History of the Department

The Department of Comparative Literature promotes the multidisciplinary, historically self-reflective and cross-cultural study of texts, traditions, and discourses. One of the earliest programs of its kind in America, Comparative Literature at Chicago continues to be inspired by the same spirit of thinking globally and transhistorically that prompted the University to establish the first core course in non-Western cultures, to welcome eminent comparatists including Hannah Arendt, Arnaldo Momigliano, Mircea Eliade, Paul Ricoeur, and Jean-Luc Marion. Comparative Literature students have benefited from the Critical Inquiry Professorship, and have thus been able to take courses with such scholars as Jacques Rancière, Ian Hacking, Slavoj Žižek, Stanley Cavell, Julia Kristeva, and Frederic Jameson. The Department has also helped to support such prominent journals as Modern Philology, Classical PhilologyCritical Inquiry, Theatre Journal, Journal of Religion, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, and Opera Quarterly.

The Comparative Literature Department's global and historical reach is reflected in the range of faculty research interests. The department boasts scholars of international reputation in literary theory, literature and philosophy, translation, world poetry and poetics, classical traditions (Eastern and Western) and their afterlives, Renaissance literature, modern drama, film and cultural policy. Our department offers students the opportunity to grapple in a rigorous way with the most pressing issues in literary studies today: the questioning of national and cultural boundaries and identities; the struggle over literature's epistemological, ethical, or social authority; the debate about what counts as literature, and why; and the interaction between literature and other cultural or intellectual practices.