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MPhil in Jewish Languages and Cultures

MPhil in Jewish Languages and Cultures

Our MPhil is a one-year course, which aims to give graduate students an opportunity to develop their analytical, research and writing skills in preparation for further academic research or entry to professions requiring such skills. All prospective MPhil applicants are advised to peruse the staff profiles on our website to familiarize themselves with the research and teaching interests of staff members. Applicants should contact potential supervisors by email and discuss potential MPhil dissertation topics. Each member of our staff has wide academic interests, so you should explore potential topics of interest freely.

Language Requirements

Applicants must have good reading skills in the language appropriate to their chosen topic.
All applicants must have an excellent command of the English language (evidenced by the appropriate English-language test scores). 

Applying for Graduate Studies: English Language Certificate (for non-native English speakers)

MPhil by dissertation only

At the present time, the majority of students take the MPhil by dissertation-only. This entails working closely with one supervisor throughout the year on a 25,000 word dissertation to be submitted in mid-August.

During the year, MPhil students attend various training courses offered by the Department in codicology, text reading, and other skills. They are also encouraged to attend fourth year undergraduate lectures and language courses where relevant. They also attend graduate work-in-progress seminars and have an opportunity to present their own work to their peers for feedback in a supportive environment.

One-year taught MPhil

The one-year taught MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies has the option of following one of three pathways:

  • Cairo Genizah
  • Modern Hebrew Culture
  • Muslim Jewish Relations

Each of the three modules has an examination or a 5000-word course exercise. In addition, students in each pathway write a 15,000-word dissertation under the direction of a supervisor. Dissertations are submitted no later than mid-August following the start of the course.

Cairo Genizah

Papers for the Cairo Genizah pathway include:

1. The Cairo Genizah: Paleography and Codicology

This module will open with an introduction that will cover the history of the Cairo Genizah, its scope and contents, its discovery by western scholars, the dispersal of its materials to "Genizah collections" in Europe and the United States, and their occasional re-discovery in these collections. The main focus of the module will be on the fundamentals of Hebrew codicology and paleography, especially as these two disciplines relate to the Genizah manuscripts. Students will be introduced to the main concepts underlying the production of Hebrew codices and other written formats in the medieval Middle East. They will also learn to recognize the main varieties of Hebrew script that are encountered in the Genizah.

2. Genizah Genres

In this module students will read Genizah manuscripts of texts relating to selected genres. These will include documents and poetry. The aim is to expose students both to a selection of the primary text materials with which a given field operates and provide them with an introduction to the research current in the discipline on the basis of secondary literature. If students have a knowledge of Arabic, they will have the opportunity to read Judaeo-Arabic documentary texts.

3. Genizah languages

In conjunction with their choice of genre, each student will select a language of specialization. Alongside work with the chosen genre, the student will then undertake an advanced study of the language in which the genre is composed, viz. Medieval Hebrew or Judaeo-Arabic. This module has the aim of improving language skills as well as exposing the student to a sample of literature composed in the selected language beyond the material that is available in the Genizah.

Modern Hebrew Culture

Papers for the modern Hebrew Culture pathway include:

1. Historical Perspectives

An introduction to the history of modern Hebrew literature and culture, their scope and contents, their development in Eastern Europe and eventual migration outside of Europe, primarily to the Land of Israel. The module examines a variety of representative works (literary, poetic, cinematic, aesthetic) from the last 150 or so years that highlight different aspects of the major changes that marked Jewish history and society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, primarily the breakdown of tradition and the transformation from a predominantly religious society in eastern Europe to the secular and more pluralistic culture of the State of Israel today.

2. Thematic Perspectives

Students in this module examine more closely specific themes that preoccupy Israeli literature, cinema or cultural production. The module looks at literature, cinema, or other modern Hebrew cultural products (language, music, visual culture, material culture etc.) as media that both reflect and shape it by focusing primarily on aspects of ideology and history. By focusing on a limited number of works that engage with one major issue or theme students develop a deeper understanding of Israeli culture and the various forces that shaped it.

3. Generic Varieties

In conjunction with the previous two modules and based on the materials in both students in this module explore major genres in modern Hebrew culture—literary, cinematic, aesthetic—and the challenges these genres posed for writers, film-makers and cultural innovators. The first part of the module consists of an introduction to generic varieties in modern Hebrew literature and culture in their historical context. In the second part of the module, each student selects one medium and genre and develops a deeper acquaintance and understanding of it based on primary materials as well as secondary readings (theoretical and critical). The aim of the module is to expose students both to the varieties of modern Hebrew cultural media and genres as well as give them an opportunity for more focused critical work.

