient use of class time, class and syllabus planning, writing quizzes and tests. In addition to weekly meetings with the instructors, students are expected to meet as a group to develop best practices for covering each week's material. An important part of the course is instructor supervision of teaching.

SLA 547 - Worlds of Form: Russian Formalism and Constructivism (also ART 511)

The seminar examines the ways Russian formalists and constructivists problematized the role and importance of form in their writing. We explore systemic views, paying especial attention to the role of structure (and deconstruction); we investigate the links between materiality and form, and, finally, we see how form, texture, and system - are localized in particular artistic or historical contexts. This is an interdisciplinary seminar, and during the semester we move back and from literature to cinema, and from architecture to painting.

SLA 561 - Proseminar in Slavic

The purpose of the course is twofold: to cover some of the essential texts of the Russian literary and critical tradition and to acquaint students with the range of topics and approaches taught by the faculty. Offered once every two years, it is team-taught, with each faculty member taking a two-week segment. The course is mandatory for all graduate students in the department, who take it either their first or second year of study.

SLA 599 - Slavic Dissertation Colloquium

A practical course devoted to scholarly writing intended to facilitate the proposal and dissertation writing process. The seminar meets every three to four weeks. Dissertation writers circulate work in progress for feedback and discuss issues that arise in the course of their work. The seminar is required of all post-generals students in Russian literature who are in residence.