The Major Track in Comparative Literature and Society (CLS) allows qualified students to pursue the study of literature, culture, and society with reference to material from several national traditions, or in a 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 the various participating departments.

The major is innovatively 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 of the program’s core courses are jointly taught by faculty from different disciplines. Students will 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; the law and the humanities; and studies of space, cities, and architecture. As a major, the program in comparative literature and society can be said to flow naturally from Columbia’s Core Curriculum, and invariably attracts some of Columbia’s most ambitious and cosmopolitan students. Our ICLS students consistently graduate in the top 25% of Columbia College.

Given the wide variety of geographic and disciplinary specializations possible within the major, students construct their course sequence in close collaboration with the director of undergraduate studies. But all students share the experience of the “Introduction to Comparative Literature and Society” seminar in their sophomore year as well as that of the required senior seminar. 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.

Please note that the following requirements are currently under review. Please check regularly this year with ICLS to ensure that you are aware of any possible changes.

The requirements for the major in Comparative Literature and Society (CLS) consist of a total of 42 points, or fourteen advanced courses in comparative literature and society. This means that one course (but only one) may be used to satisfy two of the requirements listed under 2-6 below. Please note that language courses taken to fulfill the application requirements do not count toward the major. In the description below, “affiliated disciplines” refers to the humanities (except the language and literature departments), the social sciences (History, Anthropology, Political Science, etc.), law, and architecture.

  • Introduction to ICLS (CPLS V3900), normally taken in the spring of the sophomore year
  • Two courses with a CPLS designator, or courses designated as comparative in nature by the various language and literature departments (i.e., CL– courses)
  • Two seminars (discussion-driven courses at the 3000 or 4000 level) chosen from among the affiliated disciplines
  • Two courses requiring readings in a language other than English, preferably conducted in the target language and for which written assignments are composed in the language as well
  • Two to Three courses in a single national or regional literature and/or culture, chosen from any discipline or school
  • Two to Four courses in literature or any of the affiliated disciplines and related to the student’s historical or thematic focus. The focus is a period, theme, problematic, movement, etc., that is explored from an interdisciplinary and/or a comparative perspective.
  • Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature and Society (CPLS V3991) Note, only offered in the Fall semester most years. 
  • Senior thesis (optional)

Students should consult frequently with the DUS to ensure that their program of study develops in consonance with the intellectual project described in the focus statement that was presented as part of the admissions process. The faculty understands that this statement is itself a work in progress, but also that it serves as a useful guide to the student’s academic pursuits and course selection.

Comparative Literature and Society majors should also consider the Barnard College course offerings in Comparative Literature. They are also strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the opportunity to study abroad.