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The Major


Comparative Literary Studies is the interdisciplinary study of global literatures and cultures. Our majors and minors study literature and the arts by reading expansively and pursuing research across linguistic, national, and historical divisions. Building on the pluralistic viewpoint gained through comparative knowledge of more than one linguistic tradition, students also study culture beyond literature, learning about the forms, practices, and circulation of media, music, and the visual arts. Our program places emphasis on a worldwide literary perspective: in addition to Classical, European, and Anglo-American traditions, students have excellent opportunities to engage with the literatures of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Comp Lit students gain special knowledge of literary and critical theories that enable the interpretive care needed to study literature from around the world, and from different historical moments. 

The Major in CLS provides students with a broad understanding of literature, beyond the confines of a single national tradition. By studying the literatures of at least two cultural traditions (the first one being normally the literature written in the student’s native tongue, the second a literature written in a “foreign” language) students become aware of cultural differences and begin to reflect on the causes for these differences. Students are encouraged not to limit themselves to the Euro-American traditions but to explore also the literatures of the rest of the world.

Watch videos to hear about what the Comparative Literary Studies Program at Northwestern University means to CLS alumni, faculty, and students!

Please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Professor Tristram Wolff
(, to set up an appointment to declare the major.

Major Requirements (12 units)

2 courses required for all majors:

10 literature courses, which must encompass the following categories (a single course may fill multiple requirements):
If the above category requirements are not fulfilled by the minimum of 10 literature courses, additional courses may be required.

Double Major

Many CLS majors are double majors, pursuing a program of study in one of the foreign languages, English, philosophy, political science, and other disciplines. CLS majors who are double majors can count up to 2 courses in their other major towards the major in CLS.


CLS students may choose to pursue honors in the major. Students begin working on the honors thesis during the Senior Seminar (fall quarter of senior year). The senior paper written in the Senior Seminar serves as the first draft of the honors thesis. Honors students sign up for 1 unit of COMP_LIT 399 – Independent Study with the thesis advisor (preferably taken during Winter quarter). *The 399 course does not count towards the 12 courses required for the major.  

Students formulate a topic for their honors thesis and identify an advisor by the end of their junior year and in consultation with the DUS in CLS. Like the senior paper, the honors thesis involves either the study of literary texts from different traditions or the study of literature in its relation to other media, arts or disciplines.

The honors thesis must be at least 30pp (but in their final format, Comp Lit Studies theses are typically between 40-50pp). The thesis is due around the second week of May.

Recommendation for Honors:

The CLS Undergraduate Honors Committee (comprised of 5-6 CLS faculty members and the CLS Director) recommends students for honors, and their recommendation is subject to approval by the Weinberg College Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence. The CLS Honors Committee uses the following criteria for the recommendation for or against honors:

*Exceptions can be made to the GPA requirements if the thesis is judged to be of high quality.
**Because the CLS Director sits on the CLS Honors Committee, the committee’s decision for or against honors is final.

If the department recommends honors, this recommendation is forwarded to the Weinberg College Committee on Undergraduate Academic Excellence. Please visit the Weinberg College Honors Procedures page for more information.

Study Abroad

The Program in Comparative Literary Studies encourages all majors who qualify to consider study abroad during their junior year. Students can count courses taken abroad for the requirements in the first literature, the second literature, or area of concentration. Learn more about study abroad, what you should prepare before you leave and when you return, and the transfer credit process.