Degree Programs

Middle Eastern Studies

AM in Regional Studies — Middle East
PhD in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies
PhD in History of Art and Architecture and Middle Eastern Studies
PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) was established in 1954 for the purpose of supporting research and teaching in the languages, literatures, history, governments, economics, and cultures of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia, with the emphasis on the modern period.

At the core of its teaching and research is the pursuit of firsthand knowledge about the Middle East based on literacy in its languages and an understanding of its political and economic realities, its culture and traditions. To achieve these aims, the Center cooperates with faculty having a Middle Eastern interest, with other regional studies centers, and with Harvard libraries and museums holding collections related to Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.

The Center’s aim is to offer a comprehensive program of training for those planning careers in education, government service, and in the private sector, as well as to support research on the area. More than 50 members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are associated with the Center; in addition, Middle East specialists are found in the Law School, the Business School, the Kennedy School of Government, the Divinity School, and the Graduate School of Design.

The Center publishes a listing of courses relating to the Middle East each year, usually totaling over 200 undergraduate and graduate courses and seminars offered in the departments of Anthropology, Government, History of Art and Architecture, History, Religion, Sociology, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

Committee on Middle Eastern Studies

The Committee on Middle Eastern Studies is a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences charged with the administration of graduate degree programs in Middle Eastern studies. The members of this committee are drawn from the faculty associated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The committee offers the following programs:

Regional Studies — Middle East, a two-year program of study leading to the Master of Arts (AM) degree.

Joint Programs for the PhD — Joint programs for the degree of PhD in Middle Eastern Studies and Anthropology, History of Art and Architecture, and History are currently active.

Admission

All students admitted to the degree programs are expected to meet the requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, presenting specifically a bachelor’s degree from a recognized institution (or a satisfactory equivalent), a superior undergraduate record, and other indications of promise. The GRE General Test is required. Requests for admission and financial aid application forms should be addressed to the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, 3rd floor, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. We encourage online submission of the application. See www.gsas.harvard.edu.

 

Master of Arts (AM) in Regional Studies — Middle East

The program for this degree requires two years of study. It seeks to give the student both a broad background and a special competence in selected fields of Middle Eastern affairs. Each student’s needs and interests, as well as previous experience and qualifications, are taken into account in planning his or her course of study.

Admission — Admission is based on the applicant’s previous record, general ability, and promise. Knowledge of a modern Middle Eastern language is not a prerequisite but will be taken into consideration as well as all previous experience in the Middle East.

Financial Aid — Financial aid for AM students is extremely limited and there is no guaranteed funding for AM students. Prospective AM students may apply for an academic year Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship at the same time as they apply for admission. AM students who are US citizens or permanent residents may apply for federal aid, including Perkins Loans, Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, and Federal Work-Study. All students may apply for HELP loan funding regardless of citizenship status. Prospective students are encouraged to apply for independent grants and fellowships to fund their studies.

Academic Residence — Students must be registered as full-time students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for four terms (two academic years).

Program of Study — Academic research and writing skills are emphasized in both the students’ elective and required coursework. In the first semester, all students are required to take the CMES Proseminar NEC 200a “Approaches to Middle Eastern Studies,” a writing-intensive course on notable books in Middle Eastern studies. Students intending to write a masters thesis must take NEC 200b, “Middle East Studies Research Seminar,” a course in research methods, during the spring semester of their first year.

Additional course requirements include:

  • Four courses in a Middle Eastern language (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish)
  • One course in medieval (pre-1500) Middle Eastern history
  • One course in modern Middle Eastern history
  • One course related to the Middle East in anthropology, economics, history of art and architecture, government, law, or religion
  • Seven elective courses, one of which must be a seminar

 

The student’s program of study must meet with the approval of the director of the AM program.

Languages — All students in the program are expected to attain a reading and speaking competence in one of the major modern Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish. Students who are native speakers will be required to study a second language.

