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).

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in Comparative Literature

In addition to the minimum requirements of the Graduate School, the following are required:

A. Course Requirements

  1. CLT 501: Theories of Comparative Literature
  2. CLT 509: History of Literary Criticism
  3. CLT 680: Comparative Literature & Cultural Studies Research Seminar
  4. CLT/CST 698: Teaching Practicum
  5. Twelve additional graduate courses, at least three of which must be CLT/CST/WST 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.

All students seeking the Ph.D. must take the required courses listed above, unless the graduate program committee accepts comparable courses taken previously. All Ph.D. students must acquire a minimum of one semester of formal teaching experience (even if they are unsupported or are on a fellowship requiring no teaching duties) and must concurrently take the formal teaching practicum, CLT 698.

In their first year students will take the Teaching Practicum CLT 698. The Practicum will include information about Stony Brook undergraduate requirements and the various undergraduate programs administered by CAT, data on Stony Brook undergraduates,analyses of practical pedagogical issues, consideration of the aims of education and the social role of the university, and teaching observations. The Practicum also provides students with the opportunity to develop a syllabus for an undergraduate course. The Practicum meets roughly every two weeks during both semesters of the first year. The Practicum Director serves as an advisor to first year students, prior to their selection of individual faculty advisors in the second semester.

Students must take the required courses when they are offered, and cannot replace them by Independent Study course CLT 599, except in the most unusual circumstances and by petition to the director of graduate studies at the beginning of the term the course is offered. The petition has to be signed by the person directing the Independent Study and must be approved by the graduate studies committee.

Students taking any Independent Study or Directed Reading course will do so under the departmental rubrics, CLT 599 and CLT 690. Under exceptional circumstances, the director of graduate studies may approve Independent Study under another department's designator, contingent on proper comparative literature procedures being followed. A maximum of six credits of CLT 599 Independent Study courses, is applicable to the degree requirements for the Ph.D. All such courses must be approved by the director of graduate studies before the end of the add/drop period of the semester during which they are to be taken. All students taking Independent Study or Directed Reading courses must file a detailed description, for which forms are available in the Department office. Failure to have these courses approved in a timely fashion will result in de-registration or in denial of credit for the courses.

B. First-Year Evaluation

In the middle of the student’s second semester of graduate work, the director of graduate studies prepares a file for the student’s first-year evaluation. It consists of: 1) the student’s grades, 2) letters from the professor in all of the student’s classes, and, if the student is a teaching assistant, 3) a letter of evaluation from appropriate faculty, and 4) student evaluations. Students may submit any other relevant material such as a seminar paper or original essay. The graduate studies committee will evaluate the dossier and decide whether the student should be encouraged to continue in the program.

In May of the second year, and each year following, the student will complete a report on progress in the program, including specific progress towards degree (coursework, qualifying exams, dissertation prospectus, and dissertation) and other achievements (funding, research, presentations, publications). They will then meet with the director of graduate studies or dissertation advisor to discuss their progress in the program. The graduate studies committee will evaluate the report and decide whether the student should be encouraged to continue in the program.

C. Satisfactory Progress Toward the Ph.D.

In addition to requirements above, Ph.D. students must fulfill the following requirements:

1. Maintain at least a 3.5 average, with no course below B-, in each semester of graduate study. There is a one year maximum limit on incompletes. A student may accumulate no more than two incomplete grades in any one semester or he/she will no longer be considered a Student in Good Standing, a prerequisite to continue in the program. As a result, the student will lose his or her T.A. line as well as face likely dismissal from the program;

2. Receive a satisfactory first-year evaluation in the spring semester of the first year of study;

3. Satisfy at least one language requirement in each year of residence until all language requirements are met. All language requirements must be completed at least three months before the comprehensive examination;

4. Complete all core courses in the first two years of full-time study and all 48 credits for the Ph.D. in three years;

5. Take the comprehensive examination no later than one year after completion of coursework;

6. Submit a dissertation prospectus in the semester following satisfactory completion of the comprehensive examination.

By rules of the Graduate School, students must satisfy all requirements for the Ph.D. within seven years after completing 24 credits of graduate work in the Stony Brook department in which they are registered. In rare instances, the Graduate School will entertain a petition to extend this time limit, provided it bears the endorsement of the department. The program may require evidence that the student is still properly prepared for completion of the degree. In particular, the student may be required to pass the comprehensive examination again in order to be permitted to continue work.

D. Foreign Language Requirements

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.

Whenever possible, language exams for comparative literature students will be given by core or affiliated faculty in CAT. Each exam will be read by two faculty members.

The options for fulfilling the language requirement are as follows:

Option A: The student offers two principal foreign languages. A principal language is defined by the student's demonstrating a high degree of competence in the language, i.e., the ability to understand lectures given in the language and to read it with facility.

Students may demonstrate this degree of competence by taking for credit, and by earning a grade of B or better in at least one graduate or advance undergraduate course in the lettered humanities conducted in the language. This course must have been taken within five years of matriculating to Stony Brook and must have been taken at an accredited University. Final papers may be written in English. In special cases, students may substitute an advanced language examination of three hours in lieu of course work.

