Comparative Literature, LLC


The PhD Degree

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(Fall 2013)

University Entrance Requirements and other Graduate School regulations marked in the text with an asterisk (*) can be found in the Graduate School Bulletin.

The Graduate Program in Comparative Literature is designed for students who are committed to the study of languages and literatures in a context broader than that of a single national literature program and who wish to prepare themselves for professional work in comparative, interdisciplinary, and cultural studies. Our program encourages the study of literature in its historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts as an international phenomenon; stimulates the development and refinement of new theoretical and curricular paradigms; and promotes imaginative approaches to the analysis of literary and visual texts in several languages.

The Graduate Program in Comparative Literature offers opportunities for graduate study leading to the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy. Areas of curricular emphasis include theories of literature and interpretation, theory and practice of translation, narrative and discourse theory, theories of literary history, canon and world literature, psychoanalytic theory, film analysis, gender studies, and a range of cross-cultural studies, from Orientalism/Occidentalism to multi-culturalism in the Americas.

Courses or seminars are regularly offered in literary theory and criticism, cross-cultural literary relations, theory and practice of translation, translation history, children’s literature, psychoanalysis and literature, science fiction, gender studies, and film and literature. Graduate courses in Comparative Literature are open to all qualified graduate students and may, with prior approval of the other department or program concerned, be taken to meet a foreign language requirement.


(Beyond the usual requirements of the Graduate School.)

Undergraduate Degree

Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree or a recognized foreign equivalent, either with a major in a language- literature field or with substantial literary studies.


All applicants must demonstrate proficiency in English and in one language other than English, and a working knowledge of a third language. Ph.D. applicants should have completed at least three years’ study of their first foreign language and two of their second. M.A. applicants should have completed at least three years of their first foreign language and one year of their second. Knowledge of classical languages is encouraged.

An entering M.A. or Ph.D. student who does not show language competence by previous study may demonstrate competence in the first and second languages by coursework, as specified in the program’s Statement of Procedure.

Grade Point Average

The applicant should have a grade point average equivalent to at least 3.00 out of possible 4.00.


Applicants are required to have taken the Graduate Record Examination within five years before applying. Non- native speakers of English who are not U.S. citizens are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam.

Written Work

Applicants are required to submit directly to Comparative Literature a sample of their written work with their application. This should demonstrate critical handling of literary material, preferably including non-English texts. The paper need not be written in English. Essays written in a language other than English should be accompanied by an English translation done by the candidate.

The critical essay required of applicants to the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Comparative Literature should be sent directly to Comparative Literature at Herter Hall, 161 Presidents Drive, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003-9312. All other application materials must be sent to the Graduate School.

Transfer Credits

Subject to the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee, M.A. candidates may transfer from other institutions up to six hours of graduate credit graded “B” or higher, and taken within three years before admission.* Students are strongly encouraged to request transfer of credits within the first semester after admission.


Advising and Review of Progress

  1. The Graduate Program Director serves as adviser to newly admitted students. During the first year, in consultation with the Director, students select an adviser according to their academic interests.

  2. In early fall of each academic year, members of the Graduate Studies Committee review the progress of all students. Students are expected to maintain standing in accordance with Sections 5 and 6 of the General Regulations of the Graduate School.*

  3. The Graduate Studies Committee, in consultation with the student’s adviser, may place a student on probation for one year when:
    1. the student’s record shows more than two grades of incomplete (excluding thesis or dissertation credits); or
    2. the cumulative grade point average falls below 3.0. or
    3. the student fails to make appropriate progress toward degree as defined in the Statement of Procedure.

In either case, the Graduate Program Director writes the student a memorandum describing the steps to be taken to remove probationary status. Probationary status jeopardizes a student’s eligibility for financial support, whether by funding through the Department, the University (fellowship programs) or Continuing Education. Failure to meet stipulated obligations in the ensuing one-year period may result in termination of graduate studies. Any student placed on probation may appeal in writing to the Graduate Studies Committee no later than thirty days after the beginning of the semester following the notice of probation. This appeal will be granted only in cases of unusual hardship.

