Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page.
Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) offers PhD and AM degrees in four distinct fields:
1. Ancient Near Eastern Studies, whose sub-fields include:
Akkadian and Sumerian Studies
Archaeology of the Levant
Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
2. Jewish History and Culture, whose sub-fields include:
The Hebrew Bible in Its Jewish Interpretive Context
Jewish History and Culture of Antiquity
Medieval Jewish History and Culture
Modern Jewish History and Culture
Modern Jewish Literatures
3. The History and Culture of the Islamic World, whose sub-fields include:
Arabic Language and Literature
Islamic Religion and Culture
Islamic Intellectual History (especially philosophy and theology)
Islamic Institutional History
Modern Arabic Literature and Culture
Indo-Muslim Culture: The Study of Muslim Societies in South Asia
In addition, students may apply for a fourth comparative or diachronic field that will draw on the strengths of the faculty across the boundaries presupposed by the fields outlined above. Examples might include comparative Semitic linguistics; Jewish and Islamic law or scriptural interpretation; the intersection of Jewish and/or Arabic cultures with the Iranian/Zoroastrian world.
The NELC department reserves the right to alter all guidelines and information listed below.
All incoming NELC graduate students are assigned a primary advisor and an advising committee, consisting of three faculty members, who will help orient them to the department and to Harvard. Students will meet with their primary advisor during their orientation to NELC, and will meet with their advising committee throughout the first year as needed.
In their consultations with these faculty members, students have a right to expect assistance in planning their course of study and in developing an awareness of the overall structure of their program. At the beginning of each term, students and advisors should agree on meeting times, allowing the students regularly to bring their concerns and questions before their advisors and allowing the advisors to monitor the students’ progress.
As the student’s field of interest becomes more clearly defined, the committee will be adjusted to reflect the field more accurately. After general examinations (see below), the student will consult with one or more members of the faculty to form an advisory committee (usually three persons, but sometimes more) to aid the student in generating a Prospectus. While sometimes changes will be necessary or desirable, in general this same committee will serve as the student’s Dissertation Committee. In accordance with GSAS requirements, the Dissertation Committee should comprise at least three readers approved by the NELC department, two of whom must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. FAS emeriti (including research professors) and faculty members from other schools at Harvard who hold appointments on GSAS degree committees are authorized to sign Dissertation Acceptance Certificates as FAS Members. GSAS strongly recommends that the chair of the dissertation committee be a member of FAS.
Information about the requirements of the four fields and subfields may be obtained from the NELC department or online. The NELC Graduate Student Handbook is available in the department office and online.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Residence
There is a minimum residence requirement of two years.
The First Two Years
PhD candidates are required to complete a minimum of sixteen four-credit courses or the equivalent. Particular requirements of certain fields of study may require additional coursework.
It is the rule of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations that no graduate student shall be permitted more than one grade of Incomplete per term (exceptions granted only in extreme cases). The student must complete the work of the course for which an Incomplete was granted within the following term and a letter grade will be recorded. Otherwise the Incomplete will stand in the student’s permanent record. No more than two permanent Incompletes will be permitted, nor will any permanent Incomplete be allowed for a required course. If a student accumulates more than two permanent Incompletes, the student will be required to withdraw, unless the faculty determines by a two-thirds majority vote that extraordinary circumstances warrant an extension, which shall in no case exceed one term.
In addition to departmental requirements, students are responsible for meeting the GSAS Degree Requirements.
The following schedule for satisfactory progress is based on a timeline that leads up to dissertation completion no later than G-7, which will enable students who entered in 2005 or later to qualify for the Dissertation Completion Grant described below.
General Field Requirements
The departmental fields, and often their sub-fields, each have particular course requirements. These are specified in the field’s written program description, both basic requirements and optional requirements for various directions within the field. Students are expected to consult with the advisor(s) in their fields concerning these requirements.
Language Study Requirements
Students are expected to consult with their advisors concerning the corpus of texts required and the scope of the examinations; the advisors are expected to provide the students with clear and comprehensive information.
The major language of the student’s field of research is normally one of the fields of the general examinations.
In addition, all students are expected to have or acquire knowledge of a second departmental language. The minimum level of competence expected in this requirement is a grade of B in the final examination of a second-year course in the language.
Instead of such language coursework, a student may demonstrate the equivalent level of competence in a required language by taking a special examination administered by a member of the faculty.
