Master of Arts in Humanities

Welcome to the Humanities M.A. program. We are a small, friendly, dedicated group of scholar-teachers who offer a flexible M.A. degree program and a unique range of interdisciplinary courses in the global humanities.

The M.A. in Humanities (30 units) includes four core courses that offer a firm grounding in the major concerns of contemporary interdisciplinary humanities scholarship, and five electives that can be taken in the Humanities program or in a related M.A. program at the university. All M.A. students complete either a Masters thesis or exam as their culminating experience.


APPLY (General CSU Application site)

View Grad Division application instructions

For more information about applying to the program, see the "Admissions" menu option below or email the Graduate Coordinator, Cristina Ruotolo at

Art on campus - large statues in a circle

Applying for admission to the Humanities M.A. program is a two-part process, as applicants must meet University admissions standards before the Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature can consider them for admission to the program.

  • Deadline for fall admission: June 1
  • Deadline for spring admission: December 1

Part 1

This part starts at the Division of Graduate Studies website. Any questions regarding admission to the University (Part 1) should be directed to the Division of Graduate Studies office.

As the Grad Division website instructs, you will first need to fill out the online CAL State Apply ( application form, which is for the entire CSU system.

Applicants should be as precise and clear as possible in the statement of purpose requested in the online application. It should be at least 500 words and give specific details about your intellectual interests, academic and other relevant experience and your reasons for applying to our program.

Part 2 

This part covers additional materials required by the Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature.

Applicants should submit PDF file of a writing sample on a humanities-related topic along with their online application. Ideally this writing sample will be 8-10 pages, though we will accept anything over 5 pages.

At the end of the writing sample, applicants should include the names and contact information of two faculty members with whom the applicant has studied who can serve as references. As of Fall 2023, we do not require recommendation letters, but we may contact your references with questions.

Admission to the Humanities M.A. Program

The Division of Graduate Studies does a preliminary evaluation of your application to see if you meet the minimum University standard: 3.0 GPA for your last 60 units of coursework. If you meet the minimum standard, the Division of Graduate Studies sends the application along with your official transcript to the Department of Humanities and Comparative World Literature to review and to make a recommendation to the Division of Graduate Studies on admission. 

Depending on your level of preparation, successful applicants may be admitted either as classified or conditionally classified graduate students. 

Admission with classified status means that you have satisfied all the University and departmental conditions for admission, and may take any Humanities graduate seminar. 

Admission as a conditionally classified student means that you need an additional three to six units of preparatory coursework, which will be specified on your admissions documents. You may enroll in graduate seminars concurrently with this coursework and you may count it toward the degree, as a partial or complete substitution for your allotted three to six units of electives, but it must be successfully completed during your first year in the program with a grade of B+ or better. Once you have done this, you should complete and file the form for Advancement to Classified Status at the Division of Graduate Studies Office.

Good Standing

Students must maintain a 3.0 (B) average in order to remain in good standing within the program. Any student whose cumulative GPA falls below 3.0 may be placed on probation or removed from classified graduate status by the department. Students who fail to make progress toward the degree may also be removed from classified status.

Seminars and Courses

Core Seminars (12 units)

Humanities 700  Introduction to Integrative Study OR CWL 800 Introduction to Graduate Study
  • Humanities 705  Text and Context: The Word and the World
  • Humanities 706  Image and Culture: Picturing the World
  • Humanities 720  Current Topics in the Humanities (can be taken more than once with different instructors)

Electives (15 units)

  • Fifteen units selected on advisement with the graduate coordinator and advisor. A list of suggested electives drawn from Humanities and other M.A. programs will be curated each semester.

Culminating Experience (Sponsored Study)

Pick one of the following:

Humanities 896 EXM: Directed Study in Selected Humanistic Works, to include comprehensive written and oral examinations
Humanities 898: Master’s Thesis and Oral Defense

Course descriptions are listed in the course information section of the University Bulletin. More complete descriptions of seminars are available from the graduate coordinator.

With the graduate coordinator’s approval, most upper-division undergraduate Humanities courses may be used to satisfy up to nine units of the Master of Arts requirements. Consult the course instructor and the graduate coordinator about additional assignments for graduate students.

Students must make reasonable progress toward the degree, including completion of 700 or 720 in the first year and at least one Humanities course (or a substitution approved by the graduate coordinator) every semester.

The Level I English requirement will be fulfilled by a grade of B or better in Humanities 700 or 720. The 
Level II English requirement will be fulfilled by completion of the Culminating Experience.

