Graduate Program Overview

The PhD program in Rhetoric trains students in the skills of the academic profession and provides a framework to develop the expertise necessary to produce a doctoral dissertation that meets the highest standards of research excellence. Our diverse faculty investigate and teach a wide range of topics and discourses, with various theoretical approaches and research methodologies. We have particular strengths in the following areas of concentration: Ancient Thought and Rhetoric; Continental Philosophy and Critical Theory; Legal, Social and Political Thought; Gender and Sexuality; Literature, Text and Narrative; Colonial, Post-Colonial and Global Studies; Image, Performance and Sound; Science, Technology and Media Studies. The Rhetoric PhD program is best suited for students who wish to approach a specific area of academic inquiry, research objects or archive while working critically within and between academic disciplines in order to pose questions that transcend disciplinary divisions.

Areas of Study

Ancient Thought and Rhetoric

The Rhetoric Department has faculty who specialize in the ancient Mediterranean world and its reception. Drawing on the disciplines of philosophy, literature, aesthetics, history, and religion, our faculty and students pursue topics in ancient Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern cultures and their reception into the present.

Faculty: Ramona Naddaff, James Porter, Mario Telò, Anthony Long (affiliated)

Colonial, Post-colonial, and Global Studies

The Rhetoric Department supports research on colonialism, postcoloniality, empire, nationalism, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism and globalization from the early modern period to the present. Our faculty work on topics such as colonial encounters and scientific practice, colonial law and post-colonial legalities and politics, freedom, decolonization, revolution, the question of the human, transnational human rights, global art and world literature from the disciplinary perspectives of history, literary studies, visual studies, law, and politics. Their research focuses on non-western traditions including the Islamic world, the Ottoman empire, Sinophone East Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Faculty: Pheng Cheah, Samera Esmeir, Fumi Okiji,  Winnie Wong, Sharad Chari (affiliated), Cori Hayden (affiliated)

Continental Philosophy and Critical Theory

The Rhetoric Department has strengths in contemporary French and German thought and the history of modern European continental philosophy and is especially interested in the pertinence of these intellectual traditions to fundamental problems of the contemporary world. The faculty work in fields such as aesthetics, psychoanalysis, ethics, phenomenology and philosophy and literature. Major figures of special interest include Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Arendt, Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze.
Faculty: Anthony Cascardi, Pheng Cheah, Marianne Constable, Samera Esmeir, Ramona Naddaff, Fumi Okiji, James Porter, Nasser Zakariya, Wendy Brown (affiliated), Judith Butler (affiliated), Hans Sluga (affiliated)

Gender and Sexuality

Our faculty work in diverse areas of study that include gender theory, transnational feminisms (French, Third World, US-of Color), feminist (de)aesthetics, feminist cultural politics, representations of race, gender and sexuality, and the history of sexuality (ancient and modern).

Faculty: Shannon Jackson, Pheng Cheah, Fumi Okiji, Mario Telò, Mel Y. Chen (affiliated).

Image, Performance and Sound

Several faculty members concentrate on the theoretical and cultural dimensions of images with a particular emphasis on the rhetoric of contemporary arts, media and digital technology. The fields we offer in this area include visual culture, film theory and criticism, film aesthetics, spectatorship, photography, and representations of race, gender and media.

Faculty: Shannon Jackson, Michael Mascuch, Fumi Okiji, Winnie Wong, Mary Anne Doane (affiliated), Anton Kaes (affiliated), Damon Young (affiliated).

Legal, Social and Political Thought

The Rhetoric Department supports research and teaching in interdisciplinary approaches to the law and in social and political thought from classical antiquity to contemporary times. Faculty integrate theories and methods from the humanities and the social sciences to approach such issues as justice, language, violence, revolution, personhood, evidence, technology, post-coloniality, nationalism, cosmopolitanism and human rights, in various legal traditions and their histories. They work in canonical political and social theory as well as critiquing it.

Faculty: David Bates, Pheng Cheah, Marianne Constable, Samera Esmeir, Wendy Brown (affiliated), Stefan-Ludwig Hoffman (affiliated)

Literature, Text and Narrative

With faculty working in literary and other discursive traditions that span the ancient, early modern, modern, and contemporary world, Rhetoric supports research that emphasizes textuality, interdisciplinary theoretical approaches, poetics, narratological, and historical and cultural studies. In particular, we support work in fields such as literature and philosophy, law and literature, post-colonial literatures, autobiography, and social and political dimensions of literature.

Faculty: Anthony Cascardi, Pheng Cheah, Marianne Constable, Michael Mascuch, Ramona Naddaff, Fumi Okiji, James Porter, Nasser Zakariya, Judith Butler (affiliated), Donna Jones (affiliated), Colleen Lye (affiliated).

Science, Technology and Media Studies 

Several of our faculty members have research interests in different aspects of science and technology studies and media theory and practice. Their work and that of their students intersects with fields of study in history and philosophy of science and technology, anthropology of science, law and science, and new media, from the ancient world to the digital age.

Faculty: David Bates, Marianne Constable, Michael Mascuch, Winnie Wong, Nasser Zakariya, Cori Hayden (affiliated). 


Program Timeline

An outline of the minimal requirements for completing the doctoral program in Rhetoric with a typical timeline follows.

A more detailed version can be found here

Year one

  • Rhetoric 200, 205, and 2 other seminars, at least one of which is a Rhetoric seminar
  • Rhetoric 220 (Proseminar, 2 units) is offered every other year for first- and second-year students; check with the GSAO to confirm which year it will be scheduled.  

Year two

  • Year 1 Review (early in the 1st semester)
  • Rhetoric 375 (Pedagogy, 2 units) by the first semester of the first GSI appointment
  • Minimum of 4 seminars. By the end of Year 2, at least 3 elective seminars must be taken in Rhetoric
  • Rhetoric 220 (Proseminar, 2 units) if not scheduled in the first year.

Year three

  • Rhetoric 221 (Research Seminar, 2 units)
  • Fulfillment of the foreign language requirement (ideally by the end of the 1st semester)
  • Successfully pass the Qualifying Examinations (by the end of the 2nd semester) for advancement to candidacy

Years four—six

  • Year four: File an approved dissertation prospectus (by the end of the 1st semester) 
  • Years five and six: Dissertation underway; annual Dissertation Candidacy Reviews; Prospectus and Dissertation Workshop (recommended)

Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs)

Each PhD student must serve as a teaching assistant or instructor for at least one year and complete the introductory pedagogy seminar (Rhetoric 375) prior to or during the semester of their first graduate teaching appointment. Students who meet the timetable requirements will be eligible although not guaranteed appointment as Graduate Student Instructors for four years.

For Graduate Division rules and regulations regarding GSIs, visit this page.


Guidelines and Best Practices for Students and Examiners 

The aim of the linked document (available here) is to set out some guidelines to help ensure that the expectations of students and examiners are mutually aligned with what the Rhetoric Department considers to be best practices for various milestones in the graduate program and with the requirements of the Graduate Division. The sections address: the assignment of GSIships; the foreign language examination; the QE exams (written and oral); the dissertation prospectus; and the doctoral dissertation. This document should be read alongside our Program Guidelines and Timeline, to which it serves as an informal supplement and FAQ. If you need clarification or have suggestions, please contact the Head Graduate Adviser (HGA) or the Graduate Student Affairs Officer (GSAO).