Waivers, Exemptions, Modifications

A student may petition the Graduate Studies Committee for a waiver or modification of any requirement in this Statement of Procedure, except for those mandated by the Graduate School.* The Graduate Studies Committee will provide written notice of its decision in a timely fashion.



Successful completion of the qualifying procedure enables the student to proceed with preparations for the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, beginning with the formation of a guidance committee. The qualifying procedure involves competence in foreign languages and satisfactory performance in required coursework.

Program of Study

The balance among the main constituent elements of a candidate’s course of study will vary with individual circumstances. The following kinds of competence, however, are taken to characterize the holder of a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature: a thorough grounding in literary and social theory; a knowledge of one language and its literature sufficient to warrant the respect of specialists; a reading knowledge of three languages (ancient or modern); a wide command of the literature of one main historical period; ability to make serviceable use of at least three literatures in the original languages; and training in research methods, literary translation, and problems of criticism.


Work in one literature, as construed in the broad sense described on page 1, requires historical coverage from the earliest literary forms of the language to the present, with emphasis either on a genre or on a major period, and a thorough reading knowledge of the language. Work in the second and third literatures requires coverage of the period or genre related to the field of emphasis in the first literature. Reading knowledge of the languages involved should be very good in the second literature, and good in the third.

A minimum of 45 credit hours is required in all cases, distributed as follows: 21 graduate credits in comparative literature, 6 of which must be at the 600-800 level (excluding dissertation credits); 6 graduate credits in a major literature; 6 in a second literature studied in the original language; 3 in a third literature studied in the original language; of the 45 required credit hours, 9 graduate credits are considered elective. One of the Comparative Literature courses must be 752 Theory and Practice of Comparative Literature; another must be a course that combines theoretical perspectives with practical criticism. Students planning to write a translation dissertation must take Comparative Literature 751 Theory and Practice of Translation.


Students in the Ph.D. Program must complete, beyond the M.A. course requirements specified above, 12 graduate course credits at the 600-800 level (excluding dissertation credits), of which 6 must be in Comparative Literature. That is:

  • 21 credits in Comparative Literature, 6 of which must be at the 600 level or above
  • 6 credits in the literature of primary concentration
  • 6 credits in the literature of secondary concentration
  • 3 credits in the literature of tertiary concentration (third language requirement)
  • 9 credits of electives, 6 of which must be at the 600 level or above
  • 1 credit of Teaching Workshop (for teaching assistants; not part of academic course requirements)

In addition to coursework, all students must register for a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 18 dissertation credits.* In individual cases, the Graduate Studies Committee may require particular courses.

The following are also relevant to requirements:

  1. Students in the Ph.D. Program with M.A. degrees from other programs or institutions may petition the Graduate Studies Committee for exemption from particular M.A. course requirements.

  2. Up to six credits of independent study courses may be counted toward the fulfillment of the requirements of the literatures of primary and secondary concentration and the Comparative Literature requirements (maximum of 3 credits toward any one distribution requirement) provided that the student has obtained formal written permission from the Graduate Program Director prior to the end of the add-drop period for the course in question.

  3. Literature in translation courses may not be counted towards the literature components of the Distribution Requirements unless special arrangements are made to complete required readings in the original language. Up to three credits of graduate coursework in Comparative Literature may be counted toward fulfillment of the requirement of the literature of secondary concentration, provided that the student has obtained formal written permission from the Graduate Program Director prior to the end of the add-drop period for the course in question.

Language Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

In each of two languages, successful completion of two graduate literature courses in which works are read in the original. In the third language, successful completion of one graduate literature course in which works are read in the original. We expect our students to be able to read and address complex ideas in their three primary languages. We encourage them to acquire facility in writing and speaking those languages as well.