Muslim Jewish Relations

Papers for the Muslim Jewish Relations pathway include:

1. Muslim-Jewish Relations, Foundations

This module introduces students to the analytical tools required for studying Muslim-Jewish relations, primary sources in translation and original language, bibliographical method, objectivity in the study of interfaith relations and controversial themes. Themes may include the Jewish languages of the Islamic world, key historical documents in the study of Muslim-Jewish Relations; Jewish and Muslim thought; Law and Society; the Ottoman Empire, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

2. Muslim-Jewish Relations, Special Topics

These topics will generally focus on contemporary issues between Muslims and Jews and why these relations are important to understanding the position of religious minorities, faith identity and politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Comparisons will be made to Europe and the United States in order to understand how trends in the region are related to politics and social change elsewhere. Topics may include: Religious Identity and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa; Globalization, Faith and Identity in the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and the United States; Comparative Perspectives on Muslim-Jewish Relations in Middle East and North Africa and Europe; the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arab Spring.

3. Cairo Genizah

In this module students are given an introduction to the Genizah manuscripts and its importance for the study of Muslim-Jewish relations in the Middle Ages. Most of the teaching will be based on a selection of Genizah texts in Hebrew or Judaeo-Arabic. These will be read in edited form and also from the original manuscripts in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection in Cambridge (


The dissertation provides an opportunity to learn the process of carrying out research and will help train students to be a future researcher (in academia or elsewhere). Applicants should consider carefully the formulation of a potential MPhil dissertation topic before applying. They should be in touch with members of staff who would act as supervisors before submitting the final version of their dissertation proposal.

Recent MPhil Students - Research Topics

Mr Robert Cook
Hebrew Liturgical Poetry
Wolfson College
Hebrew Studies
Supervisor: Dr Michael Rand

Ms Magdalen Connolly
Judaeo-Arabic Documents from the Cairo Genizah
Emmanuel College
Hebrew Studies
Supervisor: Professor Geoffrey Khan

Mr Charlie Gammell
The Role of Azali Babism in the Constitutional Revolution: A Reappraisal
Pembroke College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Persian)
Supervisor: Professor Charles Melville

Mr Rupert Horsley
Classical Arabic Hunting Poetry
Wolfson College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Professor James Montgomery

Miss Mandkhai Lkhaguasuren
The Mongol Khanates in Central Asia in the Fourteenth Century
Murray Edwards College
Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (Persian)
Supervisor: Professor Charles Melville

Miss Paula Long
Remembering Edward Said: Collective Memory, Counter-Narrative and Identity
Newnham College
Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Professor Yasir Suleiman

Mr Chaoqun Lian
The Cairo Language Academy and Arabic Language Management in Egypt
King's College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Professor Yasir Suleiman

Mr Andrew Mecham
The Jewish Role in Muslim Self-Definition: Classical 'Abbasid Religious Polemic
Pembroke College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Dr Amira Bennison

Mr Bayan Parvizi
Iran in the Greater Game, 1919 - 1941
Pembroke College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Turkish)
Supervisor: Dr Kate Fleet

Rafal Stepien
The Mystic Poetry of Attar NeishaSuri
Robinson College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Persian)
Supervisor: Dr Christine van Ruymbeke

James Weaver
Ibn Rushd's Tahafut Al-Tahafut: Aristotle and the Almohads in a 12th Centrury Philosophical Polemic
Trinity Hall
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Professor James Montgomery

Balqis Al-Karaki
Qur'anic Intertextuality in Selected poems by Mahmoud Drawish
Clare College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Dr Kate Daniels

Nicholas Lanoie
Antiquity in the Egyptian Literary Imagination: Selected Works of Naguib Mahfouz, 1939 - 1945
Downing College
Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Dr Kate Daniels

Nourmamadcho Nourmamadchoev
Political and Social History of Badakhshan up to the end of the 11th century
Pembroke College
Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (Persian)
Supervisor: Professor Charles Melville

Kate Swearengen
Resistance to French Colonialism in Algeria, 1830-1872
St. John's College
Modern Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (Arabic)
Supervisor: Dr Amira Bennison

Inclusion on this list is on an entirely voluntary basis. This is not, therefore, a complete listing. Information included above was supplied by the students themselves. Please report errors or problems to the webmaster.