Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
lacs masthead
lacs masthead
Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Faculty Profiles - Middle Eastern Studies

Dr. Tarek El-Ariss - Arabic Studies
Dr. Mohammad Ghanoonparvar - Persian Studies
Dr. John Huehnergard - Hebrew Studies
Dr. Na'ama Pat-El - Hebrew Studies
Dr. Faegheh Shirazi - Islamic Studies

DR. MOHAMMAD GHANOONPARVAR


Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, The University of Texas at Austin; M.A., English Literature, Eastern Michigan University - Ypsilanti, MI; B.A., English Language and Literature, The University of Isfahan – Isfahan, Iran

Additional graduate studies include Sociology and English Literature at Heidelberg University, Foreign Language Education at St. Michael’s College in Vermont and English Literature and Linguistics at the University of North Texas.

Area of Specialization: Modern Persian and Comparative Literature

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I was born into a working-class family in Iran, and at the time, the best avenue for most young people of my generation to change their socio-economic situation was through higher education, especially engineering and medicine. Initially, I planned to major in either mathematics or architecture, but ended up in literature, for which I am grateful.

What topics do you teach at UT?
In addition to Persian language, I teach courses on Persian literature, particularly Persian fiction and drama, and also Iranian cinema. I also teach translation theory and practice. Occasionally, I also teach courses on Persian cuisine.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
I translated an important novel by the Iranian writer Sadeq Chubak entitled The Patient Stone and wrote about the author, analyzing and discussing this work in particular as a stream of consciousness novel.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am concurrently working on a book on "Iranian Films and Persian Fiction" and another book on "Literary Diseases in Persian Literature." I am also working on the translation of several books, including a 15th century Persian cookbook.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Persian studies in the U.S. or around the world?
Because of the political and social developments and events in Iran and Iran's internal and international conflicts, socio-political issues and themes have been for some time and continue to be the hot topic in the field.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
The educational system in Iran, where I did my undergraduate work, was not receptive to student participation in faculty research projects. Like some others of my generation, however, I tried my hand at writing poetry and essays, which I would submit to various magazines. I think that participation in research as an undergraduate can help refine the student's interests and lead to further study and future directions.

What makes a good grad student?
Enthusiasm for what he or she is studying, hard work, and constant interaction with other students and scholars in the field.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Make sure you have high GRE scores, because they follow you to the end of your studies every time you apply for a scholarship or grant.
  2. Prepare yourself to think not only as a graduate student, but as an intellectual in another culture.
  3. Make sure that you have at least a rudimentary understanding and knowledge of the field.

What are the top five programs in Middle Eastern Studies in the US?

  1. The University of Texas at Austin (we are considered to be the top program in the country)
  2. University of Chicago
  3. New York University
  4. Ohio State University
  5. University of California at Berkeley

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the Persian program?
Many of our PhD graduates pursue academic careers in other major universities that have Persian language and literature programs. Some PhD and many MA graduates seek employment in the government or private corporations.

Download Dr. Ghanoonparvar's Profile

DR. NA'AMA PAT-EL

Academic Background: Ph.D., Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University - Cambridge, MA; M.A., Semitic Linguistics and B.A., Germanic and Indo-European Linguistics, Hebrew University - Jerusalem, Israel

Area of Specialization: Languages and Linguistics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I always wanted to be a linguist, or at least since high school, after I read a Sci Fi book ("Babel 17," by Samuel R. Delany) featuring a linguist who decodes alien languages. During my undergrad years, I learnt a bunch of languages, mostly Indo-European, but eventually fell in love with the Semitic family, specifically with Aramaic.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
My dissertation title is “Studies in the Historical Syntax of Aramaic." It basically covers the entire known history of Aramaic (3,000 years!) and studies a number of syntactic patterns, how and why they changed over time.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach languages (Aramaic, Biblical Hebrew etc.) and linguistics (like “Intro to the Structure of the Semitic languages”), but also the Bible (“Intro to the Old Testament”) and Ancient Near Eastern Literature. For me, the Bible is a part of the Ancient Near East and cannot be understood without a background in the languages and cultures of its region and time.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I’m currently finishing a book based on my dissertation. My next big project is the reconstruction of subordination in the Semitic languages, i.e., I ask whether sentences such as the man who lives in the house can be assumed to have existed in the mother language of all the Semitic languages, or whether they are a secondary development. The question of proto-Syntax is interesting not only to Semitists but to anyone interested in the origins of human language.

