The Major 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.

Requirements for the Major

The major in Comparative Literature and Society consists of a minimum of 33 points or 11 courses, distributed as follows. Courses taken to fulfill the application requirements do not count toward the major. With the exception of courses taken to satisfy the global core requirement, double counting of courses to the CPLS major and another program or university requirement must be approved by the DUS

  1. Introduction to ICLS (CPLS V3900), taken in the spring of the sophomore year (3 points)
  1. Two courses with a CPLS designator. CLXX courses, i.e. courses cross-listed between ICLS and other departments, may also be counted toward this requirement (6-8 points)
  1. Two seminars in a humanities or social science discipline other than literature (e.g. Architecture, Anthropology, Art History, Economics, Gender & Sexuality Studies, History, Law, Linguistics, Music, Political Science, Race & Ethnicity Studies, Sociology…). The two courses must be grounded in the same disciplinary approach but don’t have to be offered by the same department or program (6-8 points)
  1. Two courses requiring readings in a language other than English. (The two courses don’t have to be in the same foreign language) (6-8 points)
  1. Two courses focusing on a specific national or regional literature or culture, chosen from any discipline (The two courses should focus on the same nation/region) (6-8 points)
  1. One elective course reflecting the student’s intellectual interests. Additional foreign language study may also be counted with DUS approval (6-8 points)
  1. Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature and Society (CPLS V3991)

The senior seminar is taken in fall semester of the senior year. Students  explore three areas of contemporary reflection in the field of comparative literature and society. Topics change yearly and are aligned with current ICLS research projects. Recent examples include: Bandung Humanism; Global Language Justice; A Safer Online Public Square

  1. (Optional) Senior Thesis (CPLS 3995) (3 points)

Students sign up for thesis credits (CPLS 3995) in the spring semester of the senior year but should begin to prepare in the fall semester. They work with an adviser from the Columbia/Barnard faculty who oversees the project and assigns the final grade. The DUS of ICLS is the second reader for all projects. The thesis must be a minimum of 35 pages double-spaced and must include footnotes and a bibliography. Translations, creative work and multi-media projects can be submitted with the prior approval of the DUS. These must be accompanied by an introduction that situates the project intellectually. The thesis should be written in English unless a student receives permission from the DUS to write in another language. Note that the completed thesis is submitted before the end of the spring semester, usually by April 15. The thesis is considered as a 3-point course. It may be counted toward a student’s electives (requirement h) or, with the permission of the DUS, toward another requirement

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.