Joint Programs for the PhD

Admission — A student for a joint PhD degree is normally expected to have completed an AM program in Middle Eastern Studies or another relevant field, at Harvard or elsewhere, before admission as a PhD student.

There is not, however, an official link between Harvard’s AM and PhD programs. Applicants to the PhD program who are in Harvard’s AM program in Middle Eastern Studies are treated as any other out-side applicant. In exceptional cases, unusually well-qualified students may be considered for admission after a bachelor’s degree program with requisite specialization. Strong preference will be given to applicants who are adequately prepared to meet the European and Middle Eastern language requirements for the doctorate. Students may also choose to apply directly to one of the departments in which the programs and requirements are closer to their particular Middle East interests.

Financial Aid — Prospective students apply for financial aid at the same time they apply for admission (see the Prospective Students page). All registered continuing students receive applications for the forthcoming year in early December. Incoming CMES PhD
students are guaranteed a financial aid package including grants covering tuition and living expenses in their first two years, tuition and living expenses in the form of assured eligibility for a Teaching Fellowship in their third and fourth years, and tuition in their final year. In addition, they are eligible for summer research awards in the summers following their first and second years in the program. Some aid offers are granted on the basis of merit, others are based on an analysis of student resources, while still others reflect a combination of merit and need. For detailed information about financing study at GSAS, please see the Prospective Students page.

Academic Residence — A minimum of two years is required. In most cases, however, fulfillment of all requirements for the degree in the joint program will involve at least one additional year of preparation.

Dissertation — After completion of the General Examination, students are required to submit within one year a dissertation prospectus for approval by the Joint PhD Subcommittee of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. Specific requirements for individual programs are detailed below.

Programs of Study — The requirements for the joint PhD programs are as follows:

PhD in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies

The student will fulfill all the requirements for the PhD in social anthropology (as listed in this publication under “Higher Degrees in Anthropology”). In addition, the student will also fulfill the following language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies:

Languages — Each student must demonstrate a reading knowledge of one of the following European languages: German, French, Italian, or Russian. This requirement may be fulfilled either by a departmental examination or by satisfactory completion of two years of language study. The student must also demonstrate a thorough knowledge of a modern Middle Eastern language: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish. Depending on the student’s specialization, another Middle Eastern or Islamic language (e.g., Kurdish, Urdu) may be substituted with the approval of the Committee on Joint PhD Programs. “Thorough knowledge” would normally translate into a minimum of four years of language study with a final grade of B- or above. Native speakers of these languages will be required to master a second Middle Eastern language.

A written examination in the Middle Eastern language selected will be administered by the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies and must also be taken before the completion of course work.

While not required to do so, students are strongly encouraged to master at least one additional Middle Eastern language. The expectation is that the student learn the languages necessary to teach and work in his or her chosen field.

Courses — The student will take at least three half-courses in Middle Eastern history, economics, religion, or political science. Other fields of study from related areas may be approved to meet this requirement by petition to the committee.

Dissertation — The dissertation will normally be based on fieldwork conducted in the Middle East, or in other areas of the world with close cultural ties to the region. The dissertation should demonstrate the student’s ability to use source material in one or more relevant Middle Eastern languages. A copy of the completed dissertation must be filed with CMES.

 

PhD in History of Art and Architecture and Middle Eastern Studies

The student will fulfill the requirements for the PhD in History of Art and Architecture, with minor adjustments to be discussed with his or her advisor. In addition, the student will also fulfill the following language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.

Languages – Each student must complete at least two years of residence, fulfill the department’s language requirement in French, German, or Russian, and obtain proficiency in one of the following Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, or another appropriate ancient Near Eastern language.

Courses – In addition to the work on Near Eastern art and architecture, the student must take at least one half-course and one seminar in some other period of art history, and at least one-half course and one seminar in some other aspect of Middle Eastern studies. Classes should be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor.

General Examination — The student will be expected to take four General Examinations: two in Near Eastern art (either different periods or different techniques, the scope being determined by the student’s committee), one in another period of the history of art and in Near Eastern studies, and the last one a language examination in Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, or an ancient Near Eastern language consisting of a translation (with dictionary) of one or two passages from a list of sources provided at least a year before the exam, and of a commentary. One of the exams (other than language) could be oral.

