The Comparative Literary Studies (CLS) Program is an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary program for the study of literature across national and linguistic lines. Those who work in the field of comparative literature are committed to the proposition that language is not an indifferent medium of expression but an integral dimension of every expressive act. Drawing on faculty from the various literature departments as well as from other disciplines (such as art history, film studies, music, and philosophy), the CLS program reflects the belief that literary texts can best be understood within the context of diverse literary traditions and other cultural phenomena. CLS encourages students not only to read and interpret works of literature but also to reflect on the assumptions, methods, and goals that shape literary and other humanistic studies.
In contrast to literature departments in which students trace the development of one literature in a particular culture over a specific time period, CLS juxtaposes literatures of different cultures and epochs in a variety of ways. Comparative literature studies the themes, conventions, and movements shared by distinct literary traditions as well as the features that differentiate them. Though the field has traditionally dealt with the canonical texts of Western literature, Northwestern’s CLS program strongly encourages students to explore literatures outside the European and American canon (especially those of Africa and Asia) as well as expand the Western canon to include the literatures of excluded or marginalized groups.
CLS students also examine literary theories and critical approaches to literature. In considering texts ranging from the classics of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations to contemporary critical theory, students not only learn to understand specific literary works but also to raise questions about their relations to other forms of discourse (e.g., historical, scientific, and philosophical) and about the nature of literature itself. To this end, the CLS program emphasizes both the study of various types of specifically literary theory (such as structuralist, poststructuralist, psychoanalytic, sociopolitical, and New Historical) and the examination of the theoretical and methodological concerns of other disciplines (such as anthropology, history, philosophy, gender studies, and sociology).
Finally, comparative literary studies considers literary texts in relation to other forms of creative production. The relationship of literature to other arts such as music, the fine arts, and new media is an important focus of interest in many comparative literature courses, and students of comparative literary studies are also encouraged to take courses in other fields and disciplines.