Near Eastern Studies

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Jones Hall

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.
  • M.A. - Not currently accepting applicants

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:


The Department of Near Eastern Studies (NES) has been a leader in the study of the Middle East since 1927, when it was founded as the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures. While traditionally the strength of the department has been in the medieval and pre-modern studies of the geographical area that includes the Arab lands, Iran, Israel, and Turkey, greater emphasis has been given more recently to the modern Muslim world in its entirety, including the Caucasus, Central Asia, and South Asia. This development recognizes the many interconnections of the Muslim world and enables NES to offer its students an interdisciplinary program of studies that breaks out of the artificial constraints imposed by the traditional geographical focus.

For students interested in pursuing graduate studies in preparation for academic and other careers, the Department of Near Eastern Studies offers a program of study leading to the Ph.D. There is considerable flexibility in the individual course of study and in the choice of dissertation topic.

The Program in Near Eastern Studies also offers a two-year degree curriculum leading to the M.A. as a final degree. This program is governed by an interdepartmental committee. The Program Director oversees the student’s course selection, master’s thesis, and examinations.


Application deadline
December 15, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2024)
Program length
Ph.D. 5 years, M.A. 2 years
General Test - optional/not required

Additional departmental requirements

Sample of written work, 25 page maximum. Applicants must complete the NES fact sheet in the application.

Please note, the Program in Near Eastern Studies is not accepting applications for the M.A. program for the  2024-2025 academic year.

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.

Program description

The Department of Near Eastern Studies offers training leading to doctoral degrees in the study of the Middle East and more broadly the Islamic World, from the rise of Islam to the present day. For a full account of the fields of specialization of current faculty please see the department website. 


A student normally takes three or four courses each semester during the first two years of study; the minimum number of courses that a student is expected to complete each year is six. Of the six, at least three must be graduate seminars taught by members of the department, affiliated faculty, or visiting NES faculty. Normally, courses in European languages do not count among the six required courses each year. Normally, reading courses (700-level courses) count, but students must obtain prior approval from the Director of Graduate Studies. For the purposes of reckoning a student’s course load, precepting in a departmental undergraduate course counts as the equivalent of a graduate seminar taken in the department.


Before taking the general examination, all students must demonstrate research-level competence in at least one Near Eastern language and knowledge equivalent to a minimum of two years of university study of a second Near Eastern language. In addition, all students must pass an examination in at least one European language of scholarship other than English; knowledge of two such languages is often needed for research. Students are urged to avail themselves of the possibilities for intensive summer language instruction in order to accelerate their language training.

General exam

The general examination is taken within a single examination period, normally at the end of the second or the beginning of the third year of study. It consists of four written parts: three three-hour-long examinations on broad fields of study chosen in consultation with the candidate’s adviser and the director of graduate studies, and an examination on research methods and the critical evaluation of sources for, and authorities on, some posed problem. This is followed by an oral examination. The examination committee normally consists of three members of the Princeton faculty. One of the fields may be taken in another department (for example, Religion, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, History, Sociology or Politics). A student who does not achieve a high pass on the general examination may be recommended for a terminal M.A. degree, provided all other requirements have been met.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully passes the language requirement and the general examination, and is recommended by the faculty. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.

A student proceeding to dissertation research who has completed all M.A. requirements and wishes to receive an M.A. upon passing the general examination must complete the advanced degree application process.

Dissertation and FPO

Every student must prepare a written outline about twelve pages in length of their research plans within four months of taking generals. This prospectus should be submitted to an ad hoc committee consisting of the student’s adviser, the Director of Graduate Studies, and a third faculty member nominated by the DGS after consultation with the adviser and the student. The student should then meet with the committee to discuss the prospectus.

A final public oral examination is held after each candidate’s dissertation has been read and approved by their dissertation faculty advisers and readers.  The Ph.D. is awarded after the candidate’s doctoral dissertation has been accepted and the final public oral examination sustained.

