Comparative Literature

Ph.D. Track in Comparative Literature

By “comparative,” we mean the analytic crossing of national, linguistic, gender, genre, and class boundaries. Literature is the cultural production that articulates these crossings in written language.

Our doctoral degree program in Comparative Literature has positioned itself at the cutting edge of graduate education in the lettered humanities at Stony Brook since its inception in 1977. Ph.D.s in recent years have landed tenure-track jobs at such institutions as Baruch College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Skidmore College, Clemson University, DePaul University, SOAS University of London...

Full Information on Graduate admissions and M.A. and Ph.D. degree structure can be found in the Department Handbook (available as a PDF).


Core Courses

CLT 501:  Theories of Comparative Literature 

CLT 509:  History of Literary Criticism

CLT 680:  Cultural Studies Research Seminar

CLT/CST 698:  Teaching Practicum

Twelve additional graduate courses, at least three of which must be CLT/CST courses numbered 600 or higher

A minimum of 48 credits of graduate work is required for the Ph.D. Students who hold an M.A. in comparative literature or a related discipline can request that their transcripts be evaluated by the graduate studies committee and may receive a maximum of 30 credits toward their Ph.D.

Language Requirement

Entering graduate students are expected to have a good command of at least one, and preferably two, foreign languages. Candidates for the Ph.D. will eventually demonstrate competence in two or three foreign languages, depending on which of the two options outlined below the student chooses. All language requirements must be met three months before students sit for the comprehensive examination. Non-native speakers of English may choose English (but not their native language) as one of their foreign languages. All students are of course required to demonstrate full command of written and spoken English, the language of instruction in most comparative literature courses.

Comprehensive Examination

Full-time students who are candidates for the Ph.D. will normally take their comprehensive examination no more than one year after completing their course work. Completing the language requirement is a prerequisite for sitting for the examination.

Committee for the Examination:Students will discuss the choice of a chair for their examination committees with their advisors and the director of graduate studies. One CAT faculty member will be asked by the student to serve as chair of the committee. Three more faculty members who can examine the student in one or more areas of the examination, as defined below, will be selected by the student in consultation with the director of graduate studies, the advisor and the chair of the committee. At least three of the four members of the examination committee must be members of the CAT graduate faculty (including affiliates). At least three of the members of the committee must be physically present at the examination.

Reading List:A reading list for all four parts of the examination will be compiled by the student with the help of the examination committee. The definitive version of the reading list, with a cover page bearing signatures of the committee members and indicating who will chair, must be submitted to the graduate studies committee no later than two weeks prior to a meeting of the graduate studies committee. The list must be approved by the faculty members of the graduate studies committee. Students should submit a description of the special area, related to the dissertation, along with the reading list.

Examination: The examination is oral, with the duration to be determined by the members of the committee but not shorter than two hours and not longer than three. Questions posed by examiners will be based on the reading list for the examination. The examination may be passed, passed with distinction, failed, or failed in part. In case of failure, the examination may be retaken once, but no later than the end of the semester following the time when it was initially scheduled. In case of partial failure, the second examination will cover only the area(s) on which the candidate's performance was inadequate.

The Four Parts of the Examination:

1. History of Literary Criticism.Students will be examined on the history and theory of literary criticism, from Classical antiquity to the present. The reading list will be based in part on material covered in CLT 509. Works pertinent to the student's special interests may be added. Part A of this section includes works from Plato to the early twentieth century. Because of the immense variety of theoretical approaches in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Part B will consist of at least three sub-sections, each devoted to specific areas of contemporary literary theory. These areas include but are not limited to Psychoanalysis, Marxism, New Criticism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-colonialism, deconstruction, feminist analysis, queer theory, gender studies, New Historicism, translation theory, science studies, and popular culture studies. The student should obtain the latest version of Ph.D. Reading List for Literary Theory and Criticism available in the Department office or on the web site.

2. A literary genre.Possible options include comedy, novel, short narrative, romance, autobiography, epic, film, essay, or other categories approved by the Graduate Studies Committee. A knowledge of the historical development of the genre will be expected, and the reading list should include, in addition to relevant primary texts, a selection of major critical and theoretical works about the chosen genre (which may include its relation to other forms of expression such as music, art, film and philosophy). The list must include works from at least three language traditions.

3. A period in literary history.Possible options include Classical antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance, baroque and neo-classical, later eighteenth century, romanticism, modernism,

etc. Literary traditions from other cultures may also be included. The student will be expected to know the history and the social and intellectual background of the period and to

demonstrate a knowledge of the major genres produced during that period in at least three language traditions.

4. A special area of a comparative nature,defined as a broad subject related to the student's more specific projected dissertation topic. The student will be expected to have a wide knowledge of the history and scholarship that inform the background of the dissertation project.