Comprehensive Examination

Candidates for the Ph.D. take the Comprehensive Examination at the end of their third year of study and no later than October 15 of the fourth year of graduate study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Students entering with a related M.A. are expected to take the Comprehensive Examination no later than the end of the third year.

Purpose of the Comprehensive Examination

The examination, based on three topics (see the definition of a topic below), serves to determine the candidate's competence in a primary concentration and one or more secondary concentrations; as well as in critical, theoretical, or philosophical methods relevant to and bibliographic skills in Comparative Literature and the candidate's areas of specialization.


The Comprehensive Examination Committee works with the student to formulate the list of three topics on which the Comprehensive Examination is based. A topic is a conceptual issue of considerable breadth that touches on or has implications for study in more than one linguistic and cultural tradition. The purpose of the individual topic is to permit the exploration of a critical problem within a broad spectrum of literary, disciplinary and historical expression. More than one critical approach to individual literary texts should be reflected among the three topics; the three topics can also be interdisciplinary and should also include among them at least three literary, cultural, or linguistic traditions as well as at least two distinct historical periods. Students intending to teach in national literature departments should ensure that among them the topics cover that national literature.

The purpose of the individual topic is to permit the exploration of a critical problem with a literary-historical, interdisciplinary, and/or theoretical focus, using appropriate primary and secondary sources from more than one linguistic or cultural tradition. Critical problems might include translation and interpreting, gender, film and media, word and image, music or other arts, postcolonialism, migration, folklore, and transnational and world literature. Candidates are encouraged to relate theoretical issues to close textual analysis, but the overall examination should not be devoted to developing a single critical approach. Candidates should formulate topics that will inform future publications, teaching, and potentially the dissertation with a concern for their potential as conference papers, a dissertation area, and course syllabi. The three topics as a whole should reflect a broad historical range and engage materials in three language areas. Texts read as primary material for a topic must also be read in the original languages.

For each topic, the student submits for the committee’s approval a bibliography of approximately 20-25 primary texts and an additional list with an appropriate range of secondary texts.

Selection of the Comprehensive Examination Committee

The student develops topics in close consultation with the chair and members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee.

By the end of the second year of study, the student selects the chairperson of his or her Comprehensive Examination Committee, who then becomes the student's primary adviser. With the approval of the Graduate Program Director, a co-chair may be appointed from among the Associated Faculty of the Program. By the beginning of the sixth semester the committee chairperson and candidate select the rest of the committee, which consists of at least four members of the graduate faculty: at least two from the Program of Comparative Literature and at least one from another program.* The fourth member may come from either inside or outside the Program.

Meetings of the Comprehensive Examination Committee

When the student has selected the three topics and the bibliographies have been drafted and approved by individual committee members, the student arranges a meeting of the Comprehensive Examination Committee for the purpose of formal acceptance of the topics and final input from the committee members.

It is the responsibility of the student to stay in close and regular contact with committee members while preparing to take the Comprehensive Examination.

Topic Proposals

The student submits a proposal for each topic of approximately 800-1200 words explaining the scope and aim of the topic, and how it fits into the student’s wider program of study and career goals. Topic proposals must also be approved by the committee along with the bibliographies.

The final versions of the bibliographies and secondary source lists and any topic proposals approved by the committee should be submitted to the Graduate Program Director no fewer than 30 days before the Examination, to be added to the student’s permanent file.


All three topics are evaluated by both written and oral examination. Successful completion of this examination allows the candidate to proceed to the dissertation.

  1. The Written Examination: The written examination will be a take-home exam. Students will write three essays, one on each topic (2500-3300 words each) within a seven-day period agreed upon by the committee. Questions will be released to the student at 9:00 a.m. on day 1 by the committee chair and the essays will be returned by the student to the whole committee by 5:00 p.m. on day 7.

  2. Oral Examination of Individual Topics and Final Review: There will be an oral examination of approximately three hours total on the candidate’s three topics. This examination takes place not more than one week after the written exam.

    The oral examination also includes a review of the candidate’s achievement in critical, theoretical, or philosophical methods as well as bibliographic skills in Comparative Literature and related disciplines in the candidate’s area of specialization.

