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 is offering three secondary field pathways:

Ancient Near Eastern Studies

The secondary field pathway in Ancient Near Eastern Studies 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).

Requirements: 5 half-courses

  1. Two half-courses serve as required “gateways” into this broad arena:

    1. ANE 90: History, Kingship and the Gods

    2. Religion 28: The Hebrew Bible and Its Worlds

  2. Three electives from a list of relevant offerings at Harvard with the approval of the director of undergraduate studies (DUS) of NELC or his/her designee; at least two of these courses must be at the 100 level or above.

  3. 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.

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 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.

Requirements: 5 half-courses

  1. At least two of the following "gateway" courses:

    1. Foreign Cultures 70: Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies

    2. Foreign Cultures 82: Modern Arabic Narratives: Self, Society and Culture

    3. Humanities 18: For the Love of God and His Prophet: Religion, Literature and the Arts in Muslim Cultures

    4. Religion 1801: Introduction to Islamic Mysticism: The Sufi Tradition

    5. Religion 1806: The Vocabulary of Islam

    6. Islamic Civilizations 145: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology

    7. Arabic 150: History of Classical Arabic Literature (in translation)

  1. Three additional half-courses in Islamic Studies, at least two of which must be at the 100 level or above.

  2. 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 his/her designee. Qualified students are encouraged to consider taking their elective courses in languages important to the study of the Muslim world (Arabic, Persian, 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 (“Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness: A History”) 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 provide secondary field students with an exposure to Jewish culture through the ages, equipping them with a basic familiarity with Jewish culture, history, and literature.

Requirements: 5 half-courses

  1. Two "gateway" courses:

    1. Jewish Studies 55: Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness

    2. One survey of either modern Jewish history or modern Jewish literature (currently Historical Studies A-44: Jews in Modern Times: From the French Revolution to the Emergence of Israel; Jewish Studies 143:Jews in the Modern World; or Lit and Arts A-48: Modern Jewish Literature).

  1. Three additional half courses in Jewish Studies, at least two of which must be at the 100 level or above.

  2. 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 his/her 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.

Other Information

Courses taken abroad (whether over a summer, a semester, or a year; the DUS or his/her designee will advise students on approved programs) may count, as may Freshmen Seminars. Other than Freshmen 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, Peter Machinist (machinis@fas.harvard.edu).