What makes a good grad student?
As a grad student I was very active in student organizations and served as the representative of the humanities, as well as the student body of my department and got to sit in a number of committees and meet the deans and chairs on a regular basis. A good grad student, in my opinion, is a curious one, one that utilizes everything a university setting has to offer: talks, workshops, scholars, projects etc. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn, not only in your direct field, but primarily in adjacent ones. It will make you a more rounded scholar and will provide you with contacts to people who may help you in the future. Don’t hesitate to take part in student activities: sit on committees, participate in workshops. It will prepare you to life as an academic.

What advice do you have for students interested in applying to your program?
When applying to my program you need to emphasize your experience with languages (studying and using them as a primary resource), critical thinking and a general interest in the field as a whole, not just to your particular interest. Most graduates of Ancient Near Eastern languages teach Bible, Semitic languages or Near Eastern history. You should be able to excel in all in order to land a good job, so show us that you are interested in topics other than your intended PhD topic.

What are the top Semitic linguistics programs in the U.S.?
The top programs in Semitic linguistics in the country are The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Chicago.

DR. TAREK EL-ARISS


Academic Background: Ph.D., Comparative Literature, Cornell University – Ithaca, NY; M.A., French and Film Studies, The University of Rochester – Rochester, NY; B.A., Philosophy, The American University of Beirut – Beirut, Lebanon

Area of Specialization: Arabic Literature, Film, and Media

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
Pursuing my intellectual inquiries, the love for teaching at the university level, and the desire to be in an academic setting.

What was your dissertation topic as a Ph.D. student?
I worked on French and Arabic Travel Narratives from the 18th and 19th Centuries.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach and publish on contemporary Arabic literature, film, and media; Arabic popular culture and new literary genres; and Arabic travel writing.

What is your current research focus at UT?
Currently I’m writing a book on literary representations of the Arab encounter with European modernity from the 19th century onward. I’m also conducting research on the effects of technological development in media and communication on contemporary Arabic literature.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Arabic studies in the U.S. or around the world?
New writings, from experimental novels to blogs, are the buzz in the field of Arabic literary studies.

What makes a good grad student?
A graduate student has to strike the right balance between curiosity and the desire to learn and the ability to identify a specific project to complete at the end. Someone who is mature, responsible, works under pressure and believes in the worth of his/her research throughout. He/she has to be open to criticism and seek advice and consistently incorporate it.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Develop the ability to articulate clear research interests consistent with your training and language skills.
  2. Come ready to engage Middle Eastern Studies within your area of interest and expertise, but also across languages, disciplines, and time periods.
  3. Make sure you contact faculty with whom you might want to work in order to inquire about their research interests and courses.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
I didn’t participate in a research project as an undergraduate, but I highly encourage students to engage in such projects.

What are the top five programs in Arabic Studies in the US?

  1. The University of Texas at Austin
  2. New York University
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  4. Columbia University
  5. Georgetown University

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the Arabic studies program?
They work in government agencies and NGOs, and get academic jobs in their respective fields.

DR. FAEGHEH SHIRAZI


Academic Background: Ph.D., Textiles and Clothing, Ohio State University – Columbus, OH; M.S., Textile Science, Kansas State University – Manhattan, KS; B.A., Interior Design, University of Houston – Houston, TX

Area of Specialization: Popular religious practices; rituals and their influence on gender identity and discourse in Muslim societies.

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
I come from an educated family background in Iran- for me to go to school and continue to a graduate program was a natural decision- I think I must have been very lucky to grow up in that environment. All my elder cousins and friends are educated in medical, architectural, and academic fields. I believe they set a good role model for me.

What was your dissertation topic as a graduate student?
In my PhD program, my dissertation was titled: “Costumes and Textile Designs of the Il-Khanid, Timurid and Safavid Dynasties in Iran, from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Century.” In my MS program, my thesis was titled: “ The Development of Visual Aids for a Unit in Screen Printing and Heat Transfer Printing.”

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses in the areas of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. My area of specialization is popular religious practices: rituals and their influence on gender identity and discourse in Muslim societies, with a primary focus on Iran Islamic veiling material culture, textile and clothing.

What is your current research focus at UT?
I am active in research and publications. Although, I may seem to have departed from textiles and clothing research and moved in to the area of Islam and Middle East but in reality I have merged these areas together. In my research on the Middle East I am dealing with gender issues in relation to clothes, textiles (and other material cultures), ritual practices and of popular religious practices (Islam).

