Majors & Programs


Comparative Literature/Comparative Arts

What is Comparative Literature?

Comparative literature is the study of the human condition as depicted in literary works from many different traditions. The “comparative” element refers to the study of works from several nations and cultures.  

  • Courses treat universal themes such as individual identity, memory, human suffering, violence, beauty, ethics, and dreams.

  • Works from different literary traditions — European (French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc.) and non-European (Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Persian, etc.) — are integrated into individual courses.

  • All works are taught in English.

Thus, while an English novel course might treat only British fiction, and a French novel course might treat only the French authors, and a Chinese novel course might treat only Chinese writers, the Comparative Literature novel course might include selected novels from each of these traditions.  

Students compare works from different cultures in order to appreciate both the experiences that unite them and the differences that distinguish them.

What is Comparative Arts?

Comparative Arts studies the relations between literature and one or several other arts:  music, drama, dance, the visual arts, and film.

Foreign Languages and Study Abroad

  • Students in Comparative Literature and in Comparative Arts typically accompany their study with courses in foreign language(s).  

  • Washington University has an expansive array of study abroad programs, including full-year, semester-only, and summer options. We encourage our students to spend time abroad in order to improve their language skills; to learn more about another culture, including its literature, art, music, history, and ethnography; and to observe their own culture from new perspectives.


Comparative Literature faculty include senior scholars from all major literature departments at the University: East Asian Languages and Cultures (Chinese, Japanese, Korean); English; German; Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Hindu/Urdu); Romance Languages and Literatures (French, Italian, Spanish).

Why study Comparative Literature or Comparative Arts?

  • Flexibility in designing your program:

    • selection of languages and national literatures; 

    • courses in translation and translation theory; 

    • selection of literature and arts courses by historical period (Renaissance, 20th century, etc.), by genre (poetry, novel, film), and by topic (The City, Laughter, Utopias, Translation, Witchcraft, Modernisms, etc.)

  • Discover correlations between literature, the arts, and other fields of knowledge.

  • Complement your studies in philosophy, history, psychology, pre-med, engineering, international relations, and other disciplines with knowledge of world cultures.

  • Follow the path of students who find that Comparative Literature “puts a human face on history;” “crosses borders;” “covers many centuries;” “emphasizes great authors in relevant ways;” “encourages discussion of big ideas.” 

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