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 nearly 100 students in the program drawn from a wide number of departments across the humanities and social sciences.

The application due date for 2021-22 is Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 4 pm.  Please submit applications and supporting materials via email to 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 download and fill out this form upon completing all required coursework and paperwork for the obtainment of the Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory.

Petition for Credit for DE Elective

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 fellowships support students writing their dissertations, providing full fee remission (where required) and a full stipend, usually for a semester. Other research grants of shorter term (including summer) may also be awarded, as resources permit.

The annual fellowship is open to Critical Theory students in UC Berkeley Departments including Anthropology, Law, 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 2021-2022 Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowship are due Friday, April 30, by 4 pm.

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 2022 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.

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

2020-2021 Dissertation Fellowships were awarded to Jessica Ruffin (Film & Media) and Elisa Russian (Italian Studies). Ruffin’s dissertation, “A World Divided: Schopenhauer, Aesthetics, and Cinematic Experience,” draws upon the aesthetics and ethics of Arthur Schopenhauer in order to reframe the early stages of German-language media and cultural theory and to reimagine their figures of ethical relation in light of feminist and critical race theories. Russian’s dissertation, titled “The Autobiographer as Social Critic,” examines French and Italian first-person narratives that broadly address the relationship between individuals and groups.

Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund, the Dean of Arts and Humanities, and the Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science.

Previous recipients:

2020-21 –  Jessica Ruffin (Film & Media), Elisa Russian (Italian Studies), Phillip Campanile (Geography), Aaron Eldridge (Anthropology), Donna Honarpisheh (Comparative Literature), Jaeyoon Park (Political Science)
2019-20 – Veronica Jacome (Energy and Resources Group), Ryan Rhadigan (Rhetoric), and Taylor Johnston (Comparative Literature)
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.