ATC/Culminating Experience Forms

In the semester before you plan to enroll in the Culminating Experience, you must simultaneously file the ATC and the Culminating Experience Form. The ATC is a list of the courses you plan to use to meet your degree requirements, most of which you will already have completed by this time. The Culminating Experience Form is either the thesis (898) or the comprehensive examination (896). Both require the signatures of two Humanities faculty members who are willing to serve as your first and second readers, and the signature of either the graduate coordinator or the department chair. These forms are available on the Division of Graduate Studies website, along with the ATC Substitution form (for any substitutions on your ATC form) and forms for changing your Culminating Experience committee or the title of your Culminating Experience.

Thesis or Exam

The master’s thesis (HUM 898) allows you to develop an area of scholarly expertise and to demonstrate your ability to complete a fairly large-scale piece of scholarly writing and defend it orally. In recent years, the vast majority of our students have chosen to write theses. A thesis is an opportunity to work closely with members of the faculty on a subject of mutual interest and to produce a substantial piece of research and writing on a subject that is important to you. There is no fixed or required length for the thesis. Although a student may write a longer thesis if the committee members approve, the appropriate model for a thesis is a journal article — a well-organized, well-researched, thoughtful 30 – 40 page essay — rather than a book. The Division of Graduate Studies has specific requirements for thesis format, which you should observe carefully.

You may also finish the degree by comprehensive examination (HUM 896EXM). In this case, you will complete a substantial body of reading under the direction of an appropriate faculty member, in consultation with one or two additional faculty members. Your reading list will center three major works in the humanities, at least one of which must be in a medium other than written language, and a substantial range of secondary scholarship on those works. You will write three 10 – 15 page examination essays on questions set by your committee members based on your reading. You must complete these essays within one week. Then you will discuss and defend your answers orally to your committee.


Both options for completing the degree require a committee of at least two faculty members to supervise your progress through your culminating experience. The first reader takes primary responsibility for reading and directing your initial draft, which must be done in stages that respond to your first reader's comments on each section of your draft. The second reader normally responds to a complete first draft that has been approved by the first reader.

The school encourages students to ask up to three readers. At least two must be tenured or tenure-track members of the Department of Humanities & Comparative World Literature. With approval from your first reader and the graduate coordinator, the third may be a member of another department who has an appropriate area of expertise or a faculty member from another university. The student and his or her first reader will consult on whom to invite as second reader and third reader, if any. The student should meet with the second reader for their agreement and signatures on the Proposal for Culminating Experience. Lecturers may not ordinarily serve on M.A. committees. 

Defense and Graduation

Whichever culminating experience option you choose, once you have completed your work you will be required to defend it. That is, you present it in person to your committee and answer their questions about it. You may choose to have an open defense, in which anyone interested in your work is welcome, or a closed defense, with an audience limited to the members of your committee. This normally lasts about an hour and a half. Although it requires considerable effort and concentration, students are often relieved to find that the defense is nothing like the ordeal they imagined. Instead, it turns out to be an intellectually focused but informal and friendly conversation among people with a common interest.

Your committee chair will schedule a time and place for the defense in consultation with you and the other members of your committee. It is your responsibility to be aware of University deadlines and to keep in close touch with your first reader about your progress, so that neither you nor your committee members are subject to unreasonable time pressures.

Final versions of your work should be given to all committee members at least a week before the defense.

You should bring your own copy of your work to the defense which must include the top sheet for the committee’s signatures (see Division of Graduate Studies format requirements).

You should also bring the form for Completion of Culminating Experience and — if you have taken more than one semester to complete your sponsored study — a grade change form.

Petition for Graduation

You must file a separate application for graduation in the semester in which you expect to complete your degree requirements. Check the Graduate Studies website for deadlines. If you do not finish your degree work in the semester for which you filed your graduation application, you will need to submit a new application.

Time Towards the Degree

The University allows a maximum of seven years for completion of the M.A. degree, because our students often have considerable work and family responsibilities in addition to school work. Completion of the M.A. normally takes a minimum of a year and a half. The culminating experience takes at least one semester. 

If you do not enroll in courses for two consecutive semesters, you must apply for readmission to the University and the program. If you are readmitted, you will be subject to the degree requirements in effect at the time of readmission. 

If you have laid an adequate foundation for your final project in your coursework, it may be possible for you to finish in one semester, but we believe your graduate experience is richer and more satisfying if you do not try to rush through it. You may extend your registration in an 898 or 896 course over two semesters without paying additional tuition. 

HUM 700: Introduction to Integrative Study

  • Prerequisite: Consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Examination of the origins, traditions, and current practices of integrative humanities.