For parts 2 to 4 of the comprehensive examination, the reading list submitted must include primary texts in at least two languages other than English. Reading lists in these areas are not intended to be exhaustive, but they should provide coverage of the field that adequately prepares the student to teach courses in the areas of the examination. Guidelines for the preparation of the reading lists can be obtained in the Department. Parts 2 and 3 normally include 35-45 primary texts and 12-15 secondary works.

Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy is granted by the Graduate School upon recommendation of the director of graduate studies after a successful comprehensive examination. Again, all other requirements must have been met before the student sits for the comprehensive examination. Advancement must be 1 year prior to defense.

Students who have passed their Ph.D. oral comprehensive exam will be deemed to have passed the equivalent of the master's exam and be granted a M.A. degree unless they already have a master's degree in comparative literature from another institution.   The student must file appropriate papers with the department.


The dissertation represents the culmination of the student's degree program and should be a serious contribution to scholarship.

Within three months of passing the comprehensive examination, the student must be prepared to schedule the Dissertation Prospectus Review.

As soon as possible, after the Comprehensive Examination, the candidate should choose a dissertation advisor, as well as the two CAT readers of the dissertation. (The reader outside CAT may be chosen nearer to the defense date, at the discretion of the dissertation advisor.) The advisor of the dissertation must be a member of the CAT core faculty (internal per GS). Affiliates may co-advise dissertations with a core faculty member. In consultation with the dissertation advisor and the readers, the candidate drafts a dissertation proposal.

The dissertation proposal, which must be appropriate to comparative literature, should be between 2000 and 3500 words, not counting footnotes or bibliography, and should include the following: 

  • Title of the dissertation;
  • Description of the topic and its appropriateness for comparative literature in focus and method;
  • The rationale behind the choice of topic, and the anticipated contribution of the proposed research to knowledge;
  • A discussion of the argument your dissertation will advance;
  • Current state of research on the topic and a basic bibliography;
  • Method of work, including the general approach (e.g., historical, generic, thematic, structural) and an outline of chapters.

When the advisor and readers have approved the proposal, the student and the advisor will schedule a Dissertation Prospectus Review to be attended by the student, the advisor, and all other members of the dissertation committee. Faculty and/or graduate students may be invited to the review at the discretion of the student. The review should be no less than one hour in length. The advisor, the readers, and others in attendance will discuss the proposal with the student in order to insure that the student is ready to proceed in the project. When the advisor and the readers agree that the student is ready, they will sign off on the proposal and submit it to the director of Graduate Studies. The candidate then proceeds to the dissertation.

 Guidelines for Dissertation Prospectus Review

Cover sheet for Dissertation Propsectus

  • The student will circulate her or his proposal to all members of the committee three weeks prior to the review.
  • The student will begin the review with a summary of the project in less than five minutes. She or he should clearly communicate the core thesis of the prospective dissertation.
  • The members of the committee will then ask questions and make suggestions.
  • The student should take notes during the meeting and make sure that she or he understands what the committee is suggesting.
  • At the end of the meeting, the student will be asked to leave the room so that the members of the committee can discuss whether or not they are ready to sign off on the proposal. If the members of the committee are satisfied that the student is prepared to begin writing the dissertation, they will sign off on the document and send it to the DGS.
  • In some cases the committee may decide not to sign and request a revised proposal. If the members of the committee are satisfied with the revised proposal, there is no need for a second dissertation prospectus review. In some cases, however, the committee may decide that a second review is necessary.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

Although there are no strict regulations on length, dissertations will normally be between 200 and 400 pages, not including bibliography and other supplemental material. The dissertation committee may, in special cases and with justification, allow a student to submit a shorter or longer dissertation. 

When the dissertation has been completed in accordance with guidelines published in Guide to the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations, legible copies of the complete dissertation must be given to all committee members at least one month in advance of the scheduled defense.

The students must submit a final list of their Dissertation Committee members at least one month prior to their defense.  The student will need to identify the Dissertation Advisor and the faculty member who will Chair the defense.  

All dissertation defenses shall take place on campus and require the full attendance of the dissertation examining committee. Any exceptions from this practice will require approval from the Dean of the Graduate School. Campus Audio/Video Services can be employed in the event that either a committee member or the defending student cannot be on the premises due to extenuating circumstances. While the examining committee may wish to hold the committee examination of the defense in private, the public presentation of the defense will be open to the university community and should be advertised campus-wide three weeks prior to the scheduled date.

A minimum of three weeks prior to the dissertation defense, the dissertation abstract, approved by the student’s advisor and director of graduate studies, must be submitted to the Graduate School with details of the time and location for the defense. The Graduate School will be responsible for advertising the defense to the university community.

The dissertation examining committee will set up the ground rules for the defense, which usually involves the student giving a short précis of the research problem, the research method, and the results. This is followed by questions from the Committee and, if the committee so desires, from the audience.

