Comparative Literature and Society

Administrative Information

Director: Prof. Stathis Gourgouris, 608 Hamilton; 854-9638;

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Associate Prof. Madeleine Dobie, 510 Philosophy; 854-9874;

Assistant Director: Catherine LaSota, B-102 Heyman Center, East Campus; 854-8850;

Program Office: B-101 Heyman Center, East Campus; 854-4541;

Executive Committee on Comparative Literature and Society

Gil Anidjar (Religion; Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies)

Jean Louise Cohen (Political Science)

Victoria de Grazia (History)

Mamadou Diouf (Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies)

Madeleine Dobie (French and Romance Philology)

Brent Hayes Edwards (English, Jazz Studies)

Stathis Gourgouris (Classics, English, and Comparative Literature)

Andreas Huyssen (Germanic Languages)



Reinhold Martin (Architecture)

Rosalind Morris (Anthropology)

Anupama P. Rao (History, Barnard College)

Jesús Rodriguez-Velasco (Latin American and Iberian Cultures)

Joseph R. Slaughter (English)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (University Professor)

Zoë Strother (Art History and Archaeology)

Nadia Urbinati (Political Science)

W.B. Worthen (Theater Arts, Barnard College)

Lydia Liu (East Asian Languages and Civilizations)

Established at Columbia in 1998, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society promotes a global perspective in the study of literature and its social context. Committed to cross-disciplinary study of literary works, the Institute brings together the rich resources of Columbia in the various literatures of the world; in the social sciences; in art history, architecture, and media; and in the medical humanities.

The major program in comparative literature and society allows qualified students to study literature, culture, and society with reference to material from several national traditions, or in combination of literary study with comparative study in other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Under the guidance of the director of undergraduate studies, students select courses offered by participating departments.

The program is designed for students whose interest and expertise in languages other than English permit them to work comparatively in several national or regional cultures. The course of study differs from that of traditional comparative literature programs both in its cross-disciplinary nature and in its expanded geographic range, including not just European, but also Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American cultures. The program includes course work in the social sciences, and several core courses are jointly taught by faculty from different disciplines. Students thus explore a variety of methodological and disciplinary approaches to cultural and literary artifacts in the broadest sense. The cross-disciplinary range of the program includes visual and media studies; law and the humanities; medicine and the humanities; and studies of space, cities, and architecture. As a major or concentration, this program can be said to flow naturally from Columbia’s Core Curriculum, which combines literature, art, philosophy, and social thought, and consistently attracts some of Columbia’s most ambitious and cosmopolitan students.

Students can choose to complete the regular major in comparative literature and society or the track in medicine, literature, and society. Currently the track is not available for the concentration.

Given the wide variety of geographic and disciplinary specializations possible within the major and concentration, students construct their course sequence in close collaboration with the director of undergraduate studies. All students, however, share the experience of taking the course Introduction to Comparative Literature and Society in their sophomore year as well as the required senior seminar in the fall of their last year in the program. The major is designed for students interested in the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural study of texts, traditions, media, and discourses in an increasingly transnational world.

Students planning to apply for admission to the major or concentration should organize their course of study in order to complete the following prerequisites by the end of the sophomore year:

  1. Preparation to undertake advanced work in one foreign language, to be demonstrated by completion of two introduction to literature courses, typically numbered 3333-3350.
  2. Completion of at least four terms of study of a second foreign language or two terms in each of two foreign languages.
  3. Enrollment in CPLS V3900 Introduction to Comparative Literature and Society in the spring semester of the sophomore year.

Information about admission requirements and application to the major or concentration can be found at Students are advised to meet with the director of undergraduate studies before submitting the statement of purpose for the application.

Departmental Honors

To be eligible for departmental honors students must have a minimum grade point average of 3.6 for courses in the major. Departmental honors will be conferred only on students who have submitted a superior senior thesis that clearly demonstrates originality and excellent scholarship. Note that the senior thesis is not required for the major. For information on the honors program, see