Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

There exists among undergraduates a wide-spread interest in all aspects of the cultures and societies of the Near East (as the region was known for centuries) and the Middle East (as the region is known in the United States and elsewhere today). Interest in this region and its cultures will likely grow as Middle Eastern societies continue to develop and play an increasingly large role in international affairs, and as understanding of the great civilizations of the ancient Near East; as well as the ancient and classical roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and Western civilization generally—all of great importance in their own right; becomes more urgently needed for an understanding of the contemporary world.

The department offers four secondary field pathways:

REQUIREMENTS: 5 courses (20 credits)

All four pathways require five courses, which must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations or the adviser designated for the field by the department.

Middle East in Antiquity

The secondary field pathway in Middle East in Antiquity focuses attention on the rich and diverse history of the civilizations of the Ancient Near East; which witnessed the first complex societies and the first major developments in social and political organization, literacy, technology, religious institutions, and many other arenas whose consequences remain a critical force in subsequent Middle Eastern and world history. The goal of this pathway is to give students an articulate acquaintance with the history and culture of the principal civilizations of the Ancient Near East, and to provide instruction in how such history and culture can be reconstructed through the critical analysis and synthesis of linguistic, textual, artistic, and archaeological evidence.

Harvard is an ideal place to pursue this field given the richness of its resources in libraries (Widener, History of Art, Tozzer, Law, Andover-Harvard); museums (Semitic, Peabody, and Sackler); and faculty (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations [NELC], but also Anthropology, History of Art and Architecture, Linguistics, and the Divinity School).

  1. At least two Middle East in Antiquity "gateway courses," selected from those listed on the department website.
  2. Three additional courses in the area of Middle East in Antiquity with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) of NELC or the Director's designee; at least two of these courses must be at the 100-level or above.

    The electives allow the students to pursue study of one or several of the civilizations and arenas that are introduced in the two gateway courses. Qualified students are encouraged to consider taking their elective courses in languages important to the study of the ancient Near East (e.g., Classical Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian), either as language or as literature courses. However, no more than two of these courses may be courses whose primary focus is language instruction.

Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies (Islamic Studies)

The goal of this secondary field pathway is to provide a basic exposure to fundamental elements of the history, literature, philosophy, religious thought, and legal institutions of the civilizations of the Muslim world. As the study of Islam and Muslim societies at Harvard is an interdisciplinary endeavor, the program in Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies (Islamic Studies) is structured to allow students flexibility in their approach to the field; this is done by incorporating one of the disciplinary perspectives currently available in the Harvard curriculum: study of religion, anthropology, history, history of art and architecture, gender studies, literature and language, and law. Since Islam in the Near East has historic and contemporary connections to Muslim societies around the world, this track encourages a global and transnational perspective. In this regard, our program offers faculty expertise not only in the Middle East, but also sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia.

  1. At least two Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies (Islamic Studies) "gateway courses," selected from those listed on the department website.
  2. Three additional courses in Islamic Studies, at least two of which must be at the 100-level or above.

    Students are free to pick from any three courses in Islamic Studies offered in NELC or elsewhere, these courses to be approved by the DUS or the designee. Qualified students are encouraged to consider taking their elective courses in languages important to the study of the Muslim world (Arabic, Persian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu); these can be either language or literature courses. However, no more than two of these courses may be courses whose primary focus is language instruction.

Jewish Studies

The goal of this secondary field pathway is to provide a basic exposure to fundamental elements of the history, literature, religious thought, and legal institutions of Jewish civilization. As in other areas of undergraduate liberal arts education, and even more so in a secondary field of five courses, our goal is not to impart comprehensive knowledge of an entire academic field, but rather to ensure that students will have a basic framework for asking questions and tools for seeking answers.

A combination of a historical survey courses, focusing heavily on the pre-modern experiences of the Jews, with a course about modern Jewish history or literature and additional courses in different specific areas provides secondary field students with an exposure to Jewish culture through the ages, equipping them with a basic familiarity with Jewish culture, history, and literature.

  1. At least two Jewish Studies "gateway courses," selected from those listed on the department website.
  2. Three additional courses in Jewish Studies, at least two of which must be at the 100-level or above.

    Students are free to pick from any three courses in Jewish Studies offered in NELC or elsewhere, these courses to be approved by the DUS or the designee. Qualified students are encouraged to consider taking their elective courses in languages important to the study of Jewish cultures (Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic); these can be either language or literature courses. However, no more than two of these courses may be courses whose primary focus is language instruction.

Modern Middle Eastern Studies

This secondary field provides Harvard undergraduates, whose concentration is outside the field of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the opportunity to engage in foundational study of the cultures, history, and politics of modern Middle Eastern societies. It encourages such study through a combination of courses in the humanities and interpretive social sciences.

The requirements are designed with sufficient flexibility so that students may pursue the field as an introduction to the region as a whole, or as a more narrowly-focused exploration of a particular country or theme, depending on their interests.

  1. One course, NEC 100: Approaches to Middle Eastern Studies. All students must enroll in this course, which serves as the gateway course to the secondary field.
  2. Four additional courses related to the study of Middle Eastern societies, at least two of which must be at the 100-level or above. These courses are to be approved by the DUS or the designee and may be chosen from those offered in NELC or elsewhere, including the Program in General Education. A list of possible courses is available on the department website. Qualified students are strongly encouraged to consider taking some of these elective courses in languages important to the study of the Middle East (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish); these can be either language or literature courses. However, no more than two of these courses may be courses whose primary focus is language instruction.

OTHER INFORMATION

One course taken abroad for Harvard College credit (either over the summer, a semester, or a year; the DUS or the designee will advise students on approved programs) may count towards the requirements, as may a Freshman Seminar. Other than Freshman Seminars, all courses must be letter graded. Courses taken in other departments that fit into the intellectual focus of the chosen track may also be counted.

At least two courses should be at the 100-level or above. No more than two of the courses may be language courses. Students seeking to focus primarily on language should consider pursuing a language citation.

ADVISING RESOURCES AND EXPECTATIONS

For more information, students should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Khaled El Rouayheb (kel@fas.harvard.edu).