The study of literature involves analyzing the style and content of literature from a variety of time periods with a focus on writing. Literature curricula include course work in medieval literature, English literature, and American literature and include fiction, poetry, and drama. Studying literature exposes students to a variety of opinions from an extensive list of authors, which broadens their world view. One can obtain anywhere from an associate’s degree to a doctorate in literature, and the credit hours range from 60 up depending on the level.
Requirements for obtaining a degree in literature include certain general education courses, which assist in developing the necessary skills for analyzing literature. Most colleges require a course or two in the study of philosophy and religion to aid the student’s critical thinking abilities. History courses assist the student in gaining an understanding of the circumstances during the period in which the piece was written. The study of literature also includes anthropology classes giving the student an understanding of world cultures.
Students begin a more intensive study of literature after fulfilling core requirements, beginning with a concentration in fiction. Students will evaluate classic fiction from around the globe and over different time periods, which may include works by Dante and Shakespeare. They will also evaluate fiction from the Romantic period, reading works from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other authors. The study of literature also includes a focus on realism, naturalism, and symbolism that were popular styles during the 19th century. Degree programs require some focus on 20th century literature, and students may be asked to read works by William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, or Virginia Woolf.
In addition to the analysis of fiction, the study of literature involves intensive study of poetry from numerous time periods. A course is required in the study of Greek classical poetry from Homer and Hesiod, and students will be expected to understand the differences between epic poetry, lyric poetry, and comedic or tragic plays. An understanding of poetry from the Romantics through modern American poets is standard for persons who wish to obtain a degree in literature. Some of the works that may be analyzed include poems from earlier poets such as William Blake or William Wordsworth and the later American poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
Persons wanting to earn higher than a bachelor’s degree in literature may expect extensive course work in Renaissance writers. Most master’s-level programs require advanced courses on the study of Shakespeare’s dramas and the works of John Milton. In addition, master’s level degrees and above require students to prepare a thesis paper on the concentration of their choice.