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Kamran Scot Aghaie, Chair CAL 528 | 204 W 21st St F9400 | Austin, TX 78712-1029 • 512-471-3881

Graduate Program in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures

The graduate program in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures aims to educate and mentor scholars and teachers of the languages and cultures of the Middle East with the depth to support a sustained research career and the breadth to teach a range of courses on Middle Eastern topics. Students learn to design and execute research projects that will help redefine the frontiers of discovery in their field. Teaching experience helps prepare them to communicate new knowledge to experts and non-experts alike.

In applying to the doctoral program, students select a field of study from among the following:  Hebrew Bible/Ancient Near East, Middle Eastern Literatures & Cultures (Intellectual History), Islamic Studies, or Linguistics. Through the course of their studies, they develop methodological expertise in at least one of the following areas:  textual analysis, literary theory, linguistic theory, or cultural theory. Degrees are disciplinary-oriented, not language-oriented. During their first year, students choose or are assigned a faculty mentor with whom they plan to work in their major field. This mentor will oversee the student's selection of courses for registration and the design of her or his course of study. Students are also encouraged to seek the advice of other faculty members in the program on their studies and their progress.

Students must develop a mastery of at least one major Middle Eastern language (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish) and must demonstrate scholarly research skills and potential. A period of study abroad in the region of specialization is strongly recommended for students of living languages. Study of a second Middle Eastern language is required for students in the HB/ANE area and is strongly encouraged for all tracks. At the doctoral level, competency in a research language (typically German or French) is also required. Doctoral candidates are expected to present at least one paper at an academic or professional conference by the time they graduate.

Please review futher information about doctoral areas and requirements here.


Admission Requirements

Hebrew Bible/Ancient Near East:

Students focusing on HB/ANE must already have:

  • Earned a master's degree in the field or have an extensive background in the study of the Hebrew Bible, and;
  • Have three years of Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic, and;
  • Either two years of a second ancient Semitic language, or;
  • One year of a second Semitic language language plus proficiency in German (college or MA level). 

All other areas:

As scholarship in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures requires a high degree of language proficiency, students normally complete a Master of Arts in the discipline or area of concentration before acceptance into the PhD program. If you possess only a bachelors degree and your long term goals include our doctoral program, please indicate this on your application, which asks: "initial degree sought" (MA) and "ultimate degree sought" (PhD). In exceptional cases, extensive study outside a master's program may be taken into account by the Graduate Admissions Committee. Advanced academic writing abilities as well as advanced proficiency in the language of concentration is required. Students are expected to have completed at least three years of college-level language study, or the equivalent, and to have reached at least advanced-low on a nationally recognized scale.


Primary Disciplines/Areas Offered

Hebrew Bible/Ancient Near East  |  Middle Eastern Literatures and Cultures  |  Islamic Studies  |  Linguistics


Hebrew Bible/Ancient Near East (PhD only)


The HB/ANE track is designed to immerse students in the critical, academic study of the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Near Eastern context. Students read the entire Hebrew Bible in four semesters, and they learn another ancient Semitic language to an intermediate level. They are prepared for the field of biblical studies via two years of seminars in which they are expected to write and respond as scholars in the field. A basic degree plan is contained towards the end of this PDF document.
All students in HB/ANE must develop a second field as well, with an eye toward the kinds of positions that exist for Hebrew Bible specialists in these times. Second fields that have so far been selected include religious studies, New Testament, gender studies, linguistics, and the politics/war/strategy of the Ancient Near East.

Middle Eastern Literatures and Cultures (PhD or MA/PhD combined)

This track provides graduate students with a comprehensive and in-depth training in Middle Eastern literary and cultural production. The course of study is engaged within and across national and linguistic boundaries, disciplines, genres, and historical periods. Students are trained in comparative and theoretical approaches to literature, film, and media. By interrogating conventional nationalist, cultural, and literary paradigms, students will deepen their understanding of the cultural dynamics of the region and confront complex questions as part of a larger humanistic inquiry. Basic degree guidelines are outlined in this PDF document.

In consultation with an adviser from their chosen field, students devise a program of study that includes training in literary and cultural theory and close textual reading in original languages. MELC students have the unique opportunity to draw on a wide range of Middle East experts and literary and cultural theorists across the university. They are expected to take graduate seminars conducted in the Middle Eastern language of their primary specialization, and to contextualize and complement their chosen focus by taking seminars in other Middle Eastern literatures and intellectual history, comparative literature, and in other relevant fields and departments. Some work in a 2nd Middle Eastern language is also recommended. Students who complete this track will be equipped with the necessary critical methodologies and literary training that will strategically position them for the job market in Middle Eastern Studies.


Islamic Studies (PhD or MA/PhD combined)

The focus on Islamic Studies (ISL) includes the study of the Islamic religion and of Muslim society, culture and history. While the program is grounded in Middle Eastern textual and cultural traditions, it is not restricted to the Middle East. Rather, it is a multi-departmental program, with particular strength in the study of Islam and Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia. The Graduate Studies Committee, in consultation with the student, will develop a customized program of study that focuses on a specific field or area of study. Courses, training, PhD exams, and the dissertation committee will then be built primarily around faculty members in the targeted area, who have full-time or affiliated appointments with the Department of Middle Eastern Studies. The program of study usually includes Religious Studies theoretical and methodological training, and may include a Portfolio in Religious Studies.

MELC's Islamic Studies track is a broadly conceived program, comprising the study of the Islamic religion as well as of Muslim societies, cultures and histories. The particular features of pursuing Islamic Studies through MELC include:  a strong emphasis on Middle Eastern languages, particularly Arabic; a focus on the study of Islam/Muslims in the context of the MENA region; and/or on the study of traditions and discourses carried out in Middle Eastern languages. ISL students might work with a large number of MES-affiliated faculty in different disciplines. Please review further information about the ISL program in this document.


Linguistics (PhD or MA/PhD combined)

For those interested in linguistics, MELC offers courses in theoretical linguistics. Theoretical interests of MELC faculty include comparative Semitics, dialectology, historical linguistics, language contact, second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, and syntax. Students are encouraged to explore other areas as well by taking courses in the Linguistics Department in relevant subdisciplines.

What distinguishes MELC from a degree in linguistics is that MELC students are expected to attain a high degree of language proficiency as well as cultural proficiency in their area. Entering students are expected to have advanced proficiency in one Middle Eastern Language and all students are encouraged to study an additional language or languages. For more information, please contact a faculty member with shared interests.

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