Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory

The Program in Critical Theory’s three core-course requirements are intended to establish an historical and normative framework for understanding critical theory in its current breadth. DE students’ evaluations confirm that these courses have been overwhelmingly successful. This three core-course sequence (a) explores the concept of critique in German Idealism and in related philosophical work (Critical Theory 200), (b) provides intensive exposure to the Frankfurt School and its legacies (Critical Theory 205); and (c) robustly engages contemporary forms of critical theory and their relations to historical, sociopolitical, and cultural studies, as well as to debates on social norms (Critical Theory 240). In addition to requiring the three core courses, The Program in Critical Theory also requires DE students to take two elective courses. As with the core courses, various elective courses are offered each semester by Critical Theory faculty in Anthropology, Comparative Literature, Education, English, Ethnic Studies, Film and Media Studies, French, Gender and Women’s Studies, Geography, German, History, History of Art, Interdisciplinary Studies, Italian, Law, Music, Performance Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Public Health, Rhetoric, Spanish and Portuguese, Sociology, and South and Southeast Asian Studies, among others. The Program in Critical Theory and its DE offer graduate fellowships, host international scholars, and present lectures, seminars, and other events for the wider campus and San Francisco Bay Area communities. The Program also maintains important collaborative relations with other critical theory institutes and programs nationally and internationally.

Petitions for admission to the DE are accepted each spring for admission to the program the following fall. There are approximately 15 new students admitted each year to the DE in Critical Theory. For information on admissions and programs, please attend the annual Designated Emphasis Open House and Information Session. Questions may also be sent to

DE Admissions and Requirements


Only students enrolled in Ph.D. programs at the University of California, Berkeley are eligible to apply for the DE in Critical Theory. Students must apply in the first or second year of graduate study in order to fulfill the requirements of the DE in addition to those of their home department.

Application Process

Petitions for admission to the DE are accepted each Spring for admission to the program the following Fall. The DE in Critical Theory admits approximately 15 new students each year. We currently have approximately 95 students in the program drawn from a wide number of departments across the humanities and social sciences.

The due date for the 2019-20 academic year is Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 4 pm. Please submit applications and supporting materials via email to critical_theory [at] Note that the required letter of recommendation should be sent under separate cover to

Petition for Admission to the Designated Emphasis

Please submit this form with DE applications.

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Curriculum and Requirements

The requirements of the DE include completion of the course curriculum and appropriate representation of DE faculty on the student’s qualifying exam and dissertation committees.

Course Requirements

DE students are required to take five courses. Three of these comprise the core curriculum (CT 200, 205, and 240), and two are electives (CT 290) selected from a list of courses offered by the DE faculty. When possible, it is preferable for students to take core courses in sequence. Courses should be taken for a letter grade and should be completed prior to the Qualifying Exam.

Representation on Doctoral Committees

One of the members of the student’s qualifying examination committee and dissertation committee must represent the DE in Critical Theory and be a member of the DE’s designated faculty. These faculty members may be outside or inside members of the student’s committees.


Every student admitted to the program will have an advisor selected from the members of the Critical Theory faculty. This advisor is responsible for mentoring the student through the DE and works in consultation with a departmental advisor from the student’s home department to assure appropriate representation of the DE on the student’s qualifying examination and dissertation committees.

Degree Designation

Upon successful completion of the dissertation, the student’s transcript will include the designation: “Ph.D. in [major] with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.” This designation certifies that she or he has participated in, and successfully completed, a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory in addition to all departmental requirements for the doctorate.

Forms for Current Students

DE in Critical Theory Requirements Checklist

Please use this form upon completing all required coursework and paperwork for the obtainment of the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.

Petition for DE in Critical Theory Elective Course Credit

Please use this form to petition for elective course credit in the DE for any course that was not explicitly offered as a Critical Theory Elective.

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The Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship is awarded to Critical Theory DE students with records of achievement and promising dissertation projects. The fellowship supports students writing their dissertations with up to $18,000 toward fees and stipend for a single semester of support.

The annual fellowship is open to Critical Theory students in UC Berkeley Departments including Anthropology, Boalt Law School, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Energy & Resources Group, English, Ethnic Studies, Film and Media, French, Gender and Women’s Studies, German, Geography, History, History of Art, Italian, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Rhetoric, School of Education, School of Public Health, Sociology, Spanish and Portuguese, and Theater, Dance and Performance Studies.

Applications for the 2019-20 Dissertation Fellowship will be due at 4pm on April 12, 2019.

Application Guidelines

Applicants must submit:

  • a cover letter;
  • a 2-3 page abstract of the dissertation;
  • an academic CV;
  • a letter from the dissertation adviser evaluating the project’s promise.

Applicants planning on having the prospectus approved by the end of May 2019 should explain this in the application cover letter, and should have the dissertation director, in his or her letter, evaluate the draft or proposed prospectus and the likelihood of its approval.

The committee will have the option of splitting the award in order to support more students.  In view of this possibility, applicants should specify in the cover letter whether they would prefer to have the award in the fall or spring semester.

Please submit applications to

Past Recipients

2018-19 Dissertation Fellowships were awarded to Molly Borowitz (Spanish & Portuguese) and Basit Iqbal (Anthropology). Borowitz’s dissertation, “Spiritual Subjecthood and Institutional Legibility in Early-Modern Spain and Spanish America,” examines the ways in which spiritual subjects construct themselves in response to interpellation and assessment by early-modern Spanish and Spanish-colonial institutions. The project places a corpus of 16th- and 17th-century texts on Catholic religious experience, including prayer manuals, histories of the New World, and correspondence from Iberian missionaries to the Americas, alongside 20th- and 21st-century theories of subject formation and politics. Iqbal’s multi-sited dissertation fieldwork explores formations of religious humanitarianism amid the European refugee crisis. His project asks how the practices of Muslim humanitarians and refugees remake the notion of Islamic community (umma) in the wake of the ongoing Syrian war. Based in ethnographic research on projects of Syrian refugee support and settlement in Jordan and Canada, his dissertation approaches the doctrine and practice of Islamic humanitarianism as a transnational form which takes shape across otherwise disparate contexts of precarious care.

Fellowship awards are generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund through the UC Berkeley College of Letters and Sciences, Division of Arts and Humanities.

Previous recipients:

2018-19 – Molly Borowitz (Spanish & Portuguese), Basit Iqbal (Anthropology), and Philip Gerard (Comparative Literature)
2017-18 – William Callison (Political Science) and Stephen McIsaac (Anthropology)
2016-17 – Paul Martorelli (Political Science) and Milad Odabaei (Anthropology)
2015-16 – Chiara Ricciardone (Rhetoric)
2014-15 – Joshua Williams (Performance Studies)
2013-14 – Ramsey McGlazer (Comparative Literature)
2012-13 – Mareike Winchell (Anthropology)

Additional fellowship opportunities are posted as they become available.