Permanent Graduate Courses

NES 500 Introduction to the Professional Study of the Near East

Max Weiss
A departmental seminar 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

Michael A. Cook
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, mostly in Arabic. The syllabus varies according to the interests of the students and the instructor.

NES 503 Themes in Islamic History and Culture

Michael A. Cook
The theme 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

Nilüfer Hatemi

An introduction to the writing system and grammar of Ottoman Turkish through a 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 Ottoman Turkish history. Goals are to develop reading skills in Ottoman Turkish and to examine important texts.

NES 506 Ottoman Diplomatics: Paleography and Diplomatic Documents

M. Şükrü Hanioğlu

An introduction to Ottoman paleography and diplomatics. The documents will be in divani and rika scripts.

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

Jonathan Gribetz

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

Satyel Larson

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

Marina Rustow

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

Daniel Sheffield

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 531, 532 Readings in Classical Arabic Literature


A reading of selections of poetry and prose. Problems of narrative, poetics, and the like may be discussed according to the interests of the class.

NES 535 Recovering the Voices of the Oppressed in Middle East and North Africa


Historians of modern North Africa have frequently complained about the scarcity or absence of "local" sources for writing its history. Instead they have often relied on European colonial sources. This course explores this in the context of the voices and testimonies of the oppressed. We first discuss theoretical approaches that aim to recover the voices of such people during pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial times and then focus on specific North African cases, such as slaves, women, "queers", and victims of authoritarian postcolonial regimes.

NES 539, 540 Studies in Persian Literature 900–1800


Two-semester selected readings in the original from the literature of Classical Persian, the second great cultural language of Islam: chronicles, epics, lyrics, mysticism (e.g. tales-within-tales of spiritual initiation) from throughout the Persian-speaking world (Iran and Central Asia, Islamic India and Anatolia) from the 10th to 19th centuries. Part I, ca. 900 - 1200, addresses the ancient epic tradition's Islamization, "mirrors for kings" written for Samanid, Ghaznavid and Seljuk rulers, and the impact of Neoplatonic mysticism. Part II, ca. 1200-1800, pursues the flowering of chronicles, lyrics and mystical tales under the Il-Khans, Delhi Sultans, Timurids, Safavids, and Mughals.

NES 543 Readings on World War One and the Middle East

Michael Reynolds

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 545 Problems in Near Eastern Jewish History

Eve Krakowski

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. Topics vary from year to year.

NES 547 Introduction to Arabic Documents

Marina Rustow

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

Marina Rustow

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

Daniel Sheffield

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 Saudi Arabia

Bernard A. Haykel

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, and 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

Hossein Modarressi

This course focuses on reading 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

Michael A. Reynolds

The end of dynastic imperial rule in Eurasia and the Middle East was a seminal event in the history of the 20th century. This course 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

Hossein Modarressi

Selected topics in Islamic law and jurisprudence. The topics vary from year to year, but the course normally includes the reading of fatwas and selected Islamic legal texts in Arabic.

NES 557 Introduction to Arabic Manuscripts

Marina Rustow

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

Bernard Haykel

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

Michael A. Reynolds

This course 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. The 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 567 The Politics of the Contemporary Muslim World


The course examines and compares the role of Islamist movements, women's rights movements, and Islamic political parties in shaping social and political change across a variety of cases. Case studies draw upon the broader Muslim world, with particular emphasis on movements and parties in Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Turkey.

NES 569 Classical Arabic Poetry

Lara Harb

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

M. Şukru Hanioğlu

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 587 Salafi Islam

Bernard Haykel

Salafism and Salafi Muslims have irrupted on the global and Middle Eastern political scenes in the last decade, and are often described by pundits in the media as the enemies of the West and all that is modern. This course will interrogate such common, and mistaken, assumptions, looking more carefully at the medieval theology and law of the Salafi movement as well as the beliefs and actions of its modern and contemporary followers.


Active, One-Time-Only Courses Taught by NES Faculty Members

NES 522 / REL 540 Nationalism and Religion in the Modern Middle East

Jonathan M. Gribetz

Investigates theoretical, rhetorical, and political relationships between religion and nationalism in the modern Middle East - historically and historiographically. What role did religion play in the rise of nationalist ideologies and identities in the 19th and 20th centuries? Was it a motivating force in this process or a tool to be used and abused? Was the relationship different in nationalisms that sought to cut across religious divisions? How have others dealt with these questions and what do the scholarly trends suggest? Students undertake their own research to assess this relationship in a case study of their choice.

REL 520 / NES 520 Approaches to Islamic Intellectual History

Muhammad Q. Zaman

This seminar provides a broad-ranging introduction to and assessment of approaches to pre-modern and modern Islamic intellectual history. How, and with what success, have scholars tried to place particular developments in their varied intellectual, political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts? What constitutes the relevant context and how should one try to mediate among competing ways of accounting for particular intellectual developments? What assumptions - historiographical, sociological, normative - have guided recent work and how do they compare with an earlier generation's scholarship? These are among the questions we address.

REL 542 / NES 542 Islamic Thought and Society, 18th-20th centuries

Muhammad Q. Zaman

Using primary sources in translation, this seminar introduces students to the thought of key Muslim figures active between the 18th and the 20th centuries. What are the legal, theological, and other traditions with reference to which their writings are to be understood? How do we relate their work to the social and political contexts in which it was produced? How have the questions to which they were responding changed during this time?

REL 586 / NES 586 Religious Authority in Modern Islam

Muhammad Q. Zaman

How far reaching is the "fragmentation" of religious authority in modern Islam? How have traditional religious scholars sought to rearticulate their authority in conditions of radical change? On what basis do "new religious intellectuals" make their claims to authority? How has the state shaped structures of religious authority? What is peculiar to modern Islam so far as conceptions of and contestations over religious authority are concerned? These are among the questions this seminar seeks to examine.