The examination consists of three sections: a) oral comprehension, defined as the ability to understand and summarize in English the contents of two graduate level lectures conducted in the foreign language; b) written comprehension, defined as the ability to understand and answer questions on a moderately long (approximately ten pages) theoretical, critical, or scholarly article; c) translation skills, shown through translating into English an advanced-level literary passage. The student is permitted to use a dictionary for part c but not for part b. If the principal foreign language being examined is a Classical language (e.g., Classical Chinese, Sanskrit, Greek), the three-hour test will consist of translations at an appropriately advanced level.

Option B: The student offers one principal language and two secondary languages. Demonstration and competence in the principal language will be the same as outlined for Option A.

Competence in the secondary languages can be demonstrated in either of the following ways:

1. By earning a grade of B or better in a graduate translation course taught by one of the foreign language departments at Stony Brook. Credits for a graduate translation course do not count toward the total credits required for the Master's or the Ph.D. degree in Comparative Literature.

2.   By passing a departmental examination consisting of two parts, each one hour long, to be taken with a dictionary: a) a short theoretical, critical, or scholarly article that the student   is required to summarize and discuss in English; b) a translation of a short literary prose passage of medium difficulty.

E. Comprehensive Examination

Comprehensive Examination in Comparative Literature

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 parts enumerated below will be compiled by the student with the helpof the examination committee. The student’s examination committee will review and approve the exam lists before the student submits the signature sheet to the Director of Graduate Studies for final pre-examination review of requirements. 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 Comparative Literature comprehensive examination will consist of four parts:

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 at

  1.  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, 3, and 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.

F. 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.

G. Dissertation

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 director, 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 director.) The director of the dissertation must be a member of the CAT core faculty. Affiliates may co-direct dissertations with a core faculty member. In consultation with the dissertation director and the readers, the candidate drafts a dissertation prospectus

The dissertation prospectus, which must be appropriate to comparative literature, should be between 2,000 and 3,500 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 director and readers have approved the prospectus, the student and the director will schedule a Dissertation Prospectus Review to be attended by the student, the director, 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 director, the readers, and others in attendance will discuss the prospectus with the student in order to insure that the student is ready to proceed in the project. When the director and the readers agree that the student is ready, they will sign off on the prospectus 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 Prospectus

  • The student will circulate her or his prospectus 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 prospectus. 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 prospectus. If the members of the committee are satisfied with the revised prospectus, there is no need for a second dissertation prospectus review. In some cases, however, the committee may decide that a second review is necessary.

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.

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/Visual 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 Doctoral Defense Announcement form is available on the Graduate School Web site.  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.

H. 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 above, 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 Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies 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.

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.

I.   Advisor and Mentor

The Graduate School requires all students to have an advisor. The director of graduate 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, or preferably two, official graduate advisors from the CAT 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.

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


For detailed information click here

Spring 2016


CAT Graduate Colloquium

Wednesday, March 23rd, from 1:00 - 2:20 in Frey Hall 105.

Our speakers include: 

Kathryn Silverstein, "Crime, Time, and the Corporeal in Julia Kristeva's Possessions"

Mark Pingree, "Cosmic Pessimism: Catastrophe, Trauma and Extinction"

Shruti Mukherjee, "Activism during Siege: Rise of Hindu Nationalist Right Wing in India"

CAT Graduate Colloquium

Wednesday, February 10th, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. 

Humanities Institute, Room#1008

Speakers and Titles: 

Spatiality, Cognitive Ecology, Here 

Professor John Lutterbie, "Gutters and Panels"

David Rodriguez, "Environment at Scale"


Fall 2015

Cultural Analysis and Theory -Graduate Student Conference


2015 Stony Brook University, Dept. of Cultural Analysis and Theory, Graduate Student Conference

Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015

SBU Manhattan

387 Park Avenue South, 3rd Floor

New York, NY 10016


2015 CAT Colloquium

Wednesday, October 28th, from 1:00 - 2:20 p.m.

Humanities Institute room#1008

Speakers and Titles:

Professor E.K. Tan, “From Exile to Queer Homecoming: Chen Xue’s A Wife’s Diary (2012)"

Yalda Hamidi, “'Diasporic Literature as a Feminist Genre: Re-reading Persepolis and Reading Lolita in Tehran"


Co-Sponsored Events:

Black History Month

Keynote speaker Sonia Sanchez poet, educator, and lecturer on Black Culture and Literature, Women’s Liberation and Racial Justice. 

Wednesday, January 27
1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Student Activities Center Gelber Auditorium

DANTE WORLDS Echoes, Places, Questions -- A Conference on the 750th Anniversary of Dante's Birth 
Wednesday,  December 2, 2015 
Charles B. Wang Lecture Hall 29:30 am to 5:30 pm

English Graduate Student Conference - Spring 2016
Speaking Text(s): Communication in the Humanities

Kadji Amin published "'Blesser' le spectateur blanc américain: Les Nègres aux États-Unis, 1961-64 et 2003" in Études françaises.

Kadji Amin has been awarded a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship on SEX at the University of Pennsylvania Humanities Forum for the 2015-16 academic year.

Kadji Amin has been awarded a Humanities Institute at Stony Brook Faculty Fellowship for Spring semester of 2015 for the completion of his book, Queer Attachments.

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 2014-15 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.


Marcus Brock has been selected to receive the Turner Conference Travel Award to participation in the "Audiovisualtopia" taking place in Madrid, Spain beginning on 10/23/2015. 

Beth Tsai has been selected to receive the 2014-15 Graduate and Faculty Research Program in the Arts, Humanities and Lettered Social Sciences.

Kudos Newsletter 

        May 2016

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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