The study of literature provides an opportunity to examine the cultural values, questions, and conflicts embodied in the literary achievements of human civilisations. The Literature major teaches students how to read and interpret texts from a broad range of cultural traditions and historical periods. The major builds on the unique linguistic diversity among students and faculty at Yale-NUS College. Students will cultivate the aesthetic, rhetorical and cultural literacy required to become cosmopolitan readers of the human experience. Expertise in attentive reading, effective writing, clear speaking, analytical skills, and cross-cultural criticism are fundamental to a wide range of careers, including journalism, law, creative writing, web development, finance, international relations and politics.

Through the study of literature, students will acquire several skills:

  • Aesthetic analysis: the ability to identify details in a text and relate them to the work as a whole.
  • Formulating arguments: the ability to craft debatable theses by using textual evidence appropriately, develop a confident authorial voice and identify the appropriate audience for their writing.
  • Historical and cultural knowledge: the ability to identify, describe and contrast the major authors, conventions, trends, themes and texts in world literature.
  • Critical thinking: the ability to recognise, question and present alternatives to cultural assumptions, received ideas and normative values.


In consultation with the Head of Studies, the student in Literature will develop an individualised and intellectually rigorous programme. All Literature majors are required to complete 50 Modular Credits (MC) (Class of 2017 and Class of 2018) or 54 MC (Class of 2019 onwards) of Literature courses, which include a capstone project worth 10 MC. The electives must include:

Pro-seminar in Literary Studies (5 MC)

The proseminar in literary studies will have a different topic every time it is offered, and will focus on a methodological problem that is of interest to a broad range of students. The proseminar is required for both the major and the minor in Literature, but is not a prerequisite to any course in literature. Students outside the major may also take it as an elective. It is recommended that Literature majors take the proseminar in their junior years. A student may take the proseminar twice and have the second course count as an elective that fulfils the “theory and cultural criticism” requirement.

Distributional requirements

Each course offered in the Literature major will fulfil one or more distributional requirements. Before graduation, the Literature major is required to complete the following:

  • Historical Distribution: Students are required to complete 5 MC in the modern period, and at least 5 MC in the pre-modern period.
  • Cultural Traditions: Students are required to complete at least 5 MC in Western literature, and 5 MC in non-Western literature. Alternatively, a student can fulfil this requirement by completing 10 MC in courses that are designated as ‘cross-cultural’ studies.
  • Theory and Cultural Criticism: Students are required to complete 5 MC in a seminar specifically devoted to the study of theoretical paradigms, schools, or methodologies in literary and cultural studies.

Courses may be identified in the Registry list as fulfilling more than one distributional requirement. In all such cases, a student taking the course can decide, in consultation with the Head of Studies (HoS), the specific distributional requirement that the course will fulfil in her or his transcript: that is, a course may be cross-listed for more than one distributional category, but it can account in an academic transcript for only one of such distributional categories.

All courses must be taken for a letter grade, and at least 20 MC must be taken at Yale-NUS. Courses offered abroad must first be approved by the Centre of International & Professional Experience (CIPE) and Registry for credit transfer, and then receive approval from the HoS to count toward the major.


Each student majoring in Literature may apply to have up to one advanced language course count toward the Literature major requirements. The course must have the prior approval of the Language Coordinator and the Literature HoS, whose decision will be based on (a) the approximate general parity of content, method and approach (along with whatever translation component is felt pedagogically necessary) across different advanced level courses in languages other than English, (b) a sufficiently literary orientation to content, method and approach.


Students majoring in Literature will attend a weekly Capstone Writing Seminar in the first semester of their senior year and complete a year-long project of directed reading and research under the supervision of a faculty advisor, leading to an undergraduate thesis of approximately fifty pages.