 "For general information on Stony Brook University's graduate programs, go to the Graduate Bulletin" Graduate Bulletin

Teaching Assistantships

For Ph.D. students awarded teaching assistantships, four years of full support is the department's norm. Awards are renewable annually, provided the student maintains satisfactory academic progress towards the degree and performs teaching duties appropriately (see below, Satisfactory Progress). Students (other than Turner fellows) should not count on assistantship resources beyond the fourth year of study.

During their first year, Ph.D. students will normally be placed as teaching assistants in CAT lecture courses. During their second and third years, students will most commonly teach as instructors in the Writing Program or in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, and during their fourth year, as independent instructors of CAT courses. Admitted students who would prefer a Writing Program or AAAS placement during their first year should notify the Department immediately upon admission into the Ph.D. program. While placements will vary according to student and program needs and constraints, every effort will be made to provide each student with the available range of teaching experiences.

Graduate students in Cultural Analysis & Theory have the opportunity to teach a wide variety of courses. Their teaching obligation may be fulfilled in several ways depending on departmental needs:

  1. Assisting an instructor in a large lecture course;
  2. Teaching a small section of a literature course under the supervision of the CAT faculty;
  3. Participating in the basic language course in a foreign language department or in a composition course in the English department.
  4. T.A. assignments differ, but the amount of work required cannot exceed 20 hours per week.

T.A.s will usually:          

  1. Hold office hours to review course materials, assist in grading, and discuss other course-related issues with undergraduates;
  2. Attend classes (graduate courses will be scheduled to minimize interference with T.A. assignments) and read all required entries on the syllabus;
  3. Lead discussion groups;
  4. Grade exams, homework, and other written material.

The performance of teaching assistants is monitored by evaluation forms given to undergraduate students at the end of each semester, as well as by faculty members who visit certain classes taught by the T.A. and submit a written evaluation. Stipends of teaching assistants may be terminated if (on the basis of these evaluations and other relevant criteria) the graduate studies committee judges that they have been deficient in carrying out their teaching duties. Superior work as a T.A. is highly valued by the CAT faculty and by the Graduate School. In the past, several T.A’.s from CAT have won the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student. This and other prizes for which T.A.’s are eligible carry a cash award.

Advisor and Mentor

The Graduate School requires all students to have an advisor. The director of cultural studies serves as advisor to all entering students during their first year and helps them plan their programs. Before the end of the first academic year, full-time students should choose one official graduate advisor from the Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies graduate faculty. Advisor and student meet regularly to discuss the student's progress and program. Advisors are normally chosen for one year, but students are, of course, free to change advisors and are encouraged to consult with all members of the faculty.

Incoming students are also urged to choose a faculty member to serve as a mentor who can meet with the student to discuss a variety of concerns not necessarily involving course work.

Residence Requirement

The University requires that students receiving a Ph.D. must take at least two consecutive semesters of full-time graduate study. For those entering without prior graduate study or with fewer than 24 graduate credits, this usually means 12 credits per semester; for those entering with more than 24 graduate credits or with advanced standing provided by prior graduate work, this would mean 9 credits per semester.



For detailed information click here
CAT Colloquium Series
Graduate Colloquia will take place on September 24, 2014 in the Humanities Institute - 1:00 - 2:20 p.m.

Liz Montegary - "Does It Run in the Family?": Health, Security, and the Future of LGBT Politics.

Michelle Ho - Tracing Triple Axels: Race, Femininities, and Japan's Women Figure Skaters.

November 5th - Details to follow

Fall 2014 CAT Graduate Conference

Topic: Endings
Date: Friday, November 21, 2014 Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: Stony Brook Manhattan 


Co-Sponsored Events

September 18 - 20, 2014 -"Global Women’s Cinema Conference"   

September 23, 2014 - Poet, essayist and critic Vijay Seshadri, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

October 22, 2014 -Provost’s Lecture Series -Ruth Bottigheimer "Fairy Tales and City Life: Literature and Society,Generic Shifts and Worldview Changes"           


For detailed information click here


New MA/PhD in Women's and Gender Studies

The Department is pleased to announce that the new MA/PhD program in Women's and Gender Studies has received official certification.  "Click here for more information"


Raiford Guins "Punk archaeologists" explain that they went looking for more than just video-game cartridges in a New Mexico landfill.  

Nancy Hiemstra has been selected to receive the 2014 Graduate and Faculty Research Program in the Arts, Humanities and Lettered Social Sciences.

Robert Harvey has been appointed to the rank of Distinguished Professor.

Izabela Kalinowska-Blackwood is curating a film series at the IWM in Vienna.


Beth Tsai has been selected to receive the 2014 Graduate and Faculty Research Program in the Arts, Humanities and Lettered Social Sciences.

Kudos Newsletter 

July 2014

The Humanities Institute

Cultural Analysis and Theory • Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5355 • Phone: 631.632.7460 • Fax: 631.632.5707
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