Additional requirements

For a full statement of the department's regulations regarding Ph.D. students, see the current Graduate Student Handbook on the department website.

Program Offering: M.A.

This program is not currently accepting applications.

Program description

The Program in Near Eastern Studies offers a two-year degree curriculum leading to the M.A. as a final degree. This special program is governed by an Interdepartmental Committee, and enables a limited number of students to take a multidisciplinary course of study under the guidance of the director of the program leading to the degree of Master of Arts in Near Eastern studies.


Students take appropriate course work emphasizing the history, culture, religions, languages and social structures of the Islamicate world.

Students take four courses, including language courses, in each of the first three semesters of enrollment, and one course in the fourth semester, when they also write the M.A. thesis. 


Candidates for the M.A. in Near Eastern Studies will present a thesis by May 10 of the second year on a subject agreed upon with the student’s adviser. The thesis must be approved by the adviser and a second reader selected by the Program Director. 

Additional requirements

Comprehensive Oral Examination
After submitting the thesis, students are required to complete an oral examination.


  • Chair

    • Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Marina Rustow
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Daniel J. Sheffield
  • Professor

    • Michael A. Cook
    • Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi
    • M. Sükrü Hanioglu
    • Bernard A. Haykel
    • Hossein Modarressi
    • Marina Rustow
    • Muhammad Q. Zaman
  • Associate Professor

    • Jonathan M. Gribetz
    • Lara Harb
    • Eve Krakowski
    • Michael A. Reynolds
    • Daniel J. Sheffield
  • Assistant Professor

    • Satyel Larson
  • Associated Faculty

    • Molly Greene, History
    • Amaney A. Jamal, Politics
    • Lital Levy, Comparative Literature
    • Shaun E. Marmon, Religion
    • Sabine Schmidtke, Near Eastern Studies
    • Jack B. Tannous, History
  • Senior Lecturer

    • Gregory J. Bell
    • Nancy A. Coffin
  • Lecturer

    • Yasmina Abouzzohour
    • Nilüfer Hatemi
    • Philip Hollander
    • George A. Kiraz
    • Amineh Mahallati
    • Mounia Mnouer
    • Faris Zwirahn
  • Visiting Lecturer with Rank of Professor

    • Sabine Schmidtke

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

ART 520 - Social Identities in Ancient Egypt (also CLA 525/NES 501)

Ancient Egyptians, like all people, had multiple, intersecting aspects to their identity that were linked profoundly to their social communities. What kinds of objects, images, and material traditions linked ancient people together? What material forms acted as crucial modes of communication within communities and among them? We examine a wide range of material culture considering various sections of society, and we then look in-depth at several ancient sites to examine how these various groups intersected in shared spaces and across time.

COM 566 - Arabs, Jews, and Arab-Jews in Literature, History, and Culture (also NES 566)

This course examines the idea of the Arab, the Jew, and the Arab-Jew as represented in history, literature, and film. It revisits the interdisciplinary scholarship around "Jews and Arabs" since the 1990s in order to reassess past and current approaches and to assist students with their own research agendas. We consider the following analytical frames: memory studies and its politics; historiography, recovery and the archive; hybridity and cosmopolitanism; and passing and cross-identification. We also utilize the Katz Center (U Penn)'s 2018-19 program on Jews in modern Islamic contexts.

HIS 518 - Topics in Middle East History (also NES 519)

This graduate seminar examines key historiographical and methodological issues in modern Middle Eastern history. Based on student interest, themes and materials may vary. Based on student interest, readings in Arabic will be added where appropriate.

HIS 538 - Modern Middle East (also NES 517)

This graduate reading seminar explores important works in the history of the modern and contemporary Middle East. Weekly readings consist of scholarly monographs on a particular theme, to be read and discussed in conjunction with related articles and other readings. Students are evaluated on active oral participation, two presentations, one critical book review as well as a longer historiographical essay.

