Structure and Requirements

Students may currently pursue three concentrations within the major. All three share the common core requirements (6 c.u.) but vary in regard to foreign language requirements (details provided below) and emphasis of studies.

  • Comparative Literature (speciality in two National Literatures)

  • Literary and Cultural Theory

  • Globalization

General Guidelines for the Major

Since the Comparative Literature major is highly individualized, it is crucial that all majors select their courses in close consultation with the program director. This is particularly important with regard to the Capstone Experience, in which seniors are required to do advanced seminar work and/or individualized research. Whenever possible, students are encouraged to complete a senior thesis.

There are no prerequisites, but all prospective majors are strongly advised to start their course of study by fulfilling the core requirements as described below, starting with COML 100, proceeding with COML 094 or COML 360 or COML 383 in addition to taking COML electives. Students should also pay careful attention to the language requirements specified in the description of each concentration.

The Major Program

Minimum requirement: 14 c.u.'s

Core Requirements (6 c.u.'s) 

I. An Introductory Course (1 c.u.):

  • COML 100 (Introduction to Comparative Literature) or
  • COML 125 (Narrative Across Cultures)
  • COML 191 (World Literature)

II. A Theory Course (1 c.u.): 

  • COML 094 (Introduction to Literary Theory) or
  • COML 360 (Introduction to Literary Criticism) or
  • COML 396 (History of Literary Theory)

III. A Capstone Experience (1 c.u. or 2 c.u.'s):

  • Graduate Seminar or
  • Independent Research Study (COML 499) or
  • Senior Thesis (Honors Program COML 499 and COML 498)

IV. COML elective courses, chosen to meet the following specifications:

  • A course of a theoretic nature (e.g. COML 253, COML 263, COML 291, COML 353)
  • A course in a non-Western literature or Postcolonial Studies (e.g. COML 118, COML 235, COML 255, COML 266, COML 283)
  • A course of choice. Students are encouraged to take multi-period courses or courses in a period other than their primary focus. For example, a student specializing in contemporary literature would be expected to take a course in medieval, Renaissance, or early modern periods. 

Concentrations (8 c.u.'s)

Comparative Literature: 

  • Eight courses in two national literatures (4 c.u. in each national literature). These must be intermediate and advanced level courses and seminars. If both of these national literatures are non-English, only one of the literatures (4 c.u. need to be taken in a target language.* The other courses may be taken in translation. Four Classical Studies courses (in Greek and Latin) and four Judaic Studies courses (in Hebrew and/or other Jewish literatures) are acceptable substitutions for one of the national literatures. Sample concentrations of current Spanish and English (British and American), French and Russian, Hebrew and English. 

Literary and Cultural Theory:

  • Four courses of a theoretic nature (literature, theater, film, culture) (4 c.u.'s)
  • Four advanced literature or film courses and seminars (4 c.u.'s) of which two (2 c.u.'s) are taught in a language other than English.* One course (1 c.u.) must be in a non-Western or Postcolonial literature. 


  • Four courses (4 c.u.) must provide an interdisciplinary background on the cultural, historical, political, economic, and geographical ramifications of globalization and may be taken through a variety of departments, including but not limited to History, Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, Political Science, etc. These interdisciplinary courses should be relevant to literary studies.
  • Four courses (4 c.u.) in advanced literature, film, or culture. Course themes may include issues like globalization, diaspora, immigration, colonial or international encounters (e.g. COML 093, COML 294). Two of these courses (2 c.u.) should be taught in a language other than English.*

* Exceptions may be considered for students with demonstrated proficiency in an African, Asian and other languages in which literature courses are not offered at Penn but in which supervision is available in the form of Independent Study. 

The Honors Program 

Minimum requirement: 15 c.u.'s

Honors majors must write a Senior Thesis in comparative literature and/or literary and cultural theory under the guidance of a faculty member. They should have a cumulative GPA of 3.6 or higher within the major. 

Students must be nominated by a faculty member willing to serve as a Thesis Advisor. Students are expected to enroll in COML 499 (thesis preparation) in the Fall and, if the thesis meets the required standard for honors (an A grade), students continue to COML 498 in the Spring.

Departments and Programs

in which courses for COML can be taken:

  • African Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Cinema Studies
  • Classical Studies
  • English
  • East Asian Languages and Civilizations
  • Fine Arts
  • Germanic Languages and Literatures
  • History
  • History of Art
  • Jewish Studies
  • Latin American and Latino Studies
  • Linguistics
  • Music
  • Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Romance Languages - French, Italian, and Hispanic Studies (Spanish)
  • Slavic Languages and Literature
  • South Asia Studies
  • Theatre Arts