What is Near Eastern Studies?
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 (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), the Caucasus, and Central Asia. NES defines itself by its subject matter, not by its disciplinary approach or mode of inquiry. Our approach to the region is accordingly multifaceted: we embrace a range of disciplinary approaches from the humanities and social sciences alike. NES majors gain a broad and deep understanding of the region through courses that cover multiple time periods, regions of the Near East, and disciplinary methods.
Students majoring in NES will gain competence in a Near Eastern language and a solid grounding in the histories, societies, politics, languages, literatures, and religions of the pre-modern and modern Near East. Accordingly, a plan of study is built around departmental and cognate courses in history, literature, religion, law, anthropology, politics, economics, and public policy, combined with the study of one or more Near Eastern languages, determined by the student's interest.
Princeton offers instruction in four major languages of the “Near East”: Arabic, (including colloquial dialects such as Egyptian or Levantine), Hebrew, Persian (classical and modern), and Turkish (Ottoman and modern). “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.
The department encourages students to consider a semester or year abroad for language and area study in the Middle East. The department also makes every effort to facilitate student participation in any of a number of excellent intensive summer language study programs in the U.S. and the Middle East.