Comparative Literature

Graduate Program

The graduate program in Comparative Literature at Brown offers a vigorous and comprehensive exploration of literature and culture.

The Doctoral Program

Since the founding of Brown's graduate program in Comparative Literature in 1964, the Department has evolved to include not only Western cultures both ancient and modern, but Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic, as well. The department, in cooperation with the various literature departments and programs, offers a wide array of courses in literature, literary theory, and cultural studies. Faculty include 25 members of professorial rank with appointments wholly or partly in the department. As members of a medium-sized department in a relatively small university, graduate students enjoy unusual opportunities for close contact in and outside of the classroom. Students receive close guidance, including job-search preparation. The program offers several colloquia, lectures, and forums each year.

For admission to the doctoral program, students usually will present evidence of sound training in literature written in three languages, one of which may be English. They will be expected to develop a strong enough competence in one of these literatures to be qualified to teach in a national literature department since comparatists are often hired in such departments or have joint appointments.

The major literature is studied in a cross-cultural context linking it with the other two diachronically or synchronically. Students may pursue literary currents or follow the evolution of ideas or themes across linguistic boundaries, or may study features of genre, style, convention, etc. The program may also emphasize theory including poetics, stylistics, semiology, feminist, socio-cultural, post-structuralist, and post-colonial approaches.

Admission Procedure

The Graduate School Admission Office employs an online application by CollegeNET, the application hosting service affiliated with the school. The deadline for submitting applications for admission with financial aid is December 15. Inquiries may also be addressed to the Director of Graduate Study, Department of Comparative Literature, Box 1935, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912 or by emailing our Department.


The completion of the program requires development of language skills sufficient for advanced work in three literatures. The languages selected are chosen with a view to their appropriateness to the student's areas of special interest. The Department's major competence is in literary expression in western languages. However, our growing programs in classical and modern Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic provide opportunity for students trained in these languages.

In addition, the study of both ancient and modern Hebrew is available through Judaic Studies. In at least one of the foreign languages presented, near native proficiency in speaking and writing in the case of a modern language will be expected. See the Language Competence section of the Graduate Procedures for specific requirements.

Course Work

Students entering with the B.A. will normally take 15 advanced literature courses and graduate seminars, spread over three years in the proportions respectively of 8, 6, 1, two or three of which may be individual work supervised by a staff member. In special circumstances students may obtain up to a year of course credit for graduate work done at other institutions. Students who enter already having completed some advanced work may be asked to proceed more quickly. Individual programs are worked out in consultation with the Director of Graduate Study to include:

  • a substantial core of graduate seminars whose primary department listing is in Comparative Literature, at least one per semester during the first two years of study
  • a substantial core of courses primarily in one national literature along with significant related work in at least two others. Courses taken in the second and third literatures must include a minimum of two regularly scheduled graduate seminars (or 100 level where appropriate with approval of the Director of Graduate Study)
  • a spread of courses comprising work in all three major genres (poetry, drama, narrative) and covering a significant range of distinct cultural epochs (medieval, romantic, modern, and so forth)
  • some work in the area of literary theory, literary criticism, or literary translation.
  • if pertinent, courses relating literature to other fields of inquiry or expression; for example, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, history, music, or the visual arts.

Comparative Project

While the historical "coverage" by itself is not the aim of comparative literature, the Department does require a major literature examination just before the fifth semester which has coverage as a partial goal, in order to demonstrate the student's professional capacities in her/his national literature. It also requires a written comparative project, to be submitted in writing and presented orally during the sixth semester. This project allows the student to treat work from more than one literary tradition, and may become part of the dissertation. A topic will be chosen in consultation with a faculty committee and worked out with the Director of Graduate Study. It is expected that the comparative project will be completed and approved, and the student advanced to doctoral candidacy, by the end of the third year. See Graduate Program Procedures.

The Dissertation

By the end of the third year of study the student is expected to select the area of focus for the dissertation. The student will ordinarily work under the close supervision of a member of the Comparative Literature faculty; the thesis must also be approved by two other readers, one of whom may be from outside the Department.

Teaching Positions

Training and experience in teaching are major features of our doctoral program in Comparative Literature. The Department makes every attempt to provide its graduate students with teaching experience at Brown in undergraduate courses suited to the graduate student's interest. Teaching assistants work under the direct supervision of members of the professorial staff. At least two years of work as a teaching assistant are required for the Ph.D. The Department will keep students informed of positions as they become available in pertinent departments and at other institutions, and will assist them in presenting their candidacy for such positions.

Advanced graduate students who have made substantial progress on their dissertations, who can document their success in the classroom, and who have the support of a faculty member willing to serve as a classroom mentor are invited to submit a proposal to teach an undergraduate course (below 1000-level) in the department. The proposal consists of a 100-word course description, a syllabus, a C.V. that includes a listing of teaching experience, and notes of support from the dissertation advisor and faculty mentor. It is due to the Director of Graduate Studies no later than October 31 of the academic year before the class is taught. The proposals will be evaluated by the department’s Graduate Committee on their merits; no more than two will be approved in any year; final approval will depend on the curricular needs of the department as determined by the Chair.

The M.A. Degree

The Department does not admit terminal M.A. candidates, nor does it require a Master's degree as a prerequisite for the doctorate. Students who are not recommended to proceed in the doctoral program at the end of the first year may take an M.A. by completing one year of full-time course work in residence (normally four courses each semester), satisfying two of the three language requirements for the Ph.D., and completing a Master's thesis consisting of an essay of 50-60 pages on a comparative subject. Alternatively, a student will receive the M.A. upon completion of the comparative project and advancement to doctoral candidacy.

Financing and Support

Students are supported by a fellowship in their first year.  Teaching responsibilities, and support in the form of a teaching assistantship, begin in the second year and continue through the fourth.  We offer a dissertation fellowship in the fifth year and a number of avenues to sixth-year funding, including interdisciplinary opportunities at Brown’s Centers and Institutes and stipend support from the department and the Graduate School.  In special cases, the Graduate School may cover tuition and health costs, but not stipend support, beyond the sixth year.  Please refer to the Graduate School website for further information about financing graduate study at Brown.

Related Departments and Programs

The language and literature offerings at Brown include the following: Classics (including Greek, Latin and Sanskrit), English, French Studies, German Studies, Hebrew, Hispanic Studies, Italian Studies, Portuguese and Brazilian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Linguistics, Slavic Languages.