If a second departmental language is included in the general examinations, the level of competence will be significantly greater than that required in a second-year language course examination.
Languages of Modern Scholarship
Each student must demonstrate reading proficiency in two modern languages of secondary scholarship (other than English) of direct relevance to their proposed subject of study. One of these languages must be either French or German. The second of these languages will be determined by the student’s advisor in view of the student’s proposed subject of study and the guidelines set out by the NELC sub-field. The student must demonstrate reading proficiency in one modern language by the beginning of the fall term of the second year of study. Students who have failed to do so will be placed into unsatisfactory status.
The student must demonstrate reading proficiency in the second modern language by the beginning of the fall term of the third year of study. Students who have failed to do so will be placed into unsatisfactory status.
Students will not be permitted to take General Examinations until six months after fulfilling the modern language requirements, so that they may credibly include articles and books in the research languages on their bibliographies. Applications to the PhD will be reviewed with this requirement in mind.
Advisors must assist their advisees in acquiring the needed proficiency, which, among other things, will mean building language training into the planning of student programs in the first two years.
Where necessary (as determined by the advisor) students will be advised to take three graduate level courses in one or both terms of the first year, freeing up space to take a course or two in the required modern language. In addition, it will be the responsibility of advisors to work with their advisees to identify the best summer language program in the required language. Students will be expected to make use of the summer grants they receive as part of their funding package to attend such programs. Advisors will be expected to strongly encourage their (prospective) advisees to begin their language work before they arrive, either in the summer after they are admitted, or even earlier, where practicable.
Secondary Language Examination: Students will be given a one-to-two-page passage in the secondary language and will respond to questions of comprehension. Students will also be asked to translate a few lines. Students are allowed access to a printed dictionary and/or an electronic dictionary, which will NOT be connected to the internet.
Note: Courses in the languages of modern scholarship do not count toward the required sixteen half-courses or the equivalent.
A prospective third-year student must have achieved a minimum grade point average of B up to that point. At the end of every fall term, the faculty discusses the progress of each student; if there are problems, a letter is sent to the student at that time. At the end of every spring term, the faculty again reviews the progress of each graduate student and, in accordance with graduate school policy, assigns a status of “satisfactory,” “grace,” or “unsatisfactory” (see the beginning of Chapter VI for definitions).
Students are expected to teach in the third and fourth years of the program. Teaching is not required during the first two years of study. Only under the most unusual circumstances is a student allowed to teach before the third year of study.
As noted in the acceptance letters NELC students receive, students are expected to earn their stipends in the form of teaching fellowships in their third and fourth years. These fellowships begin in the fall term of the third year and extend through the spring term of the fourth year at a rate of two sections (2/5) per term. The department will assist the student in securing teaching fellowships, but students are required to make every effort to find suitable teaching arrangements, whether in NELC or in other departments or programs. Priority for teaching fellow positions in NELC is given to students in their third and fourth years of graduate study.
Additional resources for teaching fellows may be found at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning website.
NEC299 - NELC Doctoral Colloquium: Research, Resources and Pedagogy
This practical colloquium addresses major issues of research and teaching competence and it is divided in two parts. Students are required to take the first part of the course in the spring semester of their first year and the second part in the fall semester of their third year. The first part is designed to introduce G-1 students to the Ph.D. requirements, choosing coursework, the challenges of language training, using library resources most efficiently, as well as methodological issues and examples of ongoing scholarship in NELC.
The second part will address important questions for G-3 students, such as: How to prepare for qualifying and general exams? How does one prepare and write a prospectus? What type of investment does recourse to digital and quantitative methodology require? How best to prepare for professional life after the Ph.D., both inside and outside of academia? What is more, it will offer opportunities for reflection on the art of teaching (leading discussion sections, designing syllabi, giving lectures, etc.).
In addition, NELC faculty will informally present their respective fields (main issues and methods), in broad strokes through their current research, and advanced Ph.D. students will present their prospectus for discussion and feedback before submitting it to the faculty.
This course is required for all NELC PhD students. Students must complete both parts of the course in order to receive two credits towards their required courses. Assessment (SAT/UNSAT) will be based on attendance and successful completion of the various components of the course.
General and Special Examinations
All students are expected to pass Examinations by the second semester of their third year, and in any event, in exceptional situations, no later than the fall semester of their fourth year.
The two General Examinations are written exams that focus on two areas:
(1) An examination testing knowledge of the field. On the decision of the faculty in the field, this exam may be split into two parts, the first of which will be common to all students in the given field (Ancient Near Eastern studies, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Studies, Arabic and Islamic studies), and the second which will be determined by the student’s advisors in consultation with the student. (2) An examination on that field's major language(s) and on texts in the major language(s).
The Special Examinations are also written exams. They relate to the student’s particular field of study, and will focus on two areas of their expertise. They may center on subjects related to the student’s proposed dissertation. The exact configuration of these exams will be determined by the student’s advisors in consultation with the student. One of the Special Examinations may involve a related field or discipline outside of NELC, such as Linguistics, Anthropology and History, which are common areas of study for NELC students.
The Examinations will be administered over a three-week period: the General and Special exams over the first two weeks, and an oral review, based on the written exams, during the third week. The exams will be taken during one of the two set times during the academic year: late October or Reading Period in Spring. To register for the exams, you must file a petition form with the Student Coordinator.
The student’s advisors are expected to assist the student in preparing for the examinations by defining the scope of the examinations and indicating the literature the students are expected to have read and the degree of familiarity with this literature that is expected.
If a student fails any part of the General or Special Examinations, permission to repeat all or part of them will not be granted automatically, but will be considered in each individual case by the examining committee. If permission to repeat the examinations is not granted, the student will be offered the possibility of taking a terminal AM, if the appropriate conditions are met.
Within one year after the successful completion of the general examinations—normally by the end of the fourth year—a student must have obtained approval of a dissertation prospectus in order to show satisfactory progress. Exceptions to this rule require a petition well before the expected submission of the prospectus.
After the successful completion of the general examinations, students will consult with their advisors to choose a topic for their dissertation and a prospectus committee of at least three faculty members, two of whom must be from Harvard.
During the writing of the prospectus, students and advisors are expected to interact closely; the advisors are expected to guide the students with respect to planning and bibliographical research. Often, the principal advisor is the one most closely involved in the early stages and will decide when a draft should be submitted to the other members of the committee. The advice of the members of the committee normally results in the need for several drafts of the prospectus over a number of weeks.
When the prospectus is approved by the entire prospectus committee, it will be submitted to the faculty of the department for comments before being presented by the committee at a department meeting. The student is responsible for distributing copies of the prospectus to all regular members of the department at least one week before the meeting at which the prospectus is to be considered (a tentative schedule of department meetings is circulated each September, and the student coordinator has the list of regular department faculty). The copying of the prospectus and the cost of the copying are also the student’s responsibility.
Acceptance of the prospectus then requires a majority vote of the members present. Not infrequently, a prospectus is not accepted in its present form and is then sent back with the department’s comments (before or after the department meeting) for further revisions. Sometimes the department accepts the prospectus contingent upon specific changes being made.
Form of the Prospectus
The prospectus should include a title page listing the name of the members of the prospectus committee, specifying principal advisor.
The prospectus should conform (as later also the dissertation) to the standards in scholarly writing within the field in terms of style, including transliteration, transcription, and translation of ancient languages and the form of footnotes, references, and bibliographies.
Contents of the Prospectus
The prospectus is expected to contain the following information about the projected dissertation:
- The nature of the problem that the student intends to study.
- Its importance to the overall field of study in which the student is working.
- A broad review of scholarship on the question being examined, such as:
- Which (principal) scholars have dealt with this or similar issues?
- What, in the student’s opinion, remains to be done (i.e., why the student is writing this particular dissertation)?
- A discussion of the methodologies the student will use to tackle the problem (i.e., how does the student intend to argue the point?).
- An outline of each of the chapters; if there are foreseeable difficulties in gathering the material necessary, this should also be noted.
- A schedule of approximate dates for submission of first drafts of each chapter.
- A select and relevant bibliography.
- Tablet samples should be included with prospectus submissions where applicable.
The length of the prospectus should not exceed approximately 3,000 words (for text, footnotes, and schedule inclusive; brief bibliography not inclusive).
Year Five and Beyond
After the Acceptance of the Prospectus, if so desired and accepted by the department, non-Harvard members (usually not more than one) may be included on the Dissertation Committee as secondary advisors.
While the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires a student to complete the PhD program within ten years of entering the program, the target for all students is completion within seven years, and under current rules Harvard funding will not be guaranteed to students beyond the seventh year. Beyond these requirements, the faculty is the final arbiter of what constitutes satisfactory progress.
In order to make satisfactory progress on the dissertation, the student must submit and have approved at least one chapter of the dissertation by the end of the first year after the approval of the prospectus (ordinarily by the end of the 5th year).
Dissertation Completion Grant
Beginning with the cohort entering in 2005–06, students are guaranteed five years of funding: the first four years plus a Dissertation Completion Grant awarded to qualified PhD candidates. This grant will be available as early as G-4 and as late as G-7. After G-7, the grant is no longer guaranteed. The deadline for applying for this grant will be early in the spring term. In order to be eligible, the student must have two advanced draft chapters of the dissertation approved by the time of application.
G-10 Enrollment Cap
Students still in the program in the tenth year should plan to finish that year or else withdraw from the program. They may reapply for admission when they have completed their dissertations.
Only in extraordinary extenuating circumstances, and only if there is demonstrable evidence that the dissertation will be completed, will the department support an application through the Dean’s Office for a one-year grace period. Students who fail to complete the dissertation will be required to withdraw from the Graduate Program. They may then also reapply for admission when they have completed their dissertations.
Following are the rules for completing the PhD program:
- When the dissertation is complete, it is to be read by a jury of at least three readers, two of whom must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
- Copies are to be submitted to each of the readers, as well as one to the department, at least two months before the date on which the degree is to be awarded and at least one month before the date of the dissertation defense.
- The student will be asked to defend the dissertation orally after it has been read, at least one month before the degree is to be awarded.
- The date and time of the dissertation defense will be announced in writing to the entire faculty of the department and all will be invited to attend.
- The student may then be required to revise parts of the dissertation according to comments made by the advisors, occasionally also other faculty, before submitting a final version.
- The student is responsible for having spiral-bound (or hard-bound if the student desires) copies of the final dissertation made. One copy should be deposited with the department, to be placed in the departmental library, and one with the Registrar.
- Students are solely responsible for meeting all GSAS degree application deadlines and for submitting their final dissertations. Schedules (as well as advice) are available in the NELC office and the Registrar’s Office.
Master of Arts (AM)
The AM degree is a terminal degree.
There is a minimum residence requirement of one year. The AM degree is designed to be completed in one year. However, students may elect to complete the degree over two years. The student’s advisor must submit a letter of explanation to the department should the student require more than two years to complete the AM degree.
It is the rule of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations that no graduate student shall be permitted more than one grade of Incomplete per term. The student must complete the work of the course for which an Incomplete was granted within the following term and a letter grade will be recorded. Otherwise the Incomplete will stand in the student’s permanent record. No more than two permanent Incompletes will be permitted, nor will any permanent Incomplete be allowed for a required course. If a student accumulates more than two permanent Incompletes, the student will be required to withdraw, unless the faculty determines by a two-thirds majority vote that extraordinary circumstances warrant an extension, which shall in no case exceed one term.
Students are responsible for meeting the “Common Requirements,” which can be found in Chapter VI.
General Field Requirements
Each field of study has particular course requirements. These are specified in the field’s written program description, both basic requirements and optional requirements for various directions within the field. Students are expected to consult with the advisor(s) in their fields concerning these requirements.
Program of Study
The advising committee must approve the student’s program of study at the time of registration. One of the members of the department will act as primary advisor. The AM degree is awarded upon completion with passing grade (B or above) of at least eight and no more than twelve four-credit courses, of which at least two must be seminars or their equivalents, and upon completion of any additional requirements of the individual program.
Languages of Modern Scholarship
Advanced reading knowledge of either French or German is ordinarily required before admission. The student will be tested on that language at the beginning of the first term. If the competence level is insufficient, the student is expected to pass the departmental French/German examination by the end of the first term. In some fields, knowledge of an additional language may be required. The level of competence in the second language will be determined by the student’s advisor(s).
Note: Courses in the languages of modern scholarship do not count toward the required eight to twelve four-credit courses (see above).
At the end of every fall term, the faculty discusses the progress of each student; if there are problems, a letter is sent to the student at that time. At the end of every spring term, the faculty again reviews the progress of each graduate student and, in accordance with graduate school policy, assigns a status of “satisfactory,” “grace,” or “unsatisfactory.” The terms “grace” and “unsatisfactory” are defined at the beginning in Chapter VI.
Students will submit an AM paper, the subject and scope of which will be determined in direct consultation with their advisor.
Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Website