The Major

Overview

Comparative Literary Studies is the interdisciplinary study of global literatures and cultures. Our majors and minors study literature and the arts by reading expansively and pursuing research across linguistic, national, and historical divisions. Building on the pluralistic viewpoint gained through comparative knowledge of more than one linguistic tradition, students also study culture beyond literature, learning about the forms, practices, and circulation of media, music, and the visual arts. Our program places emphasis on a worldwide literary perspective: in addition to Classical, European, and Anglo-American traditions, students have excellent opportunities to engage with the literatures of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Comp Lit students gain special knowledge of literary and critical theories that enable the interpretive care needed to study literature from around the world, and from different historical moments. 

The Major in CLS provides students with a broad understanding of literature, beyond the confines of a single national tradition. By studying the literatures of at least two cultural traditions (the first one being normally the literature written in the student’s native tongue, the second a literature written in a “foreign” language) students become aware of cultural differences and begin to reflect on the causes for these differences. Students are encouraged not to limit themselves to the Euro-American traditions but to explore also the literatures of the rest of the world.

Please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Professor Tristram Wolff, to set up an appointment to declare the major: triswolff@northwestern.edu 

Major Requirements (14 units)

(Download the Major Requirements Worksheet to plan out your courses and track your progress)

  • 3 core COMP LIT courses chosen from 200, 201, 202, 205, 206, 207/PHIL 220, 211
  • 2 courses in student’s first literature of which one is at the 300 level
  • 2 courses in student’s second literature taught in the original language, of which at least one is at an advanced level (typically 300 level).
    • This requirement may be modified with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies if the relevant department or program does not offer courses at that level. Students whose first literature is other than English can fulfill the requirement for second literature by taking two courses in English or American literature, at least one of which is at the 300 level.
  • 1 course in a non-Western literature (either in translation or in the original)
  • 2 COMP LIT courses at the 300 level
  • 1 COMP LIT 398 Senior Seminar
    • The senior seminar focuses on the writing of a substantial senior paper (often on the basis of a previous paper, written for another course). Students should determine the topic of their senior paper by the end of their junior year. The senior paper involves either the study of literary texts from different traditions or the study of of literature in its relation to other media, arts or disciplines. It is often in the student’s area of concentration and often involves the student’s first and/or second literature.
  • 3 courses in an area of concentration of which one is a CLS course that serves as a gateway to the concentration.
    • Concentration should be chosen by spring of junior year, in consultation with the DUS.

Examples of individual concentrations:

  • Literature and Media: COMP LIT 202 or COMP LIT 206 plus 2 courses on media (in R/TV/F or in any of the literature departments)
  • Critical Theory: COMP LIT 202 or COMP LIT 207/PHIL 220 plus 2 courses in theory (in CLS, other literature departments, or Political Science courses in political theory)
  • Literature and Philosophy: COMP LIT 207/PHIL 220 plus 2 relevant courses in the Philosophy department
  • Literature and the Arts: COMP LIT 375 plus 2 courses in music, art history, or theater and performance
  • Translation Studies: COMP LIT 311 plus 2 courses dealing with the practice of translation or issues related to translation (in CLS or other departments)
  • Advanced Comparative Literature: Students can fulfill the concentration requirement by taking 3 additional 300 level courses in their first or second literature, or in CLS, or in any mix thereof
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Literature: COMP LIT 205 plus 2 courses on the representation of gender in literature and film from gender and sexuality studies or any literature department

*Students can create other areas of concentration in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Double Major

Many CLS majors are double majors, pursuing a program of study in one of the foreign languages, English, philosophy, political science, and other disciplines. CLS majors who are double majors can count up to 2 courses in their other major towards the major in CLS.

Honors

CLS students may choose to pursue honors in the major. Students begin working on the honors thesis during the Senior Seminar (fall quarter of senior year). The senior paper written in the Senior Seminar serves as the first draft of the honors thesis. Honors students sign up for 1 unit of COMP_LIT 399 – Independent Study with the thesis advisor (preferably taken during Winter quarter). *The 399 course does not count towards the 14 courses required for the major.  

Students formulate a topic for their honors thesis and identify an advisor by the end of their junior year and in consultation with the DUS in CLS. Like the senior paper, the honors thesis involves either the study of literary texts from different traditions or the study of literature in its relation to other media, arts or disciplines.

The honors thesis is typically 25-30 pages in length and is due around the second week of May.

Recommendation for Honors:

The CLS Undergraduate Honors Committee (comprised of 5-6 CLS faculty members and the CLS Director) recommends students for honors, and their recommendation is subject to approval by the Weinberg College Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence. The CLS Honors Committee uses the following criteria for the recommendation for or against honors:

  • Successful completion of an honors thesis, which the student has worked on closely with the faculty advisor. The thesis is evaluated by the faculty advisor and one member of the CLS Undergraduate Honors Committee. The CLS Honors Committee makes its decision based on these evaluations.
  • 3.3 GPA or above in the CLS major
  • 3.5 GPA or above overall*

*Exceptions can be made to the GPA requirements if the thesis is judged to be of high quality.
**Because the CLS Director sits on the CLS Honors Committee, the committee’s decision for or against honors is final.

If the department recommends honors, this recommendation is forwarded to the Weinberg College Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence. Please visit the Weinberg College Honors Procedures page for more information.

Study Abroad

The Program in Comparative Literary Studies encourages all majors who qualify to consider study abroad during their junior year. Students can count courses taken abroad for the requirements in the first literature, the second literature, or area of concentration. Learn more about study abroad, what you should prepare before you leave and when you return, and the transfer credit process.