At the conclusion of the oral examination, the Committee meets privately and takes a vote to determine whether the candidate has passed or failed. The Committee Chair makes known to the candidate the decision immediately after the examiners have conferred at the conclusion of the oral exam. The Committee Chair, at that time, provides an explanation for the decision of the Committee. In the event of a negative decision by the examiners, the student’s committee consults with the Graduate Program Director during the week following the examination. The Graduate Program Director thereupon informs the student either that permission to take the examination a second and final time has been granted, or that termination of graduate studies is advised.

M.A. En Passant

Upon passing the Ph.D. examination, Ph.D. candidates who did not enter the Ph.D. program with an M.A. degree are granted an M.A. on request. The student must initiate receipt of this degree.

Students entering with a related M.A. may request the M.A. en passant only if they have transferred six or fewer credits toward their M.A. requirements.

The Dissertation

The dissertation may deal with any subject in literary theory, or with the comparison of texts, in the original languages of works from two or more literatures. The dissertation offers sustained inquiry into topics of literary-theoretical, literary-historical, or interdisciplinary importance, including cross-cultural literary and film analysis; it should deal in a substantial way with texts in at least two languages, and, when appropriate, take into consideration diverse cultural and linguistic contexts. A translation dissertation may be proposed, provided that it is prefaced by an extensive introduction, with a level of analysis appropriate to a doctoral dissertation. The introduction should deal with theories and specific problems of the translation. Students planning to write a translation dissertation must take Comparative Literature 751 Theory and Practice of Translation.

It is important for students to plan ahead to meet the following timelines.

Dissertation Committee

Within 3 months after the student successfully completes the Ph.D. examination, the student selects, in consultation with the Graduate Program Director and the prospective chair, a chair of the dissertation committee from graduate faculty in Comparative Literature. With the chair of the dissertation committee, the student then selects the other members of the Ph.D. dissertation committee, composed of at least four members of the graduate faculty (of whom at least two are from Comparative Literature and at least one is from another department or program).* In consultation with the chair of the dissertation committee, the student arranges a preliminary meeting of the entire committee.

Dissertation Prospectus

Within 6 months following the successful completion of the Ph.D. examination, the student presents and defends a Ph.D. prospectus with bibliography. The prospectus should describe, in 10 to 15 pages, the aims, method, and scope of the proposed dissertation; the accompanying bibliography should not exceed 10 pages. The oral defense of the prospectus, no less than one hour in duration, takes place in the presence of the student’s full dissertation committee. After a successful defense, and within the same semester, the student files the approved final version of the prospectus, signed by the Graduate Program Director and the Department Chair, with the Graduate School, and provides a copy to the Graduate Program Director. Graduate School regulations stipulate that a dissertation prospectus be formally filed at least seven months before the dissertation defense.*

Completion and Preliminary Approval of the Dissertation

In preparing the dissertation, the candidate submits units of written work to the members of his or her committee as agreed upon in prior consultations with them. The final oral examination, which constitutes the dissertation defense, is scheduled “when all of the Dissertation Committee members and the Department Head/Chair agree that the dissertation is sufficiently complete to stand defense.”*

The Dissertation Defense

In accordance with Graduate School regulations, “attendance at the final oral examination is open to all members of the candidate’s major department and any member of the Graduate Faculty. However, only members of the Dissertation Committee may cast votes.” The Graduate School directs that the oral be “primarily upon, but not limited to, the contents of the candidate’s dissertation.” In order to pass the examination, the candidate must receive unanimous approval from the Dissertation Committee. If there is one negative vote, the degree will be held up pending action of the Graduate Council.*

The outcome of the examination is to be made known to the candidate immediately after the members of the Dissertation Committee have conferred at the conclusion of the Defense..

*(Specified in the Graduate Bulletin)

For further information, call (413) 545-0929, or write to the Graduate Program Director, Comparative Literature Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst MA 01003.


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