Middle East Studies

The Middle East encompasses a diversity of cultures. It includes the lands where the first cities were built and the earliest writing system was developed, the same lands where the three monotheistic religious traditions Islam, Judaism and Christianity flourished. The region has always been a crossroads for states and empires, networks of trade and intellectual discourse. Therefore we define it beyond traditional geographic parameters, which tend to focus on the Arab world, North Africa, Iran and Turkey. The concentration approaches the study of the Middle East of the 21st century as a global phenomenon, one that has generated diasporic communities throughout the world as well as transnational Islamic and other religion-based movements. The Middle East is integral to the making of global socio-economic networks, political discourses and the histories of colonialism and empire. While the contemporary popular media focus on the Middle East of late modernity, the concentration promotes the study of the region through a long-term perspective from antiquity to the present day. As an interdisciplinary concentration, Middle East Studies integrates diverse methodological approaches drawn from a variety of disciplines.

The concentration is designed to provide a broad knowledge of the region as well as a comparative understanding of Middle Eastern cultures, societies, states and economies. Within the concentration, students can choose from the following three focus areas:

I. Religions and Cultures: This focus area largely although not exclusively prioritizes pre-modern and early modern cultures and religions in the lands of the Middle East. Grounded primarily in the humanities, courses engage in an ongoing genealogy of the major cultural formations and religious traditions through the work of ethnographers, archaeologists, historians, sociologists, theologians, historians of science, literary critiques and numerous other realms of scholarship. Topics covered in relevant coursework vary widely, ranging from Arabic literature to the history of Syriac Christianity to the medieval pilgrims of the Holy Land.

II. Modern Politics and Society: This focus area centers on issues that have been particularly salient in the colonial and post-colonial periods of the countries and peoples from the region and practicing its major faiths. Relevant coursework examines the formation of political regimes, the development of nationalist and supra-nationalist ideologies such as Arab nationalism or Islamism, ethnic and sectarian movements and identity formation, as well as regional conflict and accommodation in the modern and contemporary periods.

III. Economies and Resources: Water, oil, cultural patrimony: From the Petra artifacts adorning RI Hall to the diesel that powers emergency generators which keep experiments running during winter storms, this university is intimately linked to the resources and economic logics that help to make the lands of the Middle East an object of academic study. Coursework in this focus area centers on two possible trajectories, including the economics of heritage practices (i.e., tourism to archaeological sites) or economic development and underdevelopment in the region (i.e., the political economy of oil, labor, water and other resource flows).

All concentrators are required to fulfill seven courses in addition to the language competency requirements for a total of eleven courses:

1. One course in a major religious tradition (i.e., Christianity, Islam, Judaism);

2. One course on the history of the Middle East. (Note: Students whose coursework deals primarily with the ancient or pre-modern periods, are strongly encouraged to take a modern history course while students whose coursework deals primarily with the modern period are strongly encouraged take an ancient or pre-modern history course);

3. Three focus area courses (the list of eligible courses for each focus area is available at the Middle East Studies website: http://www.watsoninstitute.org/middleeast/); and

4. Two electives, including any two courses from any focus area in the concentration or independent studies approved by the MES director. (Note: Language courses beyond the requirements are eligible).

5. Language competency: Intermediate competency in a Middle Eastern language (i.e., Arabic, Aramaic, Egyptian, Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Turkish), or four semesters of language coursework in the same language, is required. The requirement may be met by successfully passing courses in the given language at the intermediate level at Brown or another institution. Students wishing to fulfill this requirement on the basis of study outside of Brown are required to pass a competency test administered by an authorized Brown faculty member as listed on the MES website. Students who complete the language requirement in fewer than four courses whether at Brown or elsewhere are required to take courses equivalent to the number of language courses they do not need to fulfill. These may include more advanced language courses, courses in a second language, or courses from any of the three focus areas.

Capstone Project

All concentrators are required to complete a capstone project. Students undertake the project in conjunction with one or more faculty members with interests in the Middle East. The project may take the form of an undergraduate honors thesis, an independent study project, or with permission, an enhanced final project for a regularly scheduled course.

Concentration Colloquium

All concentrators are required to attend the annual concentration colloquium at which students who have completed a capstone project make a presentation related to that project. The colloquium is held during spring semester.


Students may graduate with Honors in Middle East Studies by completing an undergraduate Honors thesis under the supervision of a primary reader drawn from the Middle East Studies faculty and one additional reader from the Brown or Brown-affiliated faculty. Honors students must increase the number of courses in the concentration to twelve, of which two course credits (i.e., one thesis credit course and one elective course) may be devoted to the preparation of the thesis.

Study Away from Brown:

Up to two courses taken at educational institutions other than Brown may be credited toward the concentration upon approval of the concentration advisor. All students must provide a syllabus and samples of written work before the MES Director can review coursework taken at other institutions for approval. For languages courses taken abroad, students may provide evaluation forms or transcripts instead of written work for review by an appropriate language instructor at Brown.

Double Concentrators:

Up to two courses may be cross-listed with another concentration in order to qualify for a double concentration in Middle East Studies.

All concentration proposals are subject to review by the Middle East Studies Concentration Advisor. Students are expected to submit their concentration proposals no later than two weeks before the end of the preregistration period in their sophomore year.

Page last updated in October, 2010.

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