What is comparative literature?

Comparative literature is the study of literature and other arts and media across cultural, historical, and disciplinary boundaries. Our courses explore the literatures and cultures of various moments in history and parts of the world, looking closely and comparatively at literature, film and other media, the visual arts, architecture, music, and other performance arts.

Comparative literature also investigates the connections between literature and other ways of understanding the world and human experience, including philosophy, history, religious studies, cultural studies, and the social and natural sciences. Comparative methods enrich the study of many other fields, enabling students and scholars to draw connections between aesthetic works and other forces that shape and define both knowledge and culture.

Our faculty will encourage you to think in original and exciting ways about the relationship between literatures, media, the arts, ideas, and the cultures and environments that produce them. You will learn to make innovative connections among a diverse array of human arts and experiences, comparative literature prepares students for a globalized world.

Comparative + literary intersections

As a discipline, comparative literature responds to the fact that authors and artists in all media draw their inspiration from many sources, across cultural, historical, and linguistic boundaries. Genres evolve and are renewed as they pass from language to language and culture to culture. For example, the epic tradition that begins in ancient Greece with Homer’s Iliad develops in imperial Rome, reappears in Renaissance Italy, and inspires twentieth-century masterpieces by Irish novelist James Joyce and Caribbean-born poet Derek Walcott. Comparative literature embraces this phenomenon and equips students at all levels to uncover and explore these contacts and continuities.

Our discipline also creates contacts between independent works and traditions, using each to shed more light on the other. For example, although the Persian and European traditions of lyric poetry developed independently, each came to fill similar social roles and to offer similar opportunities for political commentary and influence. Studying these independent traditions alongside each other enables us not only to appreciate the nuances of each, but to ask larger questions about the role of poetry more generally.

Allied with many departments + programs

Our department is able to embrace such richness and diversity thanks in part to its home on the main campus of Indiana University. Comparative Literature is proud to have adjunct faculty from seventeen different departments, while core faculty are likewise affiliated with numerous other departments and programs.

The wide array of foreign languages available and the vast and rare holdings of the Herman B Wells Library and the Lilly Library help advance the research of both our faculty and our undergraduate and graduate students.

Indiana University’s School of Fine Art and Design and Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance , as well as the world-renowned Jacobs School of Music, provide endless opportunities for the interdisciplinary study of literature and the arts. Such a diverse environment reflects the essence of comparative literature in the twenty-first century.

Interested in learning about our degree programs?