Few other regions in the world are as complex and intriguing as the Near East; fewer still have had such an enduring impact on the world as this “Cradle of Civilization.” Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies, one of the oldest and best in the country, provides excellent opportunities to understand this impact by learning about the peoples of the Near East and their histories, languages, literatures, and religions. The Program in Near Eastern Studies is one of nineteen federally designated National Resource Centers on the Near East. At Princeton we define the "Near East" expansively to include not just the conventional “Middle East,” i.e., the Arab countries, Turkey, Iran, and Israel, but also the countries of South Asia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Our approach to the region is multifaceted. Whereas most departments and programs of Near Eastern Studies sharply differentiate between so-called pre-modern and modern periods, we prefer to avoid such arbitrary divisions that channel inquiry before it even begins. Thus students can start with Biblical times, choose to study contemporary Near Eastern societies, or almost everything in between. Our faculty and course offerings embrace a range of disciplinary approaches from the humanities and social sciences alike.
Princeton offers language instruction in the four major languages of the “Near East”: Arabic, (including colloquial dialects such as Egyptian or Levantine), Hebrew, Persian (Modern and Classical), and Turkish (Modern and Ottoman Turkish). “Near East,” however, is a rather arbitrary appellation considering that these languages will also open doors in Rabat, Baku, Dushanbe, or Xinjiang. The population in the heart of the Near East numbers more than 400 million, and the languages of the region are used by millions more around the globe thanks to the influence of Near Eastern religions and cultures on the wider world.
Concentrators in Near Eastern studies have been able to apply their learning directly in careers in international business, banking, investment, consulting, the media, law, insurance, diplomacy, national security, relief work, and, with further graduate study, teaching and research. An undergraduate concentration in Near Eastern Studies is an appropriate liberal arts field within the humanities and social sciences, and by teaching students how to think it prepares them for entirely different occupations. Our students receive an unusual amount of personal attention and a great many of them have become recipients of honors and prizes.
The Learning Environment
We are a small department with a long and distinguished tradition at Princeton. Our students receive close attention in their courses and in their independent work. There are few other departments where interaction with established faculty is more intensive or direct. Flexibility in planning programs is a hallmark of the department, and cognate courses from other departments are regularly accepted as departmentals.
Course of Study
Concentrators are free to study a wide variety of topics in their courses and independent work, and we encourage individual study plans. In addition to the language requirement and independent work, concentrators are required to take NES 300, the junior seminar in research methods, and at least seven other departmental or cognate courses.
Language and Culture Program
Students in NES and other departments who wish to acquire advanced language and cultural proficiency can earn a Certificate in Language and Culture.
Program in Near Eastern Studies
Undergraduates who do not wish to major in NES but nonetheless would like to combine the study of the modern and contemporary Near East with a social science or other discipline have the option to enroll in the Program in Near Eastern Studies for an NEP Certificate.
Students interested in majoring in the department should begin study of a Near Eastern language as soon as possible, but in any case no later than their junior year. Some students pursue intensive summer study in language programs abroad or in the United States either before or after their junior year in order to complete the language requirement by the end of the senior year. Concentrators frequently choose to study abroad in the Middle East as part of their program of study. For information about summer Arabic study, click here.
Because of the comprehensive nature of its offerings, the Department of Near Eastern Studies is able to accommodate the needs of students who come to us with prior exposure to a Near Eastern language. The department supports links to other departments such as comparative literature, history, anthropology, political science, and the School of Public and International Affairs.
