PhD in Comparative Literature

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Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota has the distinction of being the first department to introduce continental European as well as Latin American and other non-European cultural and theoretical writings to English-speaking readers in the United States and abroad. Under the auspices of the University of Minnesota Press, our department launched the Theory and History of Literature series (1981–1998). We changed the landscape of comparative literary study via critical editions and translated writings of major figures such as Tzvetan Todorov, Vladimir Propp, Mikhail Bakhtin, Hélène Cixous, José Antonio Maravall, Malek Alloula, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Theodor W. Adorno (among others).

Today the department is a preeminent site for integrating conceptual, historical, literary, and philosophical scholarship. We engage literature, culture, and thought across Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Our PhD program in comparative literature emphasizes the importance of reading tradition against the grain—of national boundaries, textual practices, and intellectual production in the humanities. We conceive literature broadly—as a field of interrelation between word, image, and sound—and comparatism as a polycentric enterprise. Over the years, graduates of our program have been very successful at carrying forward our department’s critical comparatism and signature stress on word, image, and sound in their own scholarship. (View our recent dissertations and job placement and achievements.) Our faculty teach seminars that explore a wide range of literary and cultural problems, embedding the understanding of texts within their material and discursive conditions of possibility. We regard comparatism as the heart and soul of cross-cultural inquiry and understanding and encourage students to pursue interdisciplinary projects that are at the same time disciplined and critical. 

Our PhD program admits a small cohort of students each year; we foster a close-knit and collaborative research and teaching community. As a graduate student in our program, you will work closely with departmental faculty (as well as affiliated faculty from across the university) who are committed to grasping the complexity and diversity of our contemporary world via engagements with forms of aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical expression from across the global North and South.

Our curriculum emphasizes seminars and independent studies that explore:

  • Conceptual thought from a variety of perspectives—such as literary theory, feminist approaches, gender and sexuality studies, Marxism, psychoanalytic criticism, empire studies and postcolonial theory, critical translation studies, semiotic theory, intellectual history, visuality, and the sociology of literature and culture
  • The politics and practices of comparatism
  • Archival methods
  • The analysis of form
  • Disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity
  • Historiography
  • Translation and the circulation of intelligibility
  • Geopolitics


Proficiency in two languages (other than English) is required for the degree. Students whose first language is not English may waive one of the two required languages; no other waivers are possible. For more information, see the Graduate Language Examination Policies.

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