Graduate Program in Middle Eastern Literatures and Societies

NELC’s graduate program in Middle Eastern Literatures and Societies offers advanced study of the languages and literatures of Islamic civilizations, and also Islamic history and thought in their Near Eastern context, in modern and pre-modern settings. In general, the student is to follow the MA general procedures or the PhD general procedures of the Department, but the following statements outline the regulations specific to the PhD program in MELS.

Students in the Middle Eastern Literatures and Societies program are expected to command Arabic or Persian as a primary research language and another (usually Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew) as a secondary research language, as well as the general history and culture of the region. The specific distribution of courses varies by a student’s interests and specialization. Students are expected to work out the broad outlines of their programs in consultation with their faculty advisor when they begin their studies. Expectations for individual students will be conveyed in writing to the Graduate Group Chair, with updates provided as necessary.

  • The Masters Degree (12 c.u.)

    Languages: Students will take 4 c.u. in Arabic or Persian language, which must be beyond the Advanced Intermediate level. Two course units in the secondary research language are also required.

    Also required is reading knowledge of one European language (usually French or German).

    In addition, students are required to take four courses in Islamics (history & religion) and two courses in Arabic or Persian literature.

    At the conclusion of coursework (and once the European language reading exam has been passed), the student will prepare for AM Final Examinations. Upon successful completion of these exams, students can prepare the MA thesis. Students may also submit two lengthy term papers for consideration by the faculty instead of an MA thesis.
  • The PhD program (20 c.u.)

    The PhD program consists of a further eight course units beyond those required for the MA program described above. (For students entering with an MA or equivalent degree from another institution, up to eight course units MAY be transferred into this program at the discretion of the faculty and the Graduate Chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Program.

    The required eight course units break down as follows:

    • Three in Arabic or Persian literature and Islamics (history or thought) at the advanced seminar level (6000+)

    • Two course units at the second-year/Intermediate level in the minor 

    • Three elective courses to be chosen in conjunction with the major advisor

    At the conclusion of course work, the student must pass a second reading exam in a European language, to be followed by Candidacy Examinations.

Students wishing to take a secondary field in MELS must demonstrate a thorough knowledge of modern standard Arabic or modern Persian equivalent to proficiency in Advanced Intermediate Arabic. This may be shown either through course work at this university or through reaching the required level (80% aggregate) on the appropriate proficiency test. During Candidacy Exams, students taking a secondary field will be examined in two subjects:

  • Arabic or Persian language and literature (history and criticism, based on sources in European languages)

  • Islamics (the history of the Middle East in the Islamic era, and the institutions of Islam)


  • Qualifying Exams

    Qualifying Exams in Middle Eastern Literatures and Societies are normally comprised of two parts. One exam will be of three hours length and be designed to show the student’s competence in Arabic or Persian language and set by the student’s faculty advisor. The second exam will be based on a set reading list of approximately forty books.
  • Candidacy Exams

    In MELS, Candidacy Exams are normally comprised of (1) the submission of a syllabus for a proposed course (the topic of which will have been set by the student’s supervisor), (2) a take-home exam set by the student’s supervisor and any other examiners on topics determined in advance by the student, the student's supervisor, and any other examiners, lasting no more than one week.