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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Ph.D. in Comparative Literature

Ph.D. Program in Comparative Literature

Ph.D. Program

Although every student's degree program is planned on an individual basis, certain general requirements must be met. The doctoral student in Comparative Literature should expect to spend at least three years of study beyond the Master's level. A Doctoral Program consists of five phases: admission to candidacy, foreign language requirements, course requirements, comprehensive examination, dissertation and dissertation defense.
A. Ph.D. Candidacy
1. Examination

The student will be required to take a Ph.D. qualifying examination. This will be a three hour exam in two equal parts: an essay on literary theory and an explication of a passage in the student's first foreign literature. Part one of the exam consists of questions set by the faculty members who taught CPLT 701, 702, and 703 respectively, for a total of three questions.  The examinee selects only one of these questions and writes a 1.5 hour response. Part Two of the exam is an analysis of a literary text in the language of the student's first foreign literature. The text should be short - either a poem or an extract of a prose piece. The question posed may be general or more specific, but should in any case be directed towards establishing the student's ability to understand the language, rather than applying sophisticated theoretical models to the analysis. The analysis may be written in English. This exam will normally be taken after the third semester. Retakes must be attempted the same semester. Only one retake is permitted. Failure a second time normally results in denial of admission to candidacy. Visit this page for information on forthcoming exam times and locations.


2. Course Work

At the time of their qualifying examination students should have completed the core theory sequence:

1. CPLT 701 Classics of Western Literary Theory
2. CPLT 702 Modern Literary Theory
3. CPLT 703 Topics in Contemporary Literary Theory

3. Foreign Language

The student must demonstrate advanced knowledge of one foreign language. Students who do not have the M.A. in their first literature will be expected to demonstrate oral proficiency in the language (if modern) of that literature by the beginning of the second semester. Students who are unable to do so will draw up a program of remediation with the Graduate Director (which may be facilitated by one of the many intensive language programs on campus).

4. Admission to Candidacy

The CPLT Committee, consisting of the CPLT program director, graduate advisor, and the Graduate Director of LLC, bases its recommendation on the student's performance with regard to language proficiency, the qualifying examination, and course work.

B. Ph.D. Foreign Language Requirement

The student must develop advanced knowledge of at least two foreign languages before he or she takes the comprehensive examination.

C. Ph.D. Course Requirements
1. Comparative Literature : 5 graduate courses -- 15 credits
a. CPLT 701 Classics of Western Literary Theory
b. CPLT 702 Modern Literary Theory
c. CPLT 703 Topics in Contemporary Literary Theory
d. Two more CPLT Graduate courses.
e.FORL776, Basic theoretical principles of foreign language teaching in college, required of all graduate teaching assistants. Those who can prove pedagogical experience in teaching by having taken a similar course during their MA training, may take another seminar at the 700 level.

2. Primary Literature : 6 graduate courses -- 18 credits
3. Second Literature : 4 graduate courses -- 12 credits

4. Third Literature : 2 graduate courses -- 6 credits

With the approval of their dissertation committee and the graduate director, students may substitute two graduate courses in an outside area for their third literature. In general, these courses will not be crosslisted with comparative literature.

Course work from a Master's Degree may be applied to the Ph.D. course requirements. Additional course work is planned and assigned according to individual needs and interests through consultation of the student and the dissertation committee.

The Doctoral Program

The student's doctoral program must be approved by the dissertation committee and by the graduate director.

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D. Comprehensive Examination

Comprehensive examinations are held in January together with all the other LLC graduate exams. Ph.D. examinees may opt to spread their six-hour exam over two days. Go here for dates and locations of forthcoming exams.

Students must form their examination committee by August 31 of the Fall semester prior to taking the comprehensive examination. This includes filing the requisite examination committee form with the graduate school (forms are available online). The student selects the examination committee which must have at least four members who may be identical to the dissertation committee, but not necessarily. One member must be from outside Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and not be a member of CPLT core faculty. The committee chair must be a member of the CPLT core faculty.

The comprehensive examinations will consist of three two-hour written exams on each of three reading lists that students will draw up in conjunction with their committees, followed by a one hour oral exam. Students whose first literature is not English will write one of their essays in the language of that literature.

The three reading lists will be drawn up by October 15 of the Fall semester prior to taking the comprehensive exam. Reading lists need to be formatted according to a recognized stylesheet (MLA, Chicago, etc.) must be approved by the examination committee, and must be distributed to the entire committee, the graduate advisor, and the graduate director by the October 15 deadline. There will be one list on theory, one list on the topic of the dissertation, and one list on an additional area of expertise that transcends genre and period.

Ideally all four committee members each write one question for each of the three areas, thus producing a choice of four questions per area, so that no one committee member has a monopoly on an area. In practice, insufficient expertise in certain areas makes this policy difficult to realize, so committee members normally write questions for any and all areas on which they have competence. This means that some members will end up writing the bulk of the questions for certain areas. Nevertheless, candidates still need a reasonable choice of questions. All four committee members read all three essays, but clearly those with the expertise will have the lead on evaluating the responses.

A candidate who fails the written portion a second time may not take the oral portion and is eliminated from candidacy. A student must pass the written portion before taking the oral.

The oral examination may deal with any of the areas of the student's concentration and may include a review of written work. The oral portion may be repeated only once.

The student has not successfully completed the comprehensive examination until he or she has passed both the written and oral portions.

E. Dissertation

The final phase of the student's program centers on the dissertation. Suitable projects include studies in parallels, influences, themes, critical theory, and international bibliography. Critical dissertations must be comparative. The dissertation must receive the approval of the student's committee and of the graduate director.


To begin with, students should consult the graduate advisor about their program of work. After the dissertation committee is approved, the student refers to the committee for advice.

Students will produce a dissertation prospectus that should be 10-20 pp long (7 pp text + 7 pp bibliography). It should be written after successfully completing the comprehensive exams in the beginning of the semester and defended before the student's dissertation committee by the end of the semester. The prospectus must be approved by the committee before the student starts writing.



Composition of the Dissertation Committee

The student selects the dissertation committee of at least four members as he or she applies for candidacy. The faculty members who administer the candidacy examination may be included on the dissertation committee, but not necessarily. One member must be from outside Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and not be a member of CPLT core faculty.

The dissertation director must be a member of the CPLT core faculty.

If a student wishes to change his or her dissertation director or directors, the student and the outgoing dissertation director or directors should submit a letter of explanation to the Graduate Director of the Department of Languages Literatures and Cultures. These letters will be shared with the new director or directors. The student must then defend their dissertation prospectus with the newly constituted committee within thirty days of its appointment. A dissertation committee form (available online at the Graduate School website) must be filed and amended as needed.

Defending the Dissertation:

The completed dissertation must be successfully defended before the student¹s dissertation committee as stipulated by the graduate school. Students must distribute the complete dissertation to their committee, as approved by their director or directors, at least thirty days prior to their defense.