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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


Information for Prospective Students

MPhil Students on one of the pathways in the MPhil by Advanced Studies choose three taught papers after discussing and agreeing them with their supervisor, one of which is the core paper, Theory and Method in Middle Eastern Studies. Research students (MPhil by Research and PhD first year) are also required to take the core paper.

Please note that papers are usually only offered if there are at least two takers. Papers offered vary according to the staff available each academic year and the interests of students. Additional papers may be introduced. Please consult your potential supervisor to discuss the options available.


Theory and Method in Middle Eastern Studies (required paper for all Postgraduate students in DMES)

This core paper provides an overview of Middle Eastern Studies and an introduction to key aspects of the subject researched in the department and elsewhere at Cambridge. It also develops skills in critical reading, academic writing and research project development. It is taught through a series of lectures and classes and research in progress workshops.

Advanced Literary Arabic

This paper introduces students to a selection of advanced texts to enhance their understanding of textual analysis and linguistic expression and to develop their knowledge of literary historical and critical approaches. This paper combines classical and modern genres of Arabic literature, introducing students to intersections in theme and aesthetics, and the central place of pre-modern literary heritage in the emergence of modern literature. Students will be introduced to a wide range of poetry and prose, studying their contexts and how they might be read comparatively. In this respect, they will be expected to engage with a variety of historical and theoretical and critical readings in addition to their reading of the primary material. Through this focus on classical and modern intersections, the course is themed around the prominence of animals and nonhuman creatures, from the pre-Islamic qasida to the modern novel. We will read contemporary novels that employ animals to address the dystopia of war or the transition to the modern nation-state. We will also read pre-modern texts, from poetry to animal fables to philosophical fantasies, in which animals convey moral messages, reflect attitudes to nature and culture, and embody broader Islamic views on cosmology and the place of humans within the world. More broadly, the course aims to expand students’ knowledge of the different registers of literary Arabic, improve their ability to understand complex grammatical constructions, and develop their understanding of interpretive techniques. Set texts, excerpted from longer works and covered in each participatory seminar-style lecture, form the basis of the course content, and will be provided on Moodle. For pre-modern and contemporary works, students are expected to read the texts in full in translation, whenever possible.


Advanced Literary Persian

This course covers classical Persian prose and poetry at an advanced level. Students are expected to be able to read, translate and analyse Persian prose and poetry, and to comment on the technical aspects of the work as well as its contents. They will also need to demonstrate their ability to scan the poetry. The course will focus on developments in the style and content of the theme of wine and drunkenness. We will analyse the rhetorical techniques in a chosen set of classical poems, qasidehs, ghazals, roba'is, masnavis, and emphasise particularly the lyric poetry of Hafez of Shiraz. We will also focus on the vexing questions of interpretation and translation of poetry in general, basing our analysis on different translations of Hafez's ghazals.

Advanced Literary Hebrew

This paper focuses on themes of interest and importance in Modern and Medieval Hebrew literature. This paper examines contemporary Israeli literature and culture from the last twenty or so years, primarily the transition from an ideological society to a capitalist, post- modern and post-Zionist society after the first intifada in 1987.

History of the pre-modern Middle East: After Tamerlane: The Persianate World from Timur to the Qajars

This paper serves as an introduction to the history of the Persianate world—the region stretching from the Tigris and Euphrates to the Oxus rivers, and including the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, and much of India—from Timur to the Qajars. Although the Persianate world was and continues to be ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse, the empires which ruled much of the area during the early modern period—the Timurids, Safavids, Mughals, Afsharids, and Qajars—used Persian as their courtly and administrative language, and were all deeply influenced by the political and cultural legacy of Timur (known in the West as Tamerlane). The paper asks students to grapple with the following questions: To what extent did a Persianate world exist, ca. 1300–1800? How were the political cultures of the empires that ruled during that period similar, and how were they different? Did shared language and culture unify this region or, on the other hand, was the early modern Persianate world a ‘zone of contact’ between disparate cultures, religions, and ideas? What impact did trade and commodities have on politics and society? How did religious differences shape society? What can art and architecture tell us about imperial ideology?