Dissertation – The student should follow the requirements for the PhD in history of art and architecture. A copy of the completed dissertation must be filed with CMES.

 

PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies

Fields of Study — As soon as possible after entering the program, and no later than the end of the first year, the student should select an advisor (who must be a member of the history department) in consultation with whom four fields of study will be chosen for presentation at the General Examination. This selection of fields is to be set down in written form and signed by the advisor. This plan will also state the student’s choice of courses and language examinations during the first two years. A student wishing subsequently to propose changes in this study plan must do so in the form of a written petition to the advisor.

Languages — Each student must pass the history department’s language exam in one of the following: French, German, Russian or Italian. Students must attain proficiency in a modern Middle Eastern language: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish. Depending on the student’s specialization, another Middle Eastern or Islamic language (e.g., Kurdish, Urdu) may be substituted with the approval of the Committee on Joint PhD Programs. “Thorough knowledge” would normally translate into a minimum of four years of language study with a final grade of B- or above. Native speakers of these languages will be required to master a second Middle Eastern language. A written examination in the Middle Eastern language selected will be administered by the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies and must be taken within a year of passing the General Examination.

While not required to do so, students are strongly encouraged to master at least one additional Middle Eastern language. The expectation is that the student learn the languages necessary to teach and work in his or her chosen field.

Courses — In the first semester, each student must pass the introductory seminar on methodology, History 3910: The Writing of History: Approaches and Practices, with a grade of satisfactory. Students must take at least two seminars for a letter grade; one in Middle Eastern history, and one in Western history. A student wishing to substitute for Western history a seminar on African or East Asian history, or other pertinent field, may petition the Committee on Joint PhD Programs.

General Examination — The General Examination examines four established fields of the Department of History and the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. One of the four fields must be in Western history and two must be in Middle Eastern history. The three established fields in Middle Eastern history are medieval Islamic history, Ottoman history, and modern Middle Eastern history. Students who wish to offer another Middle East-related field (for example, Byzantine history) in place of one of the established Middle Eastern fields should petition the committee for permission. The Department of History’s chronological requirements for historical fields do not apply to the fields submitted for the joint program.

The fourth field is a written language comprehension examination of a major text in the student’s primary Middle Eastern language; it is a separate examination from that which covers the three historical fields.

Prospectus — The dissertation prospectus must be completed and approved within one year of passing the first three fields of the generals. It must be written in conformity with the Department of History guidelines, as detailed in the History Department Graduate Student Handbook.

Dissertation — The dissertation must be read and approved by a three-member dissertation committee, two of whom are normally permanent members of the GSAS faculty.

A copy of the completed dissertation must be filed with CMES.

Recent PhD Dissertation Titles

  • "Ottoman Modernity: The Nizamiye Courts in the Late 19th-Century"
  • "Households, Guilds and Neighbourhoods: Social Solidarities in Ottoman Aleppo, 1640-1700"
  • "The Atik Valide Mosque Complex: A Testament of Nurbanu’s Prestige, Power, and Piety"
  • "And Sulh is Best:” Amicable Settlement and Dispute Resolution in Islamic Law"
  • "The Ottoman Interregnum (1402-1413): Politics and Narratives of Dynastic Succession"
  • "Signs Taken for Wonder: 19th-Century Persian Travel Literature to Europe"
  • "Family and Society in a 17th-Century Ottoman City: The Alamis of Jerusalem"
  • "Levantine Trajectories: The Formulation and Dissemination of Radical Ideas in and between Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria, 1860-1914"
  • "Seeking Loyalty: The Inner Asian Tradition of Personal Guards and its Influence in Persia and China"
  • "The Muh’tasib, Law, and Society in Early Mamluk Cairo and Fustat (1250-1400)"
  • "The Nimatullahi Sayyids of Taft: A Study of the Evolution of a Late Medieval Iranian Sufi Tariqah."
  • "The Ottoman Age of Exploration: Spices, Maps, and Conquest in the 16th-Century Indian Ocean"
  • "The Sultan and the Sultanate: The Theory of Rulership during the Reign of Suleiman II (1520-1566)"
  • "When the Messiah Converts: Research on the Ottoman Origins of the 17th-Century Jewish Messianic Movement"
  • "Sheikhs in the Life of a 17th-Century Ottoman Alim: A Study on Nevizade Atai’s Hadaiku’l-Hakaik"
  • "The Ottoman State and the Greek Orthodox of Istanbul: Sovereignty and Identity at the Turn of the 18th Century"
  • "Community and Nation-State: The Shi'is of Jabal 'Amil and the New Lebanon, 1918-1943"
  • "Pedagogies of Patriotism: Teaching Socio-Political Community in 20th-Century Turkish and Egyptian Education"
  • "Challenging Power and Authority in Pre-Protectorate Morocco: Shaykh Muhammad al-Kattani and the Tariqa Kattaniyya"
  • "The Politics of Civilizational Identities: Asia, West, and Islam in the Pan-Asianist Thought of Okawa Shumei"
  • "Muhammad’s Grave: Death, Ritual, and Society in the Early Islamic World"
  • "From Holy Warriors to Chivalric Order: The 'Ayyars in the Eastern Islamic World, AD 800-1055"
  • "Recombination and Forensics: Cancer Risk Among Two Cappadocian Communities in Turkey, Sweden, and Germany”

Fellowships

The FLAS program (Foreign Language and Area Studies), funded by the US Department of Education, is designed to meet the need for American specialists in education, government, and other fields who will use their skills in training others and promoting a wider knowledge of non-Western languages and cultures. FLAS applications for new students are found in the admissions application.

Other Harvard fellowships and grants are competitively open to CMES students each year.

Research in Middle Eastern Studies

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies encourages and promotes research on the Middle East in the fields of the social sciences and the humanities. The Center also participates in interdisciplinary research projects in the Middle East, cooperating with other departments in the University and with other Middle East Centers and research institutes both in the United States and abroad. There are opportunities for advanced graduate students to work on these projects. A limited number of research appointments (usually without stipend) are available to advanced scholars who wish to pursue their research on a specific project in the Middle Eastern field. These fellowships normally run for one academic year beginning in the fall term. Further information may be obtained by writing to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 38 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Library Facilities

The Harvard libraries are particularly rich in materials for the study of Middle Eastern countries, and are continually being expanded. Outstanding Arabic and Hebrew collections are supplemented by extensive Persian and Turkish resources, as well as holdings in other languages of the region. The Law School, the Divinity School, the School of Business Administration, and the Littauer Library, as well as the libraries of various museums, also have substantial specialized collections.

Museums

The Cambridge and Boston area is especially fortunate to be endowed with important Near Eastern collections in its major museums. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has one of the outstanding collections of ancient Egyptian art and archaeology in the world, many of the objects deriving from the joint expeditions of Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts to Egypt and the Sudan. It also possesses a fine collection of Islamic art and a selection of ancient Mesopotamian and Syrian objects. The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has a useful study collection of early material from the Middle East as well as a significant North African collection. In addition, the Sackler Art Museum has a fine collection of Islamic art and good examples of sculpture and bronzes of earlier periods.

Course Offerings

Course offerings vary from year to year; for specific details see Courses of Instruction offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, or the annual listing of Middle East-related courses published online by CMES. The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations offers language instruction at all levels in Arabic, both modern and classical, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and other relevant languages. History courses usually cover ancient, Byzantine, Islamic, and Ottoman history; in addition, several courses are offered on the history of the modern Middle East. Courses on Islam include Islamic doctrines and sects, Islamic institutions, and Islamic law. Courses and seminars are also given in Middle Eastern anthropology, economics, history of art and architecture, government, linguistics, religion, and sociology.