Universiteit Leiden

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Cultural Analysis: Literature and Theory (MA)

About the programme

The one-year master in Cultural Analysis: Literature and Theory offers you the choice of four themes and a wide array of study options.

The programme consists of four fields of study which are outlined below.

Comparative Literature looks at the interaction between literary traditions from different cultural or national contexts, and the relation between the literary object and other cultural artefacts that result from such disciplines as theology, philosophy and history. For example, when studying a figure of speech this approach will consider its effects within various historical and national contexts, as well as its role within the different disciplines in which it occurs.

Literary Theory looks at the theoretical approaches to literature  from a broader (inter-)cultural and intermedial context  while challenging and enriching the ways in which the literary object is viewed, by bringing different methodologies to bear on it and making use of sound academic approaches. You will approach literary objects from a critical standpoint, bring them in dialogue with varied theoretical tools, and be expected to question not only the objects themselves, but also the theoretical perspectives you use to analyse these objects.

Interculturality begins from the standpoint that the world is composed of intercultural meetings, where each cultural self seems to be created in response to others. If literature was once studied as the privileged medium for the creation of a national self, today scholars often focus on the way in which literature articulates emerging trans-national, intercultural and migrant identities. Interculturality will provide you with concrete insights into these literary developments, while placing them in their socio-historical contexts.

The theoretical component of the programme is dedicated to a comparative discussion of the key-concepts, theories and methodologies developed to analyse the literature of modernity, (post-)colonialism, gender, and globalisation. You will follow a variety of courses which will illuminate the genealogy of these concepts and approaches, tracing both their origins in specific cultural and political contexts, and their trans-national, intercultural trajectories.

The socio-historical section looks at the dynamics of intercultural translation in a few well-defined geographical areas and ‘contact zones’ (Pratt). For example:

  • America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
  • ‘La francophonie’
  • Caribbean literature and culture

Focusing on a variety of literary texts that explore the creative and destructive dimensions of intercultural contact, you will gain insights into the cultural, psychological, and political mechanisms at work in the literary imagination of self and other.

Literature has long been studied on the basis of what was specifically literary. Literary developments were considered as autonomous phenomena within the domain of literature.

The intermedial approach steps outside the framework of the specifically literary in order to try and understand literature’s production of meaning. Literary significance is today viewed as resulting from—or participating in—a broader cultural or semiotic process. Consequently, you will study literature as a particular form of cultural production of meaning. This entails a more intermedial approach to literature, which means you will focus on the relationship of a literary phenomenon with expressions in other media, such as:

  • Pictorial and graphic art
  • Sculpture
  • Applied art
  • Theatre 
  • Film, and so on

At the same time you will pay attention to past and present word-image relationships, for example in:

  • Illustrated texts
  • Emblem books
  • Art treatises
  • Calligrammatic poetry.

The focus on Intermediality is a recent development in Leiden research, yet this subject has already expanded to include a broad field of research within LUCAS, covering both the older periods and the modern era. Within this field you will have the opportunity to cover a wealth of topics, from the field of Book and Publishing Studies to the relationships between literature, film and the visual arts.

Programme overview

The master in Cultural Analysis: Literature and Theory consists of two semesters, during which you earn 30 EC each semester.

Semester 1

The first semester consists of three courses worth 10 EC each.

Semester 2

During the second semester you will study one course worth 10 EC and spend the rest of the semester researching and writing your MA thesis, worth 20 EC. During your thesis trajectory you will be guided by a faculty member from the Leiden Film and Literary Studies Department.

There are four courses available, which change from year to year. These courses fall into the following four categories:

  • Tropes and Other Rhetorical Devices: Topics covered include irony and theories of metaphor, and allegory
  • Canonical Theoreticians: Courses within this category look at the works of major theoretical thinkers who have played an important role in literary and cultural studies in the recent past. Every year a selection is made from the work of three thinkers. Past courses included texts by Derrida, de Man, and Benjamin, but also Barthes, Butler, and Foucault.
  • Genres, Text Types and Media: Examples of topics covered are contemporary poetry and poetical theory, critical approaches to aesthetic and human genres,  the post-9/11 novel, and children’s literature.
  • Re-writing of a Theme, Motive, Concept, or Genre: This (essentially historical) course uses primary source texts to analyse how a particular theme, motive, concept, or classical text has been rewritten or appropriated in later periods. Thus we study, for example, a number of literary counterhistories: novels that challenge official versions of history in some way; or literary works that employ and rethink the concepts of ‘barbarism’ and ‘crisis’. 

Upon graduation, you will be capable of conducting high-quality research under the supervision of a Leiden faculty member, and will possess a thorough knowledge of one of the specialist fields of study offered. You will be able to independently gather literature and primary sources in the field, evaluate their quality, formulate clear, well-constructed research questions and report the results of your research both orally and in writing.

For a detailed programme, please check the Prospectus.

Please note that this guide applies to the current academic year, which means that the curriculum for next year may slightly differ.

Course exchange

You are free to exchange at least one course in  the programme for a course offered  by a related Leiden programme or another Dutch university. This arrangement offers you the opportunity to follow a wide variety of literary traditions from around the world.

Madeleine Kasten

University Lecturer

Madeleine Kasten

"Within the Cultural Analysis track we do cultural analysis with a special focus on literature, which we study from a transnational perspective. This means that our programme is not tied to any specific language or culture. Instead, we adopt a broad intercultural look. Interculturality is in fact the central topic of two of our courses. Intermediality is also one of our fields of attention here in Leiden: we study literature in adaptation and in relation to other art forms. We are a relatively small programme, which means that we can offer you a personal approach, including intensive supervision for your thesis. "

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