History of the Modern Middle East: The Middle East in Global History and Politics

This course examines the relationship between international politics and Middle Eastern Politics. Rather than studying the two in isolation, it is the connectedness of the Middle East with the global context that is the point of departure. Key issues and events are situated in relation to the wider global trends and developments that have shaped the international order in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Key topics include migration, the development of new media technologies, the changing role of religion in society and politics, and the expanding role of the Middle East in addressing supranational challenges, such as violent extremism and climate change. In keeping with this approach, the course will introduce materials from a range of sources and voices to underline a relational, historicised, multidirectional and polycentric approach to studying Middle Eastern politics and society. Lectures will be structured around four themes: 1. Global History and the International System; 2. The Global Twentieth Century and the Transformation of the Contemporary Middle East; 3. Religion, Identity and Global Order; 4. Culture, Diplomacy and Foreign Policy into the Twenty-first Century.

Special Subject in the Pre-modern Middle East: Islamic Art and Architecture: Routes, Roots and New Frontiers

This course covers Islamic art, architecture, and material culture from its emergence in late antique contexts until the present day with a focus transregional networks forged by artistic practices. Canonical objects and monuments from the Arab lands and Iran will be juxtaposed with research that pays attention to new frontiers and the margins of Islamic art from North Africa and Southeast Asia. We will devote attention to the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean regions and consider how trade, pilgrimage, and migration accelerated artistic developments. We will also question the limits and potentials of written and visual sources. After an overview of art historical methods undergirding our study, each session will be devoted to a particular site and its artistic production. Students will receive hands-on objects training in a range of media including manuscripts, textiles, metalwork, and coins, and learn how to navigate a variety sources concerning the built environment.

Special Subject in the Contemporary Middle East: Israel: Invention of a Culture

Dynamic, brash, daring, innovative and even sexy are all images that are associated with Israel and Israelis today. These images are not only relatively new --less than 50 years old -- but were not traditionally associated with Jews who were often seen as subordinate, weak, craven and decidedly unsexy. How did this change come about and within a remarkably short span of time? Focusing on the Zionist revolution of the 20th century and the many cultural innovations it inspired, this course explores the new ideas and practices about language, literature, body, sexuality, visual culture, music, art and architecture that shaped the modern Israel we know today. Course sessions will be divided into discussion of assigned readings and film viewing and lectures on the historical and political background of each period or topic.

Comparative Semitic Linguistics

This paper offers the opportunity for students of the Semitic languages to contextualize their language work within the larger field of comparative Semitic linguistics in order to understand how the Semitic languages are related. Special attention is given to the relationship between Arabic and Hebrew. Students taking the course must have a knowledge of a least one Semitic language (e.g. Arabic, Hebrew, Akkadian). Students are introduced to the principles of historical comparative grammar through the Semitic languages. The first few sessions will concentrate on the place of the Semitic languages familiar to students within the Semitic family as a whole, with particular attention to schemes of linguistic classification. Thereafter lectures will deal with selected issues of comparative phonology, morphology and syntax. The scope of the comparison will include both the classical literary languages and the modern spoken dialects.

Economy/Culture in the Middle East and Beyond

This module introduces students to themes in economic anthropology. We will consider how an anthropological perspective can contribute to, and problematize, the study of "economic" life: practices of production, exchange and consumption. We will review classical and modern anthropological and sociological theories of the basic social and cultural nature of the economy, and focus on topics such as commodity and gift exchange, consumption and identity, oil, development, debates about neoliberalism, charity and alternative economies. The main regional focus will be on the Middle East but the themes will also be studied comparatively, drawing on ethnographic accounts from other parts of the world. The aim of the course is to enable students to gain a familiarity with anthropological concepts and approaches to the study of economic practices, and an awareness of key debates. The course is also intended to develop students' skills in written and oral communication, analysis, research, and critical thinking.


The Cairo Genizah: Palaeography and Codicology

This paper is designed as the methodology component within the trio of Genizah-related papers, which itself is aimed at students wishing to undertake the study of some aspect of the Cairo Genizah. Following an introduction to the collection and its history, it guides students through the basic technical – paleographical and codicological – aspects of the Genizah materials, a proper grasp of which is necessary in order to pursue research in the literature that they contain. The purpose of the paper is therefore to enable students to properly “extract” and edit the literary (or documentary) material contained in the Genizah materials through an appreciation of their status as fragmentary written documents.


Genizah Genres

This paper is designed to serve as the content paper of the trio of Genizah-related papers. In it, students are invited to select and study a genre that is represented in the Cairo Genizah – e.g., piyyut, Golden Age Hebrew poetry. The material will be studied in terms of historical and literary background, evolution and significance within the larger cultural framework of the Late Antique and Medieval Mediterranean, and always with an eye to the codicological basis for its representation in the Cairo Genizah – i.e, the sorts of documents in which it is transmitted.


