Near Eastern Civilizations

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

The Near Eastern Civilizations major explores the civilizations of the Near and Middle East through critical analysis of its cultural, literary, artistic, historic, and archaeological evidence. This major offers an interdisciplinary approach across various academic disciplines to provide both a theoretical and a research-based study of societies from prehistoric to modern times. The major offers one of two emphases:  

  • Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations 
  • Islamic Civilization

The Ancient Near East (Middle East) is considered to be the cradle of civilization, where cities and empires first emerged, agriculture developed, the invention of the wheel made, the first writing systems formed, foundations established in astronomy and mathematics, and discoveries made of ancient literary masterpieces considered to be the roots of Western Civilization. Students will explore the principal civilizations of the Near East studying the human experience as it unfolds in documents, monuments, and architectural marvels and to further investigate these ancient artifacts in modern times through the use of cutting edge technology. The major prepares students in the fields of archaeology, digital humanities, teaching and research, museum studies, and for further study in graduate programs.  

The Islamic Civilization major provides a broad knowledge of the histories, literature, philosophy, religious thought, and legal institutions of Muslim societies. Expanding from the Middle East, the Islamic civilization has had a profound historical impact on practically every part of the world and continues to be an important area of academic inquiry on account of its political, economic, and cultural effects on the international arena. This major emphasizes an interdisciplinary course study allowing for a historical, cultural, and literary analysis from medieval to modern times. The major prepares students in the fields of comparative and international studies, foreign service, law, teaching and research, and for further study in graduate programs. 

For specific information regarding degree requirements for each emphasis, please see the Major Requirements tab on this page.

Declaring the Major

Students are recommended to declare the major early in their academic career. Near Eastern Studies 10 is a required lower division course but may be taken after declaring the major. Students should consult with the undergraduate student adviser regarding major requirements, transfer credits, study abroad plans, and the opportunity to combine two disciplines through a double major study.  

Honors Program

Students in any of the Near Eastern Studies majors, with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 3.3 or higher and a GPA of 3.51 or higher in courses completed in the major, may apply for admission to the honors program in their senior year. Students must maintain the required GPA in the major in order to remain eligible for the honors program. 

In addition to the GPA requirement, students must submit an honors thesis of at least 20 double-spaced, typewritten pages in their senior year. Students are required to enroll in an Independent Study course (NES 199) in the fall semester and the honors course (NE STUD H195) in the spring semester of their senior year in order to receive credit for the thesis. The honors thesis must be read and evaluated by a two-member committee consisting of a department faculty thesis supervisor and another member of the faculty. The thesis must be deemed to be of at least B+ quality in order to qualify the candidate for graduation with a degree of honors. Students may also receive distinctions of "high honors" or "highest honors" for outstanding thesis papers. 

Minor Program

The Near Eastern Studies Department also offers programs leading to a minor in modern Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, or Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Civilizations. 

Other Majors and Minors Offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies

Ancient Egyptian Near Eastern Art and Archaeology (Major)
Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Civilizations (Major)  
Near Eastern Languages and Literatures (Major)
Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Civilizations (Minor)
Arabic (Minor)
Hebrew (Minor)
Persian (Minor)
Turkish (Minor)

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Major Requirements

The Near Eastern Civilizations major requires students to emphasize in one of two tracks. In addition to the University, campus, and college requirements, listed on the College Requirements tab, students must satisfy the below requirements. NE STUD 10 is a required course for the major and must be taken for a letter grade. 

General Guidelines

  1. All courses taken to satisfy major requirements must be taken for a letter grade and be at least 3 units.
  2. Students pursuing a double major may overlap two courses to meet both major requirements. Students can also overlap one course to satisfy a major and minor requirement.  
  3. A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 is required to declare the major and must be maintained in both upper and lower division courses used to satisfy major requirements. 
  4. With the prior consent of the faculty major advisor, students may take courses across various disciplines to satisfy major requirements.

Emphasis I: Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations

Lower Division Requirements
Introduction to the Near East [4]
One of the following lower division courses is required:
Introduction to Near Eastern Art and Archaeology [4]
Introduction to Ancient Egypt [4]
Ancient Babylonian Legends and Myths [4]
Hebrew Bible in Translation [3]
Upper Division Requirements
Select eight courses from the following. Select four of the following. Students may also select relevant courses from other departments. All courses for the major must be approved by the faculty major adviser.24-30
Women and Gender in Ancient Egypt [4]
Course Not Available [4]
Religion of Ancient Egypt [3]
Babylonian Religion [3]
Ancient Mesopotamian Documents and Literature [3]
Ancient Astronomy [4]
Mesopotamian History [3]
Digital Humanities and Egyptology [4]
Survey of Ancient Egyptian History [4]
Gilgamesh: King, Hero, and God [4]
Digital Ancient Near East [3]
Early Egypt: From Village to Pyramid [4]
Ancient Egypt: Power, Glory and Empire in the Second Millennium [4]
Disciplining Near Eastern Archaeology: Explorers, Archaeologists, and Tourists in the Contemporary Middle East [3]
The Art of Ancient Mesopotamia: 3500-1000 BCE [4]
The Art of Ancient Mesopotamia: 1000-330 BCE [4]
Mesopotamian Archaeology [4]
Levantine Archaeology [4]
Silk Road Art and Archaeology [3]
Arts of Iran and Central Asia [4]
Literature and History in the Hebrew Bible [4]
Sociolinguistics of the Greater Middle East [4]
Religions of Ancient Iran [3]
History of Persian Literature [4]
History of Persian Literature [4]
Magic, Religion, and Science: The Ancient and Medieval Worlds [4]
Special Topics in Fields of Near Eastern Studies: Ancient Near Eastern Studies [4]
Special Topics in Fields of Near Eastern Studies: Egyptian Studies [4]
Special Topics in Fields of Near Eastern Studies: Jewish Studies [4]
Undergrad Seminar: Problems and Research in Near Eastern Studies: Ancient Near Eastern Studies [4]
Undergrad Seminar: Problems and Research in Near Eastern Studies: Egyptian Studies [4]
Undergrad Seminar: Problems and Research in Near Eastern Studies: Jewish Studies [4]
Elementary Akkadian [4]
Elementary Akkadian [4]
Selected Readings in Akkadian [4]
Selected Readings in Akkadian [4]
Elementary Sumerian [4]
Elementary Sumerian [4]
Selected Readings in Sumerian [3]
Selected Readings in Sumerian [3]
Elementary Hittite [4]
Elementary Hittite [4]
Introduction to Egyptian Hieroglyphs [5]
Introduction to Egyptian Hieroglyphs [5]
Later Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew Texts [3]
Later Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew Texts [3]
Modern Hebrew Literature and Culture [3]
The Structure of Modern Hebrew [3]
The Structure of Modern Hebrew [3]
Elementary Biblical Hebrew [3]
Elementary Biblical Hebrew [3]
Biblical Hebrew Texts [3]
Biblical Hebrew Texts [3]
Total Upper Division Units
Total Units24-30

Emphasis II: Islamic Civilizations

Lower Division Requirements
Introduction to the Near East [4]
Lower Division Recommended Courses
Introduction to Central Asia [3]
Upper Division Requirements
A total of nine courses from these categories below. Students may select relevant courses from other departments. All courses for the major must be approved by the faculty major adviser. 27-36
Islam [4]
NES 146 is required for all students in this emphasis. Students must select one additional course from the following:
Topics in Islamic Thought and Institutions [3]
Sufism: The Mysticism of Islam [3]
The Quran and Its Interpretation [4]
Special Topics in Fields of Near Eastern Studies: Arabic [4]
History and Culture
Shi'ite Islam [3]
The Rise of Islamic Civilization [4]
Emergence of the Modern Middle East [4]
Middle Eastern Women Writers [4]
Synagogues, Cathedrals, and Mosques: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain [4]
Sociolinguistics of the Greater Middle East [4]
Topics in Persian Art and Culture [4]
History and Culture of Afghanistan [3]
Themes in the Anthropology of the Middle East and Islam [4]
Muslims in America [4]
Islamophobia and Constructing Otherness [4]
Women in the Muslim and Arab Worlds [4]
The Rise of Islamic Civilization, 600-1200 [4]
The Middle East, 1000-1750 [4]
The Middle East From the 18th Century to the Present [4]
Scope and Methods of Research in Middle Eastern Studies [4]
Selected Topics--Middle Eastern Studies [3]
Advanced Study in the Middle East [4]
Middle East Politics [4]
War in the Middle East [4]
Arts and Literature
Topics in Islamic Art [4]
Topics in Islamic Art [4]
Silk Road Art and Archaeology [3]
Arts of Iran and Central Asia [4]
Arabic Literature in Translation [3]
Arabic Literature in Translation [3]
Cultural Encounters in Modern Arabic Literature [3]
Wonder and the Fantastic: The Thousand and One Nights in World Literary Imagination [3]
History of Persian Literature [4]
History of Persian Literature [4]
Film and Fiction of Iran [4]
Special Topics in Fields of Near Eastern Studies: Islamic Studies [4]
Near Eastern Languages
Arabic: Any upper division language course from the major list
Persian: Any upper division language course from the major list
Turkish: Any upper division language course from the major list
Total Units27-36

College Requirements

Undergraduate students must fulfill the following requirements in addition to those required by their major program.

For detailed lists of courses that fulfill college requirements, please review the College of Letters & Sciences page in this Guide. For College advising appointments, please visit the L&S Advising Pages. 

University of California Requirements

Entry Level Writing

All students who will enter the University of California as freshmen must demonstrate their command of the English language by fulfilling the Entry Level Writing requirement. Fulfillment of this requirement is also a prerequisite to enrollment in all reading and composition courses at UC Berkeley. 

American History and American Institutions

The American History and Institutions requirements are based on the principle that a US resident graduated from an American university, should have an understanding of the history and governmental institutions of the United States.

Berkeley Campus Requirement

American Cultures

All undergraduate students at Cal need to take and pass this course in order to graduate. The requirement offers an exciting intellectual environment centered on the study of race, ethnicity and culture of the United States. AC courses offer students opportunities to be part of research-led, highly accomplished teaching environments, grappling with the complexity of American Culture.

College of Letters & Science Essential Skills Requirements

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning requirement is designed to ensure that students graduate with basic understanding and competency in math, statistics, or computer science. The requirement may be satisfied by exam or by taking an approved course.

Foreign Language

The Foreign Language requirement may be satisfied by demonstrating proficiency in reading comprehension, writing, and conversation in a foreign language equivalent to the second semester college level, either by passing an exam or by completing approved course work.

Reading and Composition

In order to provide a solid foundation in reading, writing, and critical thinking the College requires two semesters of lower division work in composition in sequence. Students must complete parts A & B reading and composition courses by the end of their second semester and a second-level course by the end of their fourth semester.

College of Letters & Science 7 Course Breadth Requirements

Breadth Requirements

The undergraduate breadth requirements provide Berkeley students with a rich and varied educational experience outside of their major program. As the foundation of a liberal arts education, breadth courses give students a view into the intellectual life of the University while introducing them to a multitude of perspectives and approaches to research and scholarship. Engaging students in new disciplines and with peers from other majors, the breadth experience strengthens interdisciplinary connections and context that prepares Berkeley graduates to understand and solve the complex issues of their day.

Unit Requirements

  • 120 total units

  • Of the 120 units, 36 must be upper division units

  • Of the 36 upper division units, 6 must be taken in courses offered outside your major department
Residence Requirements

For units to be considered in "residence," you must be registered in courses on the Berkeley campus as a student in the College of Letters & Science. Most students automatically fulfill the residence requirement by attending classes here for four years. In general, there is no need to be concerned about this requirement, unless you go abroad for a semester or year or want to take courses at another institution or through UC Extension during your senior year. In these cases, you should make an appointment to meet an adviser to determine how you can meet the Senior Residence Requirement.

Note: Courses taken through UC Extension do not count toward residence.

Senior Residence Requirement

After you become a senior (with 90 semester units earned toward your BA degree), you must complete at least 24 of the remaining 30 units in residence in at least two semesters. To count as residence, a semester must consist of at least 6 passed units. Intercampus Visitor, EAP, and UC Berkeley-Washington Program (UCDC) units are excluded.

You may use a Berkeley Summer Session to satisfy one semester of the Senior Residence requirement, provided that you successfully complete 6 units of course work in the Summer Session and that you have been enrolled previously in the college.

Modified Senior Residence Requirement

Participants in the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP), Berkeley Summer Abroad, or the UC Berkeley Washington Program (UCDC) may meet a Modified Senior Residence requirement by completing 24 (excluding EAP) of their final 60 semester units in residence. At least 12 of these 24 units must be completed after you have completed 90 units.

Upper Division Residence Requirement

You must complete in residence a minimum of 18 units of upper division courses (excluding UCEAP units), 12 of which must satisfy the requirements for your major.

Summary of Modifications

  1. L&S College Requirements: Reading & Composition, Quantitative Reasoning, and Foreign Language, which typically must be satisfied with a letter grade, can be satisfied with a Passed (P) grade during Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 if a student elects to take the course for P/NP. Note: This does not include Entry Level Writing (College Writing R1A). 

  2. Requirements within L&S majors and minors can be satisfied with Passed (P) grades during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. This includes prerequisites for majors. Contact your intended or declared major/minor adviser for more details.

  3. Departments may create alternative methods for admitting students into their majors. 

  4. L&S students will not be placed on academic probation automatically for taking all of their courses P/NP during Fall 2020 or Spring 2021. 

Student Learning Goals


The Near Eastern Studies Department offers three majors, each with several emphases, that concentrate in the languages, literatures, and civilizations of the ancient, medieval, and modern Near East. Because of the breadth of fields and disciplines, goals for undergraduate learning are likewise diverse. The majors include the following:

  • Near Eastern Languages and Literatures (with emphases in: Arabic, Hebrew, Egyptology, and Persian)
  • Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Art and Archaeology (with emphases in: Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology and Egyptian Art and Archaeology)
  • Near Eastern Civilizations (with emphases in: Ancient Civilizations and Islamic Civilizations)

Learning Goals for the Major

  • The ability to analyze architecture, art, and archaeological sites.
  • Knowledge of the main historical and cultural periods, sites, monuments, and geographies relevant to the chosen field.
  • Familiarity with the entire area of the Near/Middle East from ancient to modern times.
  • Awareness of the importance of the Near/Middle East in today’s global society.
  • The ability to formulate a well-organized argument supported by evidence.
  • The ability to critically read and analyze scholarship in the field.
  • The ability to write and to communicate orally.


Near Eastern Civilizations

Faculty and Instructors


Azza Ahmad, Assistant Adjunct Professor. Arabic Languages, CMES.

Wali Ahmadi, Associate Professor. Persian languages, Persian literature.
Research Profile

Asad Ahmed, Associate Professor. Islam (social and intellectual history).
Research Profile

Adam Benkato, Professor. Iranian Studies, Senior Research Scholar at CMES.

Daniel Boyarin, Professor. Talmud, rhetoric, Christianity, genealogy of, invention of Judaism.
Research Profile

Simon Brelaud, Assistant Adjunct Professor. Assyrian Studies, Syriac Language.

Ahmad Diab, Assistant Professor. Modern Arabic Literature.
Research Profile

Ronald Hendel, Professor. Textual criticism, Hebrew bible, ancient Near Eastern religion and mythology, Northwest Semitic linguistics.
Research Profile

Chana Kronfeld, Professor. Comparative literature, modernism, Hebrew, Yiddish, modern poetry, minor literatures, politics of literary history, feminist stylistics, intertextuality, translation studies.
Research Profile

Margaret Larkin, Professor. Near Eastern studies.
Research Profile

Rita Lucarelli, Associate Professor. Near Eastern Studies, Egyptology.
Research Profile

Maria Mavroudi, Professor. Byzantine studies.
Research Profile

Nasser Meerkhan, Assistant Professor. Near Eastern Studies, and Spanish and Portuguese.

Benjamin Porter, Associate Professor. Archaeology, Near Eastern archaeology, Middle East, Arid Environments, anthropology, Heritage, tourism, and Museum Studies.
Research Profile

Carol A. Redmount, Associate Professor. Egyptology.
Research Profile

Francesca Rochberg, Professor. History of science, ancient near east, cuneiform studies.
Research Profile

Niek Veldhuis, Professor. Digital humanities, intellectual history, Sumerian, cuneiform.
Research Profile


Rutie Adler, Lecturer.

Hatem A. Bazian, Lecturer. Near Eastern studies.
Research Profile

Elsa Elmahdy, Lecturer.

Gholam-Reza Ghahramani, Lecturer.

John L. Hayes, Lecturer.

Sanjyot Mehendale, Lecturer. Near Eastern studies, Central Asia, Central Asian studies, archaeology and art history.
Research Profile

Haitham S. Mohamed, Lecturer.

Laurie Pearce, Lecturer.

Barbara Richter, Lecturer.

Jason Christopher Vivrette, Lecturer.

Emeritus Faculty

Ayla Algar, Lecturer Emeritus. Turkish language and literature, language pedagogy.

Hamid Algar, Professor Emeritus.

Robert B. Alter, Professor Emeritus. Comparative literature, Near Eastern studies, 19th-century European and American novel, modernism, literary aspects of the bible, modern and biblical Hebrew literature.
Research Profile

Guitty Azarpay, Professor Emeritus. Art and archaeology of the ancient Near East and Central Asia.
Research Profile

Ariel A. Bloch, Professor Emeritus.

Chava Boyarin, Professor Emeritus.

Wolfgang J. Heimpel, Professor Emeritus. Near Eastern studies.
Research Profile

Anne D. Kilmer, Professor Emeritus.

David Larkin, Lecturer Emeritus. Egyptology.

James T. Monroe, Professor Emeritus.

Jaleh Pirnazar, Lecturer Emeritus. Modern Iranian history Persian language and literature, Iranian Cinema.

Martin Schwartz, Professor Emeritus. Near Eastern studies.
Research Profile

Muhammad Siddiq, Professor Emeritus. Near Eastern studies.
Research Profile

David B. Stronach, Professor Emeritus.

Contact Information

Department of Near Eastern Studies

250 Barrows Hall

Phone: 510-642-3757

Fax: 510-643-8430

Visit Department Website

Department Chair and Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History

Francesca Rochberg, PhD

262 Barrows Hall

Phone: 510-642-3757

Undergraduate Faculty Advisor for Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Islamic Studies

Ahmad Diab

290 Barrows Hall

Undergraduate Faculty Advisor for Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Rita Lucarelli, PhD

266 Barrows Hall

Undergraduate Student Advisor

Rania Shah, MA

250 Barrows Hall

Phone: 510-642-3758

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