Islamic and Modern Middle Eastern Studies

Students entering NELC in order to pursue graduate study in the Islamic and Modern fields must meet all the regular requirements of NELC--in particular, satisfying the two European language reading examinations by the end of the second year; preparation of an acceptable research paper; preparation of a dissertation proposal; etc. See NELC regulations for details of these and other requirements.

Modern European Language Examinations. Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must pass reading examinations in both French and German, one by the end of the first year in residence, and the other by the end of the second year in residence.

In special circumstances, the student, with the consent of his or her advisor and the Field Counselor, may petition the Department's Student Affairs Committee (SAC) to substitute another modern foreign language (e.g. Spanish, Russian ) for either French or German. In general, students would be allowed to substitute modern languages for their French or German requirements only when these languages are strictly necessary for their field of specialization.

Primary and Secondary Near Eastern Language requirements

Students in the Islamic/Modern fields must declare a primary and a secondary Near Eastern language. Before taking comprehensive examinations, all students must reach advanced level competency in their primary Near Eastern language, and intermediate level competency (or better) in their secondary Near Eastern language. Advanced level competency in a language is defined as satisfactory completion (with grades of B or better) of two years of language courses (six quarters) in that language beyond the usual intermediate-level (second-year) course (that is, four years of language study). Intermediate level competency is defined as satisfactory completion (with grades of B or better) of the intermediate-level (second-year) course.

Normally, the Near Eastern languages declared by the student are chosen from those taught in NELC. Under suitable circumstances, however, and with the approval of the student's advisor and the Counselor for the Islamic/Modern fields, a student may choose for his or her secondary Near Eastern language a language taught in another department (for example: Latin, Greek, Urdu). The primary language must be taught in NELC.

The Comprehensive (Four-Year) Examination. Full-time Ph.D. candidates must pass a Comprehensive Examination, which serves as the test of readiness to undertake research on the dissertation, no later than four years after beginning work toward the degree. (Qualified students may take this examination earlier if desired.) The examination tests the student's competence in the following areas:

A student's Comprehensive Examination must be deemed passing, with a minimum average of B, by at least two members of the NELC faculty.

Comprehensive Examinations

The comprehensive examinations in Islamic/Modern fields consist of the following:

  1. Major Field (4 hours maximum)
  2. Minor Field (4 hours maximum)
  3. Methodology (8 hours maximum)
  4. Islamic History and Civilization (Oral exam; usually 2 hours)

Examination Fields: Fields for the Major and Minor Field Examinations are to be chosen from the following list of approved fields; examinations are intended to test the student's comphrehensive knowledge of the given fields. Students should select fields for their examinations in consultation with their advisor.

  • Islamic Art
  • Islamic Archaeology
  • Early Islamic History (ca. 500-1200 C.E.)
  • Middle Periods Islamic History (ca. 1000-1700 C.E.)
  • Modern Middle Eastern History (ca. 1500-Present)
  • Pre-Modern Arabic Literature
  • Modern Arabic Literature
  • Pre-Modern Persian Literature
  • Modern Persian Literature
  • Pre-Modern Turkish Literature
  • Modern Turkish Literature
  • Pre-Modern Hebrew Literature [other than Biblical Hebrew]
  • Modern Hebrew Literature
  • Philology (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew)
  • Linguistics (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, or Comparative Semitics)
  • Islamic Philosophy
  • Islamic Theology
  • Islamic Law
  • Qur'anic Studies
  • Hadith
  • Islamic Political Thought
  • Sufism


With the approval of his/her advisor and the Counselor, a student may choose a minor field in the Ancient section of NELC, or outside the Department, if relevant to his or her research interests; for example, Syriac Literature; Coptic Literature; Byzantine History; Medieval European History; Modern European History; West African History; British Imperial History; Sociology of Religion; Zoroastrianism; History of Religions Methodology; generally, any relevant Humanities or Social Sciences fields.

The Islamic History and Civilization Exam, which essentially constitutes a required second minor field exam for all students, will be an oral examination conducted by three (or more) NELC faculty and lasting no more than two hours. The purpose of the examination is to ensure that the student has a broad, general grasp of the history and civilization of the Near East from the rise of Islam until the present. The faculty of the Islamic/Modern fields will prepare a basic reading list to guide students in preparing for this examination; students should receive this list at matriculation and should expect to be familiar with the works on this reading list.

It will be the responsibility of the Counselor, working in consultation with the student's advisor, to select the three faculty members who will administer the oral exam, ensuring that the student feels comfortable with the examiners selected, and that the burden of oral examinations falls more or less equitably upon different faculty in the Islamic/Modern fields.

With the approval of the advisor and Counselor, a student whose work makes an examination in Islamic Civilization inappropriate (for example, a student majoring in modern Hebrew literature with a minor in medieval Hebrew Literature and Judaica) may substitute another History and Civilization examination (for example, in Medieval and Modern Jewish History and Civilization) for the Islamic History and Civilization Exam. Students interested in pursuing this option should make their desire known as early as possible in their program, so that suitable reading materials can be suggested to assist them in their preparation.

The Methodology Examination is intended to test the student's ability to work with primary materials (usually a text or texts of a kind familiar to the student) and to utilize those materials in the production of scholarship--e.g., by being asked to prepare a translation or summary of the text, a commentary on it, and/or to write an essay on an assigned topic or topics using the text as part of the evidence. The student is given 8 hours to complete the assignment, during which he/she may consult any working aids (dictionaries, encyclopaedias, notes, etc.) that may be deemed useful.

Dissertation Proposal. After passing the Comprehensive Examination, the student will select and advisor, and the Chairman of the Department, in consultation with the advisor, will set up a faculty committee of three or more members to supervise the dissertation. The advisor, who is the chairman of this committee, must be a faculty member of NELC. The student first submits, in writing, a petition for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D.. degree to the Chairman of the Department together with two copies of his or her dissertation proposal (with select bibliography) approved by his or her committee. No sooner than two weeks later, the student defends his or her proposal at a public hearing in which the advisory committee, at least four faculty members, and any other interested faculty and students, participate; the purpose of the hearing is to ensure that the conception, scope, and sources of the topic are sound and the topic feasible. These requirements should be satisfied as early as possible, but no later than one year after completing the Comprehensive Examination. When the proposal has been approved by the Department's faculty, the student shall be formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree (see the Department's Rules and Requirements, § 33).

The Dissertation and Final Oral Examination. With his or her proposal approved by the Department, the student may embark on dissertation research, keeping in close touch with his or her advisor and the members of his or her dissertation committee. The finished dissertation must meet all University and Departmental requirements (see Rules and Requirements §§ 39-41). The time of the final oral examination shall be arranged in consultation with the Departmental chairman after the dissertation has been approved by the student's dissertation committee and no sooner than one month after two copies of it have been submitted to the Departmental office.