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Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature

The major in Comparative Literature requires students to enroll in a set of core courses offered by the department, to complete electives in the department, and to enroll in additional literature courses, or other courses approved by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies, offered by other departments. This flexibility to combine literature courses from several departments and to address literature from multiple traditions is the hallmark of the Comparative Literature major. Students may count courses which read literature in translation; however, students, and especially those planning to pursue graduate study in Comparative Literature, are encouraged to develop a command of non-native languages.

Declaring the Major—Students declare the major in Comparative Literature through Axess. Students should meet with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies to discuss appropriate courses and options within the major, and to plan the course of study. Majors are also urged to attend department events such as public talks and conferences.

Advising—Students majoring in Comparative Literature should consult with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies at least once a year. The chair monitors progress to completion of the degree. Students are also encouraged to develop relationships with other faculty members who may act as mentors.

Overseas Campuses and Abroad Programs—The Department of Comparative Literature encourages time abroad, both for increased proficiency in language and the opportunity for advanced course work. Course work done at campuses other than Stanford is counted toward the major at the discretion of the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and is contingent upon the Office of the University Registrar's approval of transfer credit. To that end, students abroad are advised to save syllabi, notes, papers, and correspondence.

Honors College—The Department of Comparative Literature encourages honors students to enroll in the honors college scheduled during the weeks preceding the beginning of every academic year. Applications to the college are available from the DLCL student affairs officer. The honors college is coordinated by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (DLCL).


All majors in Comparative Literature (including honors) are required to complete the following requirements. All courses applied to the major must be taken for a letter grade, and a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or better must be achieved in each core course.

  1. COMPLIT 101. What is Literature? (5 units). This gateway to the major is normally taken by the end of sophomore year. It provides an introduction to literature and its distinctions from other modes of linguistic expression, and a fundamental set of interpretive skills. This course fulfills the Writing in the Major requirement.
  2. The genre core—(5 units each)
    1. COMPLIT 121. Poems, Poetry, Worlds: An Introductory Course
    2. COMPLIT 122. Literature as Performance
    3. COMPLIT 123. The Novel, the World

      Students should complete these courses as soon as possible. Each course draws on examples from multiple traditions to ask questions about the logic of the individual genres.

  3. COMPLIT 199 (5 units). This senior seminar is designed as a culmination to the course of study while providing reflection on the nature of the discipline. Topics vary.
  4. Electives—Majors must complete at least 40 units of electives. Three of these electives must be Comparative Literature courses. The remaining courses may be drawn from Comparative Literature offerings, from other literature departments, or from other fields of interdisciplinary relevance to the student's interest. Up to 10 units of IHUM or SLE courses may be counted towards the elective requirement. Electives are subject to adviser consultation and approval.
  5. Total unit load—Students must complete course work for a total of at least 65 units.


Undergraduates may major in Comparative Literature with a special track in interdisciplinary studies at the intersection of literature and philosophy. Students in this option take courses alongside students from other departments that also have specialized options associated with the program for the study of Philosophical and Literary Thought. Each student in this option is assigned an adviser in Comparative Literature, and student schedules and course of study must be approved in writing by the adviser, the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of Comparative Literature, and the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of the program. See

A total of 65 units must be completed for this option, including the following requirements:

  1. Seven courses taught by Comparative Literature faculty. Of the seven, the following five (5 units each) are required courses:
    • COMPLIT 101. What is Literature?
    • COMPLIT 121. Poems, Poetry, Worlds: An Introductory Course
    • COMPLIT 122. Literature as Performance
    • COMPLIT 123. The Novel, the World
    • COMPLIT 199. Senior Seminar.
    • The remaining two courses must be instructed by Comparative Literature faculty and approved by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies.
  2. Philosophy and Literature Gateway Course (4 units)COMPLIT 181 (same as PHIL 81). This course should be taken as early as possible in the student's career, normally in the sophomore year.
  3. Philosophy Writing in the Major (5 units)PHIL 80. Prerequisite: introductory philosophy class.
  4. Aesthetics, Ethics, Political Philosophy (ca. 4 units)One course from the PHIL 170 series.
  5. Language, Mind, Metaphysics, and Epistemology (ca. 4 units)One course from the PHIL 180 series.
  6. History of Philosophy (ca. 8 units)Two courses in the history of philosophy, numbered above PHIL 100.
  7. Related Courses (ca. 8 units)Two upper division courses relevant to the study of philosophy and literature as identified by the committee in charge of the program. A list of approved courses is available from the undergraduate adviser of the program in philosophical and literary thought.
  8. One course, typically in translation, in a literature distant from that of the student's concentration and offering an outside perspective on that literary tradition.
  9. Capstone Seminar (ca. 4 units)In addition to COMPLIT 199, students take a capstone seminar of relevance to philosophy and literature approved by the undergraduate adviser of the program in philosophical and literary thought. The student's choice of a capstone seminar must be approved in writing by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of Comparative Literature and by the Chair of Undergraduate Studies of the program. Courses offered this year are: PHIL 194. Montaigne (Winter Quarter) and COMPLIT 226. Narrative and Ethics (Spring quarter).
  10. Seminar Paper Requirement—Students must write at least one seminar paper that is interdisciplinary in nature. This paper brings together material from courses taken in philosophy and literature, and may be an honors paper (see below), an individual research paper (developed through independent work with a faculty member), or a paper integrating materials developed for two separate courses (by arrangement with the two instructors). Though it may draw on previous course work, the paper must be an original composition, 18-20 pages in length. It must be submitted to the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and receive approval no later than the end of Winter Quarter in the fourth year of study.

At least two of the courses counted toward requirements 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 must be taught by Comparative Literature faculty. Transfer units may not normally be used to satisfy requirements 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9. Units devoted to acquiring language proficiency are not counted toward the 65-unit requirement.


The honors option offers motivated Comparative Literature majors the opportunity to write a senior honors paper. During Spring Quarter of the junior year, a student interested in the honors program should consult with the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and submit a thesis proposal (2-5 pages), an outline of planned course work for the senior year, and proof of a 3.5 GPA or higher within the student's Comparative Literature course work to date. During this quarter, the student may enroll for 2 units of credit for independent research in COMPLIT 189B to prepare this statement and undertake initial planning for the honors paper. The proposal is reviewed by the honors committee, including the Chair of Undergraduate Studies and the chair of the department.

The Chair of Undergraduate Studies designates a faculty tutor appropriate to the topic and a second reader for approved honors papers.

Students in the honors program enroll in DLCL 189 (5 units) in Autumn Quarter of the senior year to refine the project description and begin research in preparation for composing the honors paper. During Winter Quarter of the senior year, the student enrolls in COMPLIT 189A (5 units), independent study with the faculty tutor, to draft the honors paper.

At the end of the quarter, the student submits a completed draft to the tutor. If approved, two copies are forwarded to the honors committee, which ultimately awards honors. If revisions are advised, the student has until the fifth week of Spring Quarter to submit the final paper. Students who did not enroll in a 189B course in the junior year may enroll in COMPLIT 189B in Spring Quarter of the senior year while revising the thesis, if approved by the thesis adviser. 10-12 units of course work associated with the honors paper (DLCL 189 and COMPLIT 189A and 189B) may be counted toward the 65 units required for the major.

Honors papers vary considerably in length as a function of their topic, historical scope, and methodology. They may make use of previous work developed in seminars and courses, but display an enhanced comparative or theoretical scope. Quality rather than quantity is the key criterion. Typically, however, honors papers are 40-70 pages.

Honors Awards—The two readers of any honors thesis in Comparative Literature may elect to nominate the thesis in question for University-wide awards. In addition, the department honors committee evaluates on a competitive basis the honors theses completed in a given year and nominates one for University-wide awards competitions.

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