For junior independent work and senior theses students have an infinite variety of topics for research projects. Some recent projects have been:
From the Patriarchal Family to the Patriarchal State: The “Woman’s Question” in Contemporary Tunisian History
The Garden of Flowers is Inside You: Kabir’s Mysticism and His Path to God in Hindu-Muslim India
A Place in the Sand: Karl Twitchell, William Eddy and American Involvement in Saudi Arabia 1930–1960
Interest, Investments, and Islam: The Function and Significance of the Shari’a Supervisory Board in the Islamic Financial Services Industry
Ideology and Pragmatism: A Study of Ba’thist Policy towards the Kurds in Syria and Iraq
The Persistence of Tatbir: Questions of Shi‘ite Ritual in Southern Lebanon
The Near Eastern collections in the library are second to none, so that authentic sources—whether for language learning or research—are close at hand. Our resources can be in the form of an ancient manuscript, or in “virtual” form, for example, visually depicting a pilgrimage to Mecca on the World Wide Web.
There is a broad selection of activities outside of the classroom, including film series and language tables meeting for lunch or dinner, where students converse informally in their chosen language. There are lectures given by visitors, in English or Near Eastern languages. Weekly brown bag lunches expose students to different aspects of the Near East in a semi-formal setting that promotes participation in the discussions.
The department strongly encourages study abroad. Princeton students concentrating in Arabic have participated in programs in Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Many have studied at the American University in Cairo because of its fine reputation in Arabic teaching, either for a summer, a semester, or a full year with a select group of teachers and tutors. Alexandria University more recently has become another favored site for semester or yearlong study abroad. Students wishing to develop their knowledge of Hebrew further can select from various programs in Israel during the summer or during a semester (or year) in one of the Israeli universities, such as the Hebrew University or Tel Aviv University. Princeton students of Persian have studied at programs in Iran, India, and Tajikistan as well as through intensive courses taught inside the United States. Students concentrating in Turkish can find intensive summer language programs at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul or through Ankara University’s certification program, to name just two options. There are also opportunities to study Azeri Turkish in Azerbaijan. Students have also arranged yearlong and one-semester study abroad programs with Boğaziçi University.
If you would like more information about the department and the different programs, please call or write to Jim LaRegina, Near Eastern Studies, 110 Jones Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1008; (609) 258-4281, or send a message to [email protected].
If you are interested in the Program in Near Eastern Studies certificate, please call or write Jim LaRegina, Near Eastern Studies, 110 Jones Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544-1008; (609) 258-4281, or send a message to [email protected].
Requirements: Undergraduates in NES
NES departmental plans of study are comparatively flexible and interdisciplinary, and tailored to meet the needs of concentrators.
Prerequisite: at least one course in the Department (language courses count)
Required Coursework: 8 departmental or cognate courses (3 max).
Language courses above the 200 level can count as departmentals.
Senior Thesis, topic choice up to student with approval by adviser.
Comprehensive oral exam based on the student’s thesis and course of study.
Language: 4 semesters (through 107) of a Near Eastern language; language courses above that level count as departmentals, as do introductory language courses in a second Near Eastern language.
- study of one Near Eastern language beyond the 107 level for three semesters. Generally, language courses at the 300 level are used to satisfy this requirement but other departmental courses that involve extensive use of the language can be substituted with approval of the course instructor and the departmental representative.
- a piece of independent work (e.g. seminar paper or senior thesis) that demonstrates an ability to use a Near Eastern language for research.
Students in ANT, HIS, POL, REL, SOC, and SPI can apply automatically. Students from other departments are encouraged to apply but need to obtain permission from the Director of the Program in Near Eastern Studies.
minimum one NES history course. HIS students must take 2 history courses
P/D/F grading is not accepted.
minimum two courses dealing with the Near East from NES, Anthropology, Politics, Religion, Sociology, School of Public and International Affairs, or other department beside History. P/D/F grading is not accepted.
Language: 4 semesters (through 107) of a Near Eastern language if no prior competency exists. P/D/F grading is not accepted.
Independent Work: one Junior Paper written on a Near Eastern related topic.
Senior Thesis: written under the supervision of an NES faculty member or Near Eastern specialist in the appropriate department.
Senior Departmental Examination: given by the student's home department, but a portion must cover the Near Eastern field studied.