Comparative Literature

Literature is the timeless expression of the human experience, reflecting the multifaceted aspects of life, society, and emotions. However, as the world becomes more interconnected, the study of literature has evolved to embrace the diversity of global cultures. This metamorphosis gave birth to the fascinating field of Comparative Literature.

What is comparative literature? By delving into the intricate relationships between literary works across various cultures, Comparative Literature offers a panoramic view of humanity’s shared heritage, unique identities, and interconnectedness

Comparative literature is an academic discipline that explores the study of literature and cultural expression beyond linguistic, national, geographical, and disciplinary boundaries. Its primary goal is to understand diverse cultures from an internal perspective, akin to the study of international relations, but with a focus on languages and artistic traditions.

This field uniquely delves into the interaction between literature, broadly defined, and various aspects of human activities, such as history, politics, philosophy, art, and science. Unlike other branches of literary study, comparative literature thrives on interdisciplinary analysis, examining the social and cultural production in relation to economic factors, political dynamics, cultural movements, historical changes, religious diversity, urban environments, international relations, public policies, and scientific influences. It also extends its scope to works of the same language if they originate from different nations or cultures. Overall, comparative literature offers a valuable and enriching perspective on the interconnectedness of cultures and the complexities of human expression.

Comparative Literature Meaning

Comparative Literature is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on analyzing and comparing literary texts from different languages, cultures, and historical periods. It identifies common themes, motifs, structures, and stylistic elements while recognizing the cultural and historical nuances that shape each work. The primary objective is to comprehend the profound differences and similarities that arise in the interaction of diverse narratives. This approach transcends national boundaries, promoting cross-cultural dialogue and fostering a deeper appreciation for global literature.

It is different from Contemporary Literature.

Historical Roots and Development

The origins of Comparative Literature can be traced back to ancient times when scholars and philosophers compared myths, legends, and epics from different cultures to uncover universal truths. However, the modern academic discipline began to take shape in the 19th century when scholars like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wilhelm Dilthey explored the connections between German and world literature. Later, French and American scholars, such as Tzvetan Todorov and Northrop Frye, played pivotal roles in shaping the field’s theoretical framework.

Why Study Comparative Literature?

Comparative Literature’s essential purpose is to encourage reading that goes beyond linguistic borders, shedding light on aspects that an exclusive focus on national literature tends to overlook. In the past, studying literature often meant confining oneself to academic departments that aligned with nation-states, following a European model. For instance, English, French, and German programs primarily emphasized the canons of their respective national traditions. However, literature and its readers have always transcended the boundaries of a single national language.

Take German literature, for example; it is enriched by the influences of English, French, Italian, Greek, Roman, and many other literary traditions. Even authors who were not aware of each other’s existence can display fascinating similarities and differences. Consider a poem by Stéphane Mallarmé and another by Emily Dickinson – when placed side by side, they can remarkably highlight and contrast each other’s unique qualities.

In essence, Comparative Literature celebrates the diversity of human expression and seeks to uncover connections and distinctions between literary works from different cultures and languages. By doing so, broadens our understanding of literature’s universal aspects and helps us appreciate the beauty and richness of global literary heritage.

Comparative Literature Approaches

The methodology of Comparative Literature is both dynamic and interdisciplinary. Scholars utilize various approaches, including thematic, historical, structural, and postcolonial analyses.

Thematic Contemporary Literature

One approach focuses on studying literary archetypes and recurring motifs across cultures. For example, the “hero’s journey” is a narrative pattern found in different cultures, ranging from the ancient Greek epic of Odysseus to the Indian epic of Ramayana.

Historical and Structural Comparative Literature

Another approach involves examining the influence of one culture’s literature on another. A classic example is the impact of Shakespearean plays on Japanese Noh theater, leading to the creation of “Shakespeare Noh.” Such studies unravel the interconnectedness of global literary traditions.


Moreover, postcolonial Comparative Literature delves into the representation of colonial experiences and their aftermath in the literary works of both colonizers and colonized. This lens allows scholars to critically assess the power dynamics and the impact of colonization on literary expression.

Comparative English Literature

Comparative English Literature, also known as Comparative Literature with a focus on English literature, is an academic discipline that explores the literary works of the English-speaking world in comparison to other literary traditions. It involves the study of English literature in a global context, examining connections, influences, and intertextualities between English literary works and those produced in other languages and cultures.

This interdisciplinary field seeks to understand how English literature interacts with and responds to the broader literary traditions of different cultures and time periods. It also involves analyzing the common themes, motifs, and narrative techniques shared across various literary traditions and the ways in which these elements are adapted and reinterpreted within English literature.

Key Features of Comparative English Literature
1. Multilingual Perspective

Comparative English Literature encourages students and scholars to explore literary texts in multiple languages, fostering a deeper appreciation of global literary traditions. This multilingual approach allows a more nuanced understanding of cultural contexts and intercultural exchanges.

2. Intercultural Dialogue

By comparing English literature with works from other cultures, this field promotes intercultural dialogue and understanding. It highlights the shared human experiences that transcend linguistic and national boundaries, fostering a sense of global interconnectedness.

