Established in 1954, Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies supports research and teaching on a broad range of topics related to the region. At the core of the Center’s mandate is the pursuit of firsthand knowledge about the Middle East based on literacy in its languages and understanding of its diverse politics, cultures, and histories.

Generations of scholars have graduated from our degree programs, bringing a deepened understanding of the Middle East to careers that include academia, government, business, journalism, and law. Our broad, interdisciplinary approach encompasses the humanities and social sciences as well as the arts and natural sciences. CMES engages with faculty from Harvard University’s many departments, professional schools, and other regional studies centers. Graduate students at CMES benefit from the vast holdings of Harvard’s libraries and museums, which include exceptional collections related to Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. Our dynamic academic community includes over forty faculty, a diverse cohort of more than fifty graduate students, and an annual contingent of visiting researchers. 

Degree Programs

CMES offers three joint doctoral degree tracks with the Departments of Anthropology, History, and the History of Art and Architecture. We also offer an AM (master’s) degree in Regional Studies—Middle East. Applicants for the joint PhD programs should apply for the PhD in Middle Eastern Studies.

AM Program in Regional Studies—Middle East

The master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies (AM) is a rigorous two-year academic program designed for students who wish to develop their academic interests or pursue professional skills. Students have diverse profiles and come from the United States and around the world. They share a capacity for scholarly exploration of the Middle East region in all its richness and complexity.

Graduates of the program pursue careers in academia, government, business, media, human rights, and non-governmental work. Some continue for further graduate study in law school, medical school, or PhD programs.

PhD Programs

The three CMES joint PhD programs—Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies, History and Middle Eastern Studies, and History of Art and Architecture and Middle Eastern Studies—are designed for students who wish to enrich their doctoral studies with firsthand knowledge about the Middle East based on literacy of its languages and an understanding of its cultural, historical, and artistic traditions. 

CMES PhD students are full members of their joint departments with an intellectual and administrative home at CMES, where they have access to the Center’s faculty, facilities, and resources. Students complete both the requirements of the related department and the language and area studies requirements established by CMES. In addition to coursework and comprehensive exams, PhD students develop a high proficiency in at least one Middle Eastern language and complete a dissertation based on original research.

Admissions Requirements

CMES welcomes applications from students with a demonstrated interest in Middle Eastern studies. The admissions committee takes into consideration all elements of an applicant’s background in their evaluation of applications. Prior language training in a Middle Eastern language is advantageous but is not a prerequisite. Successful applications include the following elements: 

  • Three strong Letters of Recommendation 
  • Statement of Purpose. A two-page document that presents both your general academic trajectory and specific research interests. It may include relevant life experiences (e.g., study or work abroad, acquisition of languages at home or in other non-academic settings). The statement should also refer to the Harvard faculty and programs that would fit with your research interests and career goals. 
  • Writing Sample (PhD applicants only), between 15 and 25 pages. This can be a standalone research essay or an excerpt from a longer piece of work. (If the latter, please provide an introductory paragraph placing the excerpt in context of the work as a whole.) Ideally, the writing sample demonstrates your research skills (especially the use of primary sources), writing ability, and command of languages relevant to your proposed course of study. 
  • The GRE is optional, not required.

Prospective students should read the program descriptions (AM and PhD) carefully before submitting their applications. Students should also consult the CMES Prospective Student FAQs for answers to common questions about applying to CMES.

See GSAS Policies for more information about Middle Eastern Studies graduate program requirements

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for Middle Eastern Studies

Middle Eastern Studies Faculty