HUM 705: Text and Context: The Word and the World

  • Prerequisite: Restricted to graduate standing or consent of graduate major adviser or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Examination of the relationship between texts and the worlds that create and receive them. Develop familiarity with historical research methods and explore a diverse selection of expressive works that were made in at least two different times and places.

HUM 706Image and Culture: Picturing the World

  • Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the major advisor or instructor.
  • Units: 3

Examination of visual culture in relation to other cultural forms, particularly narrative, with reference to the distinct grammar and vocabulary of visual cultural studies.

HUM 720: Current Topics in the Humanities

  • Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.
  • Units: 3

Focus on current topics and problems in interdisciplinary Humanities scholarship. Attention given to graduate-level writing, in preparation for the culminating experience. May be repeated for a total of 6 units.

HUM 721: Culture and Style

  • Prerequisite: Graduate status or consent of instructor.
  • Units: 3

Analysis and interpretation of historic cultures and the evolution of distinctive styles of expression within particular cultural settings.

HUM 725 Great Theorists: Walter Benjamin

  • Prerequisite: Graduate status or consent of instructor.
  • Units: 3

Walter Benjamin, one of the premier thinkers of the 20th century, and a major influence on figures such as Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and others. To thoroughly examine Benjamin is to make inquiries into the basis of thought for the previous century as well as our own.
(This course is offered as PLSI 786, GER 786, and HUM 725. Students may not repeat the course under an alternate prefix.)

HUM 750: Comparative Cities: Space, Place, and Culture

  • Prerequisite: Graduate status or consent of instructor.
  • Units: 3

Exploration of contemporary Bay Area urban culture in comparison with at least one other city outside the so-called "Global North" through the lens of questions about space and place. Focus on questions of space, place, and the cultural construction of identities, communities, and ways of life. When possible, this includes a significant online component for direct interactions and collaborations with students at an urban university outside the U.S.

Edward B. Kaufmann Scholarship for M.A. students

Multiple Kaufmann Scholarships are available every semester (beginning the second semester) for SF State graduate students currently pursuing an M.A. degree in the School of Humanities & Liberal Studies. Amount of award: $2,000 or more according to need and merit.

U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international students may apply. Applicants must be enrolled at SF State in at least three units at the time of application and at least three units at the time of receipt of the award. Applicants must have already completed at least 6 units toward the Humanities M.A. degree by the time of application and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Please note that federal and state regulations require that any scholarship, award, prize, or loan must be coordinated with the student’s financial aid awards.

Applications are usually due in November (for the following Spring semester) and April (for the following Fall semester).

Graduate Teaching Associate Positions

Students who have completed at least 9 units of graduate study may be selected to teach HUM 220 or HUM 225. These appointments include making assignments to undergraduate students, preparing course materials, administering examinations, assessing student performance, tutoring students and determining course grades. 

Individuals interested in being considered for such an appointment should contact the graduate coordinator or the department chair.

Upcoming, Current, and Past MA seminars

Spring 2024

HUM 706: Image and Culture (Prof. Cristina Ruotolo)

Expanding on the title of this course to include sound as well as image, this class is devoted to thinking beyond the verbal text to explore how visual and musical practices make meaning and shape our sense of self and world. We will pair a close historical focus on music and visual culture from the early 20th century U.S. with a broader look at recent scholarship and artistic practices that center the global concerns of our moment (such as decoloniality, technology, and climate change). The course will build in some flexibility to the syllabus so that students in the course can help shape our focus.

HUM 720: Topics in the Humanities (Prof. Laura Garcia-Moreno)

In this seminar we will be reading various kinds of literary texts (novels, short stories, essays, memoirs) from different social and cultural contexts to explore relationships between literature and other disciplines and fields of knowledge in the Humanities. Among other topics, we will consider what reading across times and cultures involves as well as what the singularity of literature might be in specific contexts, the different roles and values it has accrued over time, and the challenges it faces today in an era of rapid technological and social changes. Some of the questions we will be addressing are: what is or has been the role(s) of literature? How is literature shaped by the historical circumstances in which it emerges and how does it respond to or engage in dialogue with those circumstances? Does it have a distinct critical and imaginative power to explore complex ideas, realities, and relationships: between self and world, art and society?  

Except for one play from antiquity, which will allow us to explore the ongoing relevance of the past to the present, the other works included are by writers from the 20th century (such as Kafka, Woolf, Faulkner, Lispector, Rulfo, Salih) or contemporary. Two recent texts we will be reading are Didier Eribon’s Returning to Reims (2009) and Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes (2023). 