I am the author of two published books and one forthcoming (edited) book: “The Veil Unveiled: Hijab in Modern Culture,” University Press of Florida, 2001, & 2003 and “Velvet Jihad Muslim Women's Quiet Resistance to Islamic Fundamentalism,” University Press of Florida, 2009 and Editor - “Muslim Women in War and Crisis: From Reality to Representation,” Austin: The University of Texas Press (Forthcoming, 2010). My published journal articles are in the areas of culture, popular religious practices and gender discourse which is directly related to Islam, ritual and material culture.

Is there a hot topic currently being discussed by scholars of Islamic studies in the U.S. or around the world?
There is nothing “hotter” than Islam and Muslims particularly the Muslim woman. Every day’s news is devoted partially to this topic.

What makes a good grad student?
A patient, and serious person who cares about learning for the sake of learning, not just to go to school since they did not know what else to do. There must be a goal set before going to graduate school. One must be very honest with her/himself to analyze what they want to get out of a graduate degree before even considering to apply.

What advice do you have for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Learn one of the languages of the Middle East (Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian) in at least two years in a formal classroom setting (4 semesters) before turning in an application.
  2. Learn more about the cultural diversity of the so called Middle East, since they are not from the same tribe, race, and nation nor do they look alike or speak the same languages or practice only Islam.
  3. Read and learn about the Middle East more from academic journals than just following the trendy on line personal web logs, or just the news.

What are the top Islamic studies programs in the U.S.?
I like to say UT is among the very best schools but we do not have an Islamic Studies Graduate Program yet. Other schools to consider are:

  1. University of Chicago
  2. Harvard University
  3. Princeton University
  4. Columbia University
  5. Duke University

Download Dr. Shirazi's Profile

JOHN HUEHNERGARD


Academic Background: Ph.D., Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University – Cambridge, MA; B.A., Religion and Culture, Wilfred Laurier University – Ontario, Canada

Area of Specialization: Semitic Languages and Linguistics

What made you decide to go to graduate school?
In high school and college I fell in love with the study of ancient languages and wanted to continue to study them in more depth, and study other languages that were not available to me as an undergraduate. I was also excited about the possibility of contributing something to what is known about those languages, and the cultures that produced the literatures that have survived until today in those languages.

What was your dissertation topic when you were in grad school?
A comparison of the grammatical feature of texts written at a particular city in ancient Syria, called Ugarit. The texts were written in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylonian and Assyria, but it was possible to find differences in the grammatical features of some of the texts that showed where they were written, which, in turn, gave us more information about international relations between major and minor powers in what has been called the world’s first international period.

What topics do you teach at UT?
I teach graduate courses on individual Semitic languages, mostly ancient languages such as Akkadian and Biblical Hebrew, and also, linguistically-oriented courses on the Semitic language family as a whole. My undergraduate courses also involve my interest in ancient languages and ancient cultures, such as “The World’s Writing Systems,” “Lost Languages and Decipherment,” “Gilgamesh: The First Story.”

What is your current research focus at UT?
My main research project, in collaboration with my wife and colleague Prof. Jo Ann Hackett, is a thorough revision of the standard dictionary of Biblical Hebrew; this is a multi-year project. I am also at various stages of completion of books on the Semitic language family on the Ugaritic language, and on the historical grammar of biblical Hebrew.

What makes a good grad student?
Someone with a lot of questions about the received wisdom in a field of study. In my field, it is also someone who is able to work well alone on both short and long-term projects, and who loves to read, both ancient texts and modern scholarship, so that (s)he knows where the field has been and is now, where it has been, and, then, where it might go in the future.

What are your top three tips for students interested in applying to your program?

  1. Study as much about language and languages as possible.
  2. Get involved in a research project.
  3. Get as broad a background in ancient studies as possible.

Did you participate in a research project as an undergraduate?
Because I went to a small college, the only research project I had the opportunity to participate in was helping to analyze the pottery found in the archaeological excavations of one of my professors. I enjoyed it even though it was quite removed from my own interests in language, because it provided a first-hand look at how scholars do research, and that helped to convince me that I would like a career as a scholar or researcher. I would strongly encourage undergrads to participate in any research they can get involved in.

What are the top five Semitic Language programs in the US?
For Semitic language study, UT and Chicago; for the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, also Emory, Harvard, Penn, and Yale.

What careers do alumni generally pursue after graduation from the program?
Academic careers, seminary, museum work.

bottom border