Just as, historically speaking, Comparative Literature arose from the emergence of nationalism (borders can’t be crossed if none exist) the field today cannot prosper without strong national literature departments. But for both students and faculty, Comparative Literature appeals to the pervasive desire to transcend the merely national point of view, to engage with great imaginative works of literature from different places and times. Mandating an intense immersion in at least one foreign language and literature, and with courses on literature in translation that seriously engage non-western literature as well as western texts, Comparative Literature provides to its students a serious, sustained understanding of cultures beyond their own, and helps them become better global citizens. Comparative Literature is well situated to study, as no single national literature department can, relationships between literary cultures as they involve influence, encounter, exchange, and translation.
Historically, Comparative Literature’s transnational orientation has made it the home for literary theory, which has transformed the study of literature since the 1960s. For the benefit of all literature majors at Washington University, Comparative Literature therefore offers courses on literary theory at both the undergraduate and graduate level. We also uniquely offer an interdisciplinary major in Comparative Arts, founded on an introductory core course, in which students explore relationships among literature and painting, sculpture, architecture, music, drama, and film.
The Comparative Literature program at Washington University in St. Louis offers a major and minor to undergraduate students as well as a program that focuses on Literature and Ethics. For graduate students there is a Ph.D. program as well as combined Ph.D. programs and certificates.
With two undergraduate majors and several Ph.D. programs, through study abroad opportunities, student conferences and distinguished invited lecturers, Comparative Literature provides a study of literature (and its relationships to other kinds of writing and forms of art) that is theoretically informed and internationally oriented.