Fall 2023

CWL 800: Introduction to Graduate Study in CL and HUM (Prof. Chris Weinberger)

Literature increasingly shares center stage with (and in many cases has been displaced from center stage by) visual, filmic, and multi-media forms in contemporary cultural literacy. In this class we’ll take a close look at the theoretical works and movements that have been most influential in literary and cultural criticism and consider how they may apply across cultural forms. We will specifically focus on how the theories arise from and bear upon literary texts, but we will also create room for thinking about their relevance for other cultural forms. In the end, the goal is for you to feel comfortable with the language and thought of contemporary humanities scholarship, especially insofar as it inherits much of its methodology from the pioneering work of formalism and post-structuralism. You will also learn to integrate your own approach to aesthetic analysis with a variety of established and developing research methods and theoretical perspectives.

HUM 705: Texts and Context (Prof. Shirin Khanmohamadi)

This course aims to examine deeply the relationship between texts and contexts or the worlds from which they emerge, turning a critical eye on the ways in which the two shape and condition each other historically and in our efforts at meaning making.  The first part of our course will examine texts and contexts by focusing on modes of “Orientalism” in literature before and after the hey-day of European colonialism; the second will examine the relation of texts and objects, asking what stories can be told through and with objects through examination of case studies in recent material culture studies. Students will gain practical experience in such critical graduate skills as: developing their own positions and perspectives, engaging in constructive critique, giving oral presentations, conducting research, and of course, scholarly writing.  Along the way, we will explore a variety of expressive works and contexts emerging from diverse chronological and geographical contexts, and students will be encouraged to engage in research into their own texts and contexts of interest.

Past seminars

Humanities 700: Introduction to Integrative Study (Prof. Garcia-Moreno)

This course is the gateway to graduate study in the Humanities and is meant to familiarize you with some of the approaches, theories and methodologies that have changed the way literature and other fields in the Humanities are read, studied, and analyzed since the 1960s. The seminar offers an introduction to some foundational texts, ideas, critical practices, and research methods in the Humanities. We will consider Marxist, poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial perspectives, among others, and focus on their distinct contributions to the field. Practice in close reading of prose and research methods is a key component of the seminar. 

Humanities 720: Current Topics in the Humanities (Prof. Peña-Guzman)

Topic: Posthuman Studies

Arguably, every humanistic discipline orbits a single question: What does it mean to be human? Although we tend to assume that the answer to it is self-evident (“we all know what it means to be human because we are human”), recent developments in animal studies, science and technology studies, comparative cognition, and environmental humanities have called into question the stability of this answer. These developments indicate that it may be impossible to draw a clear line in the sand separating the human from the nonhuman. Posthuman studies is a recent academic field that explores the scientific, technological, philosophical, and political implications of this unsettling new reality. 

The ‘post’ in ‘posthuman studies’ has a double meaning. It refers to that which is beyond human reach (such as the experience of nonhuman entities, such as nonhuman animals and AI). But it also refers that which comes after humans. According to numerous scholars, we are approaching a new era—the posthuman era—that is defined not only by a growing recognition of the porosity of the boundary between the human and the nonhuman, but also by the increasingly likely possibility of human extinction due to ecological catastrophe (the so-called "Anthropocene").  Drawing specifically on animal studies, technology studies, and recent work on the Anthropocene, this course will introduce students to posthuman studies and encourage them to rethink in radical ways what humans are, what our place in the world might be, and what (if anything) separates us from the rest of nature.

Humanities 720: Current Topics in the Humanities (Prof. Ruotolo)

Topic: Music, Identity, and Culture

In this seminar we will examine recent (and less recent) scholarship on how music makes meaning and participates in constructions of identity, with a particular focus on music and culture of the African diaspora. We will listen to music, watch film, and read various kinds of writings about music, including fiction and poetry, critical and cultural theory, and auto-ethnography.

The core graduate faculty in Humanities come from diverse academic backgrounds, all with an interdisciplinary focus. We cherish the opportunity to work with our graduate students to help them develop their own intellectual paths. Current core M.A. faculty include Professors Garcia-Moreno, Pena-Guzman, Khanmohamadi, Ruotolo, and Weinberger. Links to their bios can be found on our faculty page.

Students enter our M.A. program with a variety of goals and from a a variety of backgrounds in the humanities. Many seek the opportunity to further their grounding in the humanities in preparation for Ph.D. programs. Others want to advance their professional skills and standing as high school teachers or in preparation for teaching at a community college. Still others fulfill a wish to return to school and to the life of the mind.