Genizah Languages

This is the language component of the trio of Genizah-related papers. In it, students are invited to select and study the language that is most appropriate to the literary genre on which they have chosen to concentrate, the choice being among Hebrew, Aramaic and (Judeo-)Arabic. The purpose of the paper is to develop philological proficiency in the chosen language as a tool for in-depth research in the literature that is of interest to the student.


Modern Hebrew Culture: Historical Perspectives

The evolution of modern Hebrew culture, with a special focus on modern Hebrew literature, from the end of the 18th century to the present.


Modern Hebrew Culture: Thematic Perspectives

Major themes in modern Hebrew culture from the end of the 18th century to the present, including secularization, assimilation, Jewish modernity, nationalism, religious nationalism, post-nationalism. 


Modern Hebrew Culture: Generic Varieties

Generic traditions in the creation and dissemination of modern Hebrew culture, including early literary forms, the Hebrew novelistic tradition, poetry, the rise of Israeli visual culture. 


Hebrew and Semitic Studies: Language

The trio of “Hebrew and Semitic Studies” papers is designed to be a flexible framework for accommodating the study of any of the several philological/literary disciplines currently taught by Prof. Khan, Dr. Hornkohl and Dr. Rand. Insofar as these are accessed through the grammatical study of language, for the present paper students may select from Biblical and post-Biblical Hebrew, Classical and Modern Aramaic, and Judaeo-Arabic. In this first paper the student will focus on the selected language.


Hebrew and Semitic Studies: Texts

This is the second paper in the “Hebrew and Semitic Studies” trio. It will allow the student to concentrate on reading within the specific corpus of texts that constitute the basis of the discipline that they wish to study—e.g., Ancient Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, Dead Sea Scrolls, Late Antique piyyut, Golden Age Hebrew Poetry, Karaite Grammar and Bible Exegesis, Modern Aramaic linguistics, etc. The material to be read will be coordinated with the language being studied, on the one hand, and the methodology that is most relevant to their study, on the other.        


Hebrew and Semitic Studies: Methodology

This is the third paper in the “Hebrew and Semitic Studies” trio, and its focus will be on the methodological approach that is most relevant to the textual material selected by the student for study—e.g., comparative/historical linguistics for the study of Modern Aramaic, epigraphy for the study of Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, literary/historical analysis for the study of post-biblical Hebrew literature, etc. Together with the language paper, the aim of this course is to provide the student with the necessary tools for pursuing advanced research within their chosen disciplines.

Muslim-Jewish Relations: Foundations 

The ‘Foundations’ paper introduces students to different aspects of the history of Muslim-Jewish relations, and aims to equip them with the required analytical tools, bibliographical background and the necessary objectivity for the study of interfaith relations and for dealing with controversial themes.

  1. Historical Muslim-Jewish Relations                            
  2. Decolonisation, agenda, bias
  3. Law and Society                                                                     
  4. Egypt and Palestine                                                                
  5. Jews and Muslims in Medieval Spain                        
  6. Muslim-Jewish Relations in Mediterranean trade                  
  7. Bosnia/Ottoman empire 
  8. Jewish languages in the Muslim World


Muslim-Jewish Relations: Special Topics

The ‘Special Topics’ paper focusses on Muslim-Jewish relations from the beginning of the twentieth century to today. The paper considers the emergence of Muslim-Jewish relations as a field of study. Themes will include Muslim-Jewish relations in Europe and the US, the legal and political contexts of these relations and the role of gender. The paper will invite an in-depth study of the impacts of Arab-Israeli conflict on relations between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere. In doing so, the paper will address questions such as: How does discussion of Arab-Israeli conflict shape attitudes between Jewish and Muslim communities in the UK and Europe? The paper will also offer insights into the impact of antisemitism and Islamophobia and the ways in which these and other concepts, such as fundamentalism and extremism, continue to shape Muslim-Jewish relations. The two-hour classes cover the following subjects:

1. An introduction to the study of contemporary Jewish-Muslim relations 

2. Muslim-Jewish relations in Europe and the US 

3. Legal and political considerations 

4. The role of gender in shaping interreligious relations between Jews and Muslims 

5. Israeli-Palestinian conflict Part I 

6. Israeli-Palestinian conflict Part II 

7. The conceptualisations of "fundamentalism" and "extremism"

8. The impacts of contemporary forms of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination