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Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Department Overview

229 Denny

Near Eastern languages and civilization focuses on the languages and civilizations of the Near East with an emphasis on the ancient and medieval roots of these civilizations as well as more recent cultural developments. Each language offered represents a major literary tradition. Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Central Asian Turkic are the languages of the most significant literary manifestations of Islamic civilization. Hebrew and Aramaic are the languages of the Bible and are central to Judaism and Jewish culture. Egyptian languages (Coptic, hieroglyphic) and other Mesopotamian and Mediterranean languages (Akkadian, Ugaritic, Phoenician) are important to the ancient and Christian cultures of the Near East. These languages are taught in conjunction with courses on the social, cultural, and religious history of the Near East, providing students with a broad understanding and solid foundation for more advanced studies or professional career development.

Undergraduate Program

219 Denny, Box 353120
(206) 685-3743

The department offers the following programs of study:

  • The Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Near Eastern studies with options in Near Eastern languages and civilization, Near Eastern culture and civilization, comparative Islamic studies, and Biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies
  • A minor in Near Eastern languages and civilization

Bachelor of Arts

Suggested First- and Second-Year College Courses: Courses in any discipline that deals with the Near East. Courses in writing, history, literature, comparative religion, French, and German are also recommended. Students should begin their studies of Near Eastern languages as soon as possible.

Department Admission Requirements

Students in good academic standing may declare this major at any time. Admission to the Comparative Islamic Studies option is suspended through spring, 2015.

Major Requirements

Near Eastern Studies -- Languages and Civilization

69 credits as follows:

  1. Two years of one Near Eastern language, or its equivalent as evidenced by examination
  2. At least 9 credits in advanced literature or text courses in that language
  3. NEAR E 210
  4. One of the following: NEAR E 211, NEAR E 240, or RELIG 210
  5. An approved program of 20 further credits in courses offered by the department or courses on the Near East offered by other departments, or both

Near Eastern Studies -- Culture and Civilization

73 credits as follows:

  1. Two years of one Near Eastern language or its equivalent as evidenced by examination
  2. NEAR E 210 or (with approval of adviser) NEAR E 220
  3. One of the following: NEAR E 211, NEAR E 240, or RELIG 210
  4. An approved program of 20 further credits in Near Eastern courses including at least one course from each of the following areas: Near Eastern civilization, Near Eastern religion, Near Eastern literature in translation
  5. 8 credits in non-language, upper-division courses related to the Near East in the department or in other departments
  6. A senior essay on a topic of Near Eastern civilization (5 credits)

Near Eastern Studies -- Comparative Islamic Studies

Admission to this option is suspended through spring, 2015.

70 credits as follows:

  1. Two years of one of the following languages or its equivalent as evidenced by examination: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Uzbek, Kazakh, or other appropriate languages with approval of adviser
  2. NEAR E 210
  3. NEAR E 212 or NEAR E 240
  4. An approved program of 10 credits in courses in Islamic religious traditions and texts, and 15 credits in history, society, and culture of Islam
  5. A senior essay on a topic in comparative Islamic studies (5 credits).

Near Eastern Studies -- Biblical and Ancient Studies

73 credits as follows:

  1. Two years of Biblical Hebrew or its equivalent as evidenced by examination (alternatively, a student may satisfy this language requirement by combining a minimum of four quarters of Biblical Hebrew with two quarters of other ancient Near Eastern languages, including Aramaic, hieroglyphic Egyptian, Coptic, Akkadian, second-year Greek, or other appropriate languages as approved by adviser and/or faculty)
  2. NEAR E 220 and NEAR E 240
  3. An approved program of 20 credits in courses in ancient Near Eastern history, society and culture, and ancient Near Eastern literature in translation
  4. 8 credits in non-language, upper-division Near Eastern courses related to the ancient Near East
  5. A senior essay on a topic in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies (5 credits).


Minor Requirements: 25 credits as follows:

  1. NEAR E 210 or NEAR E 220
  2. One course from NEAR E 211, NEAR E 240, RELIG 210
  3. Additional credits from Near Eastern civilization or language courses (may not include language courses at the beginning or intermediate level).

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Learning Objectives and Expected Outcomes: The NELC undergraduate degree offers a liberal arts education with a particular focus on the study of cultures and languages of the Near East and Central Asia. Educational outcomes from this degree serve a broad spectrum of undergraduates, ranging from those intending to begin the acquisition of specific linguistic and cultural proficiencies for the purpose of pursuing some career, academic or otherwise, related to these regions, to students for whom the Near East and/or Central Asia are regions with histories and cultures that are of special intellectual or personal interest. Students often combine Near Eastern studies as a double major with some other degree program that may be in a quite different discipline. For these students the NELC undergraduate major offers the important opportunity, as a core element in a broader liberal arts education, for expanding their cultural vision and understanding in ways made possible only through serious study of a language and literature other than one's own. Graduates from the BA degree have followed a wide range of post-baccalaureate paths, including further graduate study in the humanities or social sciences, professional degree programs in law or medicine, and employment with government or non-governmental organizations.
  • Instructional and Research Facilities: The department draws on collections of books, serials, and other resources in the UW libraries that are unusually rich in the quantity and quality of items relating to Near Eastern and Central Asian languages and cultures. Students in the department's language classes make use of the University's well-equipped Language Learning Center.
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors core curriculum and Departmental Honors); With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors requirements in the major). See adviser for requirements.
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: Undergraduate research is carried out under the supervision of faculty members. Students can also undertake research and internship opportunities while studying abroad.
  • Department Scholarships: See departmental website for most current information.
  • Student Organizations/Associations: There are no formal student organizations in the department, but the department frequently sponsors educational and cultural events organized by students and faculty involved in interest groups such as the Central Asian Circle or the Persian Circle.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
M25 Denny, Box 353120
(206) 543-6033

Master of Arts

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization offers a graduate program of studies leading to the master of arts degree. The program is designed to provide students with advanced training in at least one Near Eastern language and in a specific field of specialization. Students may concentrate in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, or Central Asian Turkic and may choose as their field of specialization a civilization or literature related to their language of concentration. The program is intended not only for those students who wish to continue their studies at the doctoral level but also for students who wish to pursue careers in government or business.

Admission Requirements

  1. Statement of purpose
  2. Sample of written academic work
  3. Three letters of recommendation, of which at least two must attest to scholarly ability
  4. Official transcripts from all collegiate institutions attended
  5. Although knowledge of a Near Eastern language is not a prerequisite for admission, applicants are generally expected to have had the equivalent of two years' study of the language in which they plan to concentrate.
  6. A bachelor's degree from an accredited institution
  7. A minimum GPA of 3.00 or B for last 90 quarter (60 semester) credits
  8. GRE scores
  9. TOEFL scores for international students

Degree Requirements

36 credits, as follows:

  1. Reading knowledge of French or German; or, with the prior approval of the student's MA committee, any other language pertinent to the research in the student's field of study. Normally, to satisfy this requirement, the student must pass a reading exam before beginning the second year of study towards the M.A.
  2. A seminar paper representing the student's best work
  3. Coursework determined in consultation with M.A. committee to prepare for written examinations.
  4. A written examination consisting of four parts: (1) general culture of the Near East, (2) student's field of specialization, (3) student's language of concentration, (4) second Near Eastern language related to the language of concentration

Doctor of Philosophy

Some department faculty are part of an interdisciplinary faculty group which offers doctoral study in Near and Middle Eastern studies. The program is located administratively within the Graduate School. See the Interdisciplinary Graduate Degree Programs section of this catalog.

Summer Programs

The department offers summer intensive language programs in Arabic, Hebrew, and Central Asian languages (Uzbek, Kazakh, Tajik, and others).

Research Facilities

The University of Washington libraries hold an extensive collection of books and materials in the languages of the Near East, the Turkic regions of Central Asia, and in European languages on Near Eastern and Central Asian Turkic subjects. Candidates for the master's degree as well as doctoral students find in the collection adequate resources for their research. The library participated in the Library of Congress Middle East Cooperative program for the acquisition of Arabic serials, and the Library of Congress Cooperative program for Pakistan for the purchase of Persian books and serials. The library staff includes Near East and Central Asia specialists responsible for acquiring and cataloging the collection. The library maintains book exchanges with the Central Asian republics, handled through the Near East and Slavic sections of the University's Suzzallo Library, some exchanges beginning as early as 1961. Among its staff are an exchange librarian and a specialist trained in Central Asian Turkic languages. A book exchange with Xinjiang is administered through the East Asia Library.

Financial Aid

A limited number of teaching assistantships are available for graduate students in the department who are fluent in speaking and writing a Near Eastern language. A limited number of graduate fellowships are also available.

Exchange Agreements

The department participates actively in exchange programs involving institutions abroad, sending students for language and cultural study and research to a variety of locations, and training many students from institutions overseas. Students take advantage of existing formal UW exchange agreements with several universities in North Africa and the Middle East, such as American University in Cairo; Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco; Yarmouk University and Mu'tah University in Jordan; American University in Beirut; Hebrew University in Jerusalem; and Bogazici University in Istanbul. There have also been department-level exchange agreements with Xinjiang University in Urumchi, China (for Uighur, Kazakh, Kirghiz), or institutions in Central Asia such as Tashkent State University, the Humanities University of Bishkek, Kyrghystan, or Kyrghyz State National University, Bishkek. NELC students also study at other institutions in which there are not currently formal exchanges, such as the University of Damascus (for the study of Arabic and related subjects).