HIS 540 - Themes in World History, 1300-1850: Ottoman History (also HLS 545/NES 548)

This course introduces students to the recent theoretical literature on the history of the sea as well as the current historiography on the early modern (1300-1850) Mediterranean. The Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic and North Africa all feature prominently. Students must be able to write a paper based on primary sources. Wide latitude is given in order to accommodate student interest.

NES 500 - Introduction to the Professional Study of the Near East

A departmental colloquium normally taken by all entering graduate students. It is designed to introduce students to reference and research tools, major trends in the scholarship of the field, and the faculty of the department.

NES 502 - An Introduction to the Islamic Scholarly Tradition (also MED 502)

A hands-on introduction to such basic genres of medieval scholarship as biography, history, tradition, and Koranic exegesis, taught through the intensive reading of texts in Arabic. The syllabus varies according to the interests of the students and the instructor.

NES 503 - Themes in Islamic Culture

The theme of the course varies from year to year. The format normally includes both the analytical treatment of issues and the reading of texts in Near Eastern languages, especially Arabic.

NES 504 - Introduction to Ottoman Turkish

An introduction to the writing system and grammar of Ottoman Turkish through close reading of graded selections taken from newspapers, short stories, and travelogues printed in the late Ottoman and early Republican era.

NES 505 - Readings in Ottoman Turkish

Reading and discussion of texts focusing on key issues in late Ottoman and early Republican history. The course goals are to develop reading skills in Ottoman Turkish and to examine important texts written between 1750 and 1928.

NES 506 - Ottoman Diplomatics: Paleography and Diplomatic Documents

An introduction to Ottoman paleography and diplomatics. The documents will be in <I>divani </I>and <I>rik<SUP>c</SUP>a</I> scripts.

NES 509 - The Maqamat

This course gives students an overview of the classical Arabic genre of the maqama and the scholarly debates surrounding it, focusing on its main authors, al-Hamadhani and al-Hariri. We also read examples of maqamat by other authors, including the Andalusian al-Saraqusti, as well as touch on the Hebrew maqamas of al-Harizi, and modern Arabic imitations of the genre, including by al-Muwaylihi and Emile Habibi. This course is taught in Arabic but will accommodate varying proficiency levels and backgrounds. All students with advanced knowledge of Arabic are welcome.

NES 511 - Introduction to Syriac

A systematic introduction to Syriac language. Close reading of selected passages of Syriac texts.

NES 512 - Intermediate Syriac

Study of selected passages from various genres of Syriac literature. Knowledge of Syriac is required.

NES 513 - The Palestine Liberation Organization: The Evolution of a Nationalist Movement

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964, has a history of diverse activity across the Middle East and beyond. We situate the PLO in the Arab-Israeli conflict and contemporaneous nationalist, anti-colonial, and militant movements;study its structure and internal divisions;consider its evolution through key pivot points;analyze its own publications along with critical scholarship. We assess the PLO's successes (e.g. its recognition as "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" and its achievements in the Oslo Process) as well as its failures (the lack of a Palestinian state) and contemporary challenges.

NES 515 - Ethnography of Gender and Islam (also GSS 515)

This course explores ethnographic approaches to the study of gender, Islam, and inequality. It surveys the theoretical approaches used to study the intersection of religious practices, gender, and sexuality. Topics include religious women's agency; queer and transgender agency; self and subjectivity; religious law, ethics and politics; governance and the state; and progress, secularism, imperialism and modernity.

NES 516 - Problems in Early Modern and Modern North African History

This graduate seminar introduces students to problems related to the history of North Africa from the 16th to the beginning of the 21st century. In particular, it explores the crucial issues of chronology: how periods in North African history have been defined and to what extent are they relevant? This seminar focuses on the issue of majority and minorities in North African studies by reviewing recent research on Berbers and Jews in the Maghrib. In a second part, this seminar also surveys recent topics in the relevant literature, such as environmental history, gender studies and religious history.

NES 523 - Readings in Judeo-Arabic (also HIS 563)

An introduction to the reading of Arabic texts written by medieval Jews in the Hebrew script, especially documents from the Cairo Geniza.

NES 528 - Persian Historiography from the Mongols to the Qajars

This course is designed to introduce advanced students of Persian to later Classical Persian prose from the Mongol conquests of the thirteenth century down to the middle of the nineteenth century, when significant innovations were introduced into Persian literary style. Over the course of the semester, students gain familiarity with texts composed in Iran, India, and Central Asia in a variety of literary genres including history, biography, hagiography, and travelogues. Each week's classes consist of excerpted readings from primary sources along with secondary sources related to the readings.

NES 538 - Topics in Zoroastrian Studies

This graduate seminar addresses issues of theory and method in the historical study of Zoroastrianism with comparison to other religious traditions in the Middle East and South Asia. Topics of the seminar are tailored to meet the students' interests and may include themes such as ritual studies; hermeneutics and textual exegesis; and postcolonial and diaspora studies. In addition to discussing contemporary scholarship, students engage in close reading of primary sources, available both in translation and in their original languages for those with sufficient linguistic background.

NES 543 - Readings on World War One and the Middle East

The study of the Middle East in World War I has advanced rapidly over the course of the past decade. This course surveys the burgeoning literature on WWI in the Middle East and addresses such questions as how Ottoman strategic performance impacted the war; the experience of "total war" in the Middle East and how it shaped governance; the relationship between war and imperial collapse; and the motives for demographic engineering and mass killing. No prerequisites.

NES 544 - Topics in Palestine and Israel Studies

Palestine and Israel Studies is/are among the most deeply contentious fields of research within Middle Eastern Studies, corresponding to the polarized politics that the field studies. In this course, we choose a topic at the heart of these fields and study the scholarship about it and analyze the relevant primary sources.

NES 545 - Problems in Near Eastern Jewish History: Jewish and Islamic Law (also JDS 545/MED 545/REL 548)

A study of a number of central problems, historiographical issues, and primary sources relevant to the history of the Jewish minority under Islam in the Middle Ages.

NES 547 - Introduction to Arabic Documents (also HIS 546)

An introduction to hands-on work with medieval Arabic documentary sources in their original manuscript form. Between 100,000 and 200,000 such documents have survived, making this an exciting new area of research with plenty of discoveries still to be made. Students learn how to handle the existing repertory of editions, documentary hands, Middle Arabic, transcription, digital resources and original manuscripts, including Geniza texts currently on loan to Firestone from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. The syllabus varies according to the interests of the students and the instructor.

NES 549 - Documents and Institutions in the Medieval Middle East (also HIS 509)

Seminar is part of a multi-year collaborative project devoted to reading Arabic documents from the medieval Middle East in Hebrew and Arabic script. Students contribute to a corpus of diplomatic editions, translations and commentaries to be published in the project's collection of texts. We introduce the most common legal and administrative genres: letters, lists, deeds, contracts, decrees and petitions. Our goal is to make this material legible as historical sources by combining philology, diplomatics, attention to the material text, and institutional and social history. Prerequisite: good reading knowledge of classical Arabic.

NES 550 - Persian Historiography and Belles-Lettres from the Origins of New Persian to the Mongols

Introduces advanced Persian students to Classical Persian prose from the appearance of literary New Persian in the 10th century to the time of the poet Sa'di Shirazi, whose Gulistan was regarded as the culmination of good literary style and a classic in ensuing centuries. Students gain familiarity with a variety of genres including history, geography, travelogues, ethical texts, and hagiography; develop archival skills through an introduction to Islamic codicology; acquire both linguistic competency in working with Classical Persian sources as well as an introduction to the scholarly debates surrounding the works in question.

NES 552 - History and Society of Modern Arabia

This course examines the history, politics and society of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most important country in both the Arab and Islamic worlds today. Students will be exposed to the Kingdom's complex relationship with political Islam, the global oil market, other Arab and Muslim countries as well as the West. This course will give students a solid overview of the Kingdom's history, politics and society through a careful selection of published and unpublished studies. The aim of the course is to get students acquainted with the history of the Kingdom and the main factors that have played a role in its unfolding.

NES 553 - Studies in Islamic Religion and Thought: Islamic Legal Canons

Readings of texts that are illustrative of various issues in Muslim religious thought. The texts are selected according to students' needs.

NES 554 - Empire and Nation in Theory and Practice: The Middle East and Eurasia

The end of dynastic imperial rule in Eurasia and the Middle East was a seminal event in the history of the twentieth century. This seminar starts by surveying a range of theories of nationalism drawn from varied disciplines. It then asks students to apply them to the historical record using cases drawn from Ottoman, Russian, and occasionally Austro-Hungarian history. The origins of nationalism and the nature of imperial rule are among the topics discussed. The final part of the course compares the nationalizing polices of several post-imperial regimes and revisits the question of whether nationalism is central or epiphenomenal.

NES 555 - Themes in Islamic Law and Jurisprudence

Selected topics in Islamic law and jurisprudence. The topics vary from year to year, but the course normally includes the reading of <I>fatwa</I>s and selected Islamic legal texts in Arabic.

NES 557 - Introduction to Arabic Manuscripts

Hands-on introduction to Arabic manuscripts and their material history via Princeton's Garrett Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts, the largest such collection in North America. Covers the anatomy of the medieval Arabic book, including codicology, supports, scripts, ink, ownership notes, certificates of audition and other paratextual information; and the social history of the book, including reading and transmission, libraries, the modern book trade, and the ethics and legality of the transfer cultural patrimony. Good classical Arabic is a prerequisite; prior experience with manuscripts and paleography is neither expected nor assumed.

NES 561 - Studies in Modern Arab History

Selected topics in the history of the Arab East from the 18th century to the present.

NES 563 - Comparative Transformations in the Near East and Eurasia

Surveys the political, intellectual, social, and cultural transformations of the Near East and Eurasia from the late 17th through the 20th centuries by investigating the responses of the states and societies of those two broad regions to common geopolitical, economic, and intellectual challenges. Course seeks to understand those responses on their own terms, to relate them to each other, and thereby stimulate students to think outside the models and assumptions provided by European historiography.

NES 569 - Classical Arabic Poetry (also COM 575)

Introduces students to the major Arabic poets and poems from pre-Islamic times to the Mamluks. Goals: Increase the ease with which students read classical Arabic poetry, learn how to scan Arabic meters, and expand knowledge of styles, genres and development. Students prepare assigned poems and put together brief biographical sketch of poets. Advanced knowledge of Arabic required.

NES 573 - Problems in Late Ottoman History

A study of a number of central problems, historiographical issues, and primary sources relevant to the history of the late Ottoman Empire. Topics vary from year to year.

NES 574 - Topics in Premodern Iranian History

Introduces to themes in the study of Iran and the broader Persian-speaking world before 1800. Course introduces students to contemporary debates and works of recent scholarship. Topics vary but can either be organized around broad historical themes and approaches or focus on individual dynasties and time periods. Knowledge of Persian related languages desirable but not necessary.

REL 509 - Studies in the History of Islam (also GSS 509/NES 510)

Themes in Islamic religion are examined.

REL 583 - Late Medieval-Early Modern Islam (also NES 551)

This seminar focuses on Islamic thought and society during the 17th and the 18th centuries. Our key concerns are two: to understand what Islam, and Islamic thought, looked like in the late medieval and the early modern world; and to think about how we should try to approach the study of Islam in that world. A good deal of our focus is on South Asia, though we also read about other regions, including Iran and the Arab Middle East. The required readings are in English. For those interested, some weeks might have supplementary readings in Arabic as well.