For students who wish to focus on Chinese Studies, we recommend the following courses:

  1. Third-year Chinese language study or equivalent level of competency.
  2. Introduction To Classical Chinese.
  3. At least two electives in Chinese literature, such as Modern Chinese Literature (Fall 14), Story Of The Stone (Spring 15), or Tales Of The Strange (Fall 15).


The proseminar introduces students to major problems, themes, and approaches in the study of literature. Faculty instructors and specific topics may vary from year to year, and they will cover topics such as critical translation, literary theories, literary history, formal analysis, or other methodologies useful for students of literature.

The Literature major offers a wide range of electives. Some examples:

Dystopian Fiction: This course will address the issue of why dystopian writing exercises a fascination for the modern imagination. A study of representative texts will trace the broad genealogy of utopian thought through the ages; then address the issue of its inversion in the last two centuries. The course will provide opportunity for inferring attitudes from texts in relation to social and technological modernity, the impact of technological change and social transformations on life-systems, and the modes of extrapolation through which speculative fiction become dystopian in orientation.

Queer Theory:
 An introduction to the body of critical writings on dissident forms of gender, desire, and sexuality that has come to be known as ‘queer theory’, with a focus on its influence on literary studies. Paying equal attention to the classic theories in the 1990s (Butler, Sedgwick, Halperin, Rubin) and contemporary debates (Love, Freeman, Edelman, Rofel), this course traces the development of queer theory from its early concerns with performativity, heteronormativity, butch/femme, and drag, to new theories of queer temporalities, affect, transgender, intersex, and homonationalism.

Dante and the European Middle Ages: This course is a slow and complete reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, an undisputed masterwork of world literature. As the Italian poet narrates his vision of the world beyond, we will journey with him through Hell to Purgatory and ascend to Paradise and finally return to earth. We will pay special attention to the historical, intellectual and social world of the European Middle Ages and the fraught legacy of the classical tradition. We will experience the sublime and terrifying grandeur of his cosmic vision, discuss theology and revelation, the state of souls in the afterlife, the primacy of poetry as an intellectual and spiritual activity, the nature of art and beauty, the relationship between pagan myths and Christian mysteries, and the medieval encyclopaedia of classical learning and religious doctrine.

Postcolonial Theory, Literature, and Culture: Southeast Asia: As a historical category and a critical practice, postcolonialism is not a unified field of inquiry. This course, instead of simply surveying the field in its entirety, focuses on significant debates that helped shaped a vast field of inquiry, and the literatures, films, and artistic works of Southeast Asia, which continue to grapple with the legacies of colonialism. From our particular vantage point, this course concerns itself with the difficult question of whether postcolonialism is an oppositional trend in which the ex-colonised ‘writes back to the center’, or is it a complicitous movement that mystifies neocolonial tendencies of global culture?

Literary Genres: Ancient Epic and Gangster Film:
 This course explores the limits of epic in different historical contexts and media: Classical epic poetry (Greek and Roman) and gangster film traditions from the US, Europe, and Asia.  How do these works define or align themselves with epic as a genre?  What are their characteristics, and how do audiences participate in creating them?  Primary material will include classical epics (The Iliad, Ovid’s Metamorphoses), drama and literary criticism (Sophocles, Aristotle), and contemporary film and television, with critical and theoretical bibliography.

Dangerous Ideas: The Graphic Novel and Social Critique: Graphic novels are now an established and popular literary genre. How do they tell a story that is socially relevant, and even question the status quo? This course will examine the graphic novel as a hybrid visual and literary form reflecting its particular sociopolitical context and as a vehicle for social critique. Focusing on graphic novels and their film adaptations from the Middle East/North Africa, the US, and Southeast Asia, we will consider how this unique genre explores colonialism, occupation, the trauma of 20th-century war, normalising and repressive societal and/or familial expectations, urban anomie, and suburban desolation.


To complete the minor, a student completes 25 MC in electives approved for the Literature major, one of which must be the proseminar in literary studies. Courses taken for a different major cannot be counted toward the minor, and all courses must have a letter grade.

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