3. Literary Theory

Comparative English Literature engages with various literary theories and methodologies to analyze and interpret literary works. Scholars often draw from different theoretical frameworks, such as postcolonial theory, feminist theory, and structuralism, to enrich their understanding of the texts under study.

4. Historical and Socio-Cultural Contexts

Comparative English Literature examines the historical and sociocultural contexts that shape literary production and reception. By doing so, scholars gain insight into the ways in which literature reflects and influences society and its values.

5. Translation Studies

Translation plays a significant role in Comparative English Literature, as it enables the study of works written in different languages. Analyzing translated texts provides valuable insights into the challenges and nuances of cross-cultural communication.

Schools of Thought in Comparative Literature

In the field of Comparative Literature, there are several schools of thought or approaches that scholars and critics have adopted over the years to analyze and interpret literary works across different cultures and languages. Here are some prominent schools of thought in Comparative Literature:

  1. Interdisciplinary Approach: This school emphasizes the integration of various disciplines, such as history, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology, to understand the cultural, social, and political contexts influencing literary texts.
  2. Feminist and Gender Studies: This approach examines how gender roles and identities are portrayed in literature and how female authors’ works have been historically marginalized. It also investigates how literature reflects and shapes societal perceptions of gender.
  3. Translation Studies: This school of thought focuses on the challenges and dynamics of translating literary works from one language to another. It explores the cultural, linguistic, and ideological issues involved in the process of translation.
  4. World Literature: This approach seeks to identify common themes, motifs, and concerns across different literary traditions, emphasizing the interconnectedness of global literary heritage.
  5. Reception Studies: This school investigates how literary works are received, interpreted, and adapted in different cultures and historical periods, shedding light on the evolving meanings of texts over time.
  6. Cultural Studies: Cultural Studies in Comparative Literature examines how literature interacts with broader cultural practices and norms. It delves into the ways in which literature reflects and shapes cultural identities and values.
  7. Comparative Poetics: This approach focuses on the formal aspects of literary texts, exploring how similar themes and structures are used in different cultures and languages.
  8. Marxist Criticism: Taking inspiration from Marxist theory, this school analyzes literature in relation to class struggles, economic systems, and power dynamics within society.
  9. Psychoanalytic Criticism: Psychoanalytic Comparative Literature applies psychological theories to interpret characters, themes, and symbolism in literary works, exploring the unconscious aspects of the texts.
Career Opportunities after Comparative English Literature

Graduates with a degree in Comparative English Literature can pursue various career paths, including:

  • Academia: Teaching and research positions in universities and colleges.
  • Publishing: Editorial and content development roles in publishing houses.
  • Cultural Diplomacy: Working in international organizations and cultural institutions to promote intercultural understanding.
  • Translating and Interpreting: Translating literary works and facilitating cross-cultural communication.
  • Journalism and Media: Writing and reporting on literature and culture for media outlets.

Comparative Literature BA

Comparative Literature BA in the UK
University Comparison Table – UK
University Location
The University of Oxford Oxford, England
University of Cambridge Cambridge, England
Royal Holloway, University of London Egham, England
University of Leeds Leeds, England
University of Bristol Bristol, England
King’s College London London, England
University College London London, England
Queen Mary University of London London, England
University of Kent Canterbury, England
University of Essex Colchester, England
Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Comparative Literature BA in the US

University Comparison Table
University Location
Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Columbia University, NY New York City, New York, USA
Boston University Boston, Massachusetts, USA
University of Southern California Los Angeles, California, USA
University of California, Irvine Irvine, California, USA
University of Washington Seattle, Washington, USA
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Brooklyn College, CUNY Brooklyn, New York, USA
University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California, USA
Brigham Young University, Utah Provo, Utah, USA
Brown University Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Hofstra University Hempstead, New York, USA
Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, Indiana, USA
University of Chicago Chicago, Illinois, USA
Clark University Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
San Diego University San Diego, California, USA
Stanford University Stanford, California, USA
University of Oregon Eugene, Oregon, USA
Yale University New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Comparative Literature BA in Germany
University Comparison Table – Germany
University Location
University of Augsburg Augsburg, Germany
Universitat Wien Vienna, Austria
University of Bonn Bonn, Germany
Heidelberg University Heidelberg, Germany
Justus-Liebig University Gieben Gießen, Germany
Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt Frankfurt, Germany
Freie Universität, Berlin Berlin, Germany
Gutenberg University, Mainz Mainz, Germany

Comparative Literature BA in Pakistan

LUMS, Lahore

Habib University


University of Glasgow


University of Barcelona


Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

University of Bergen


Istanbul Bilgi University

Koc University


University of Sydney

Comparative Literature BA in India
University Comparison Table – India
University Location
Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) New Delhi, India
Jadavpur University – Kolkata, West Bengal Kolkata, West Bengal, India
University of Calcutta – Kolkata, West Bengal Kolkata, West Bengal, India
University of Hyderabad – Hyderabad, Telangana Hyderabad, Telangana, India
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) – New Delhi New Delhi, India
Osmania University – Hyderabad, Telangana Hyderabad, Telangana, India
Banaras Hindu University (BHU) – Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
University of Delhi – New Delhi New Delhi, India
University of Madras – Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) – Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
University of Mumbai – Mumbai, Maharashtra Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

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