Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Graduate programs leading to the PhD degree are offered in Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian Languages and Literatures; Near Eastern Art and Archaeology; Cuneiform; Hebrew Bible; Biblical and Judaic Studies; Egyptology; and Islamic Studies. Degree requirements should be completed according to the University's normative time standards. Normative time for an advanced degree in the department is seven years for the MA plus PhD, and five years for those entering with an MA. Students are urged to complete the MA requirements in two years, and the PhD requirements in an additional five years.

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Admission to the University

Minimum Requirements for Admission

The following minimum requirements apply to all graduate programs and will be verified by the Graduate Division:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;
  2. A grade point average of B or better (3.0);
  3. If the applicant has completed a basic degree from a country or political entity (e.g., Quebec) where English is not the official language, adequate proficiency in English to do graduate work, as evidenced by a TOEFL score of at least 90 on the iBT test, 570 on the paper-and-pencil test, or an IELTS Band score of at least 7 on a 9-point scale (note that individual programs may set higher levels for any of these); and
  4. Sufficient undergraduate training to do graduate work in the given field.

Applicants Who Already Hold a Graduate Degree

The Graduate Council views academic degrees not as vocational training certificates, but as evidence of broad training in research methods, independent study, and articulation of learning. Therefore, applicants who already have academic graduate degrees should be able to pursue new subject matter at an advanced level without the need to enroll in a related or similar graduate program.

Programs may consider students for an additional academic master’s or professional master’s degree only if the additional degree is in a distinctly different field.

Applicants admitted to a doctoral program that requires a master’s degree to be earned at Berkeley as a prerequisite (even though the applicant already has a master’s degree from another institution in the same or a closely allied field of study) will be permitted to undertake the second master’s degree, despite the overlap in field.

The Graduate Division will admit students for a second doctoral degree only if they meet the following guidelines:

  1. Applicants with doctoral degrees may be admitted for an additional doctoral degree only if that degree program is in a general area of knowledge distinctly different from the field in which they earned their original degree. For example, a physics PhD could be admitted to a doctoral degree program in music or history; however, a student with a doctoral degree in mathematics would not be permitted to add a PhD in statistics.
  2. Applicants who hold the PhD degree may be admitted to a professional doctorate or professional master’s degree program if there is no duplication of training involved.

Applicants may apply only to one single degree program or one concurrent degree program per admission cycle.

Required Documents for Applications

  1. Transcripts: Applicants may upload unofficial transcripts with your application for the departmental initial review. Unofficial transcripts must contain specific information including the name of the applicant, name of the school, all courses, grades, units, & degree conferral (if applicable). 
  2. Letters of recommendation: Applicants may request online letters of recommendation through the online application system. Hard copies of recommendation letters must be sent directly to the program, by the recommender, not the Graduate Admissions.
  3. Evidence of English language proficiency: All applicants who have completed a basic degree from a country or political entity in which the official language is not English are required to submit official evidence of English language proficiency. This applies to institutions from Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Latin America, the Middle East, the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, most European countries, and Quebec (Canada). However, applicants who, at the time of application, have already completed at least one year of full-time academic course work with grades of B or better at a US university may submit an official transcript from the US university to fulfill this requirement. The following courses will not fulfill this requirement:

    • courses in English as a Second Language,

    • courses conducted in a language other than English,

    • courses that will be completed after the application is submitted, and

    • courses of a non-academic nature.

Applicants who have previously applied to Berkeley must also submit new test scores that meet the current minimum requirement from one of the standardized tests. Official TOEFL score reports must be sent directly from Educational Test Services (ETS). The institution code for Berkeley is 4833 for Graduate Organizations. Official IELTS score reports must be sent electronically from the testing center to University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Division, Sproul Hall, Rm 318 MC 5900, Berkeley, CA 94720. TOEFL and IELTS score reports are only valid for two years prior to beginning the graduate program at UC Berkeley. Note: score reports can not expire before the month of June.


Where to Apply

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page

Admission to the Program

All applicants should have fulfilled the equivalent of the departmental requirements for the BA degree. Minor deficiencies in preparation would need to be repaired in the student's first year of graduate work.

The PhD Degree

Applicants to the Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures graduate program may already hold the MA or an equivalent degree.  Students earning the MA in this department need to pass a Permission to Proceed examination after completing the other MA requirements.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

*The requirements below are in addition to those fulfilled while earning the MA degree.

(For students entering the program with an MA in a related field, any deviations from UC Berkeley's MA degree stipulations are treated on a case-by-case basis and must have official approval.)

Prior to Advancement


While there are few specific required courses for the PhD program, it is expected that a student will include seminar work in at least two divisions of the department. Upon the advice of appropriate faculty, students select courses that will prepare them to meet the requirements for admission to candidacy. The two required courses for every graduate student in the PhD program in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures are:

MELC 291 ; and

MELC 200  (if not already satisfied as part of the MA degree requirements in the Department).

Language Concentrations and Islamic Studies concentration
Course electives that include the following:
At least 12 units of coursework during each semester at the 100- or 200-level, with lower-division language courses as appropriate.
MELC 200Graduate Proseminar1
MELC 291Dissertation Writing Workshop4
 Near Eastern Art & Archaeology Concentration
Course electives that include the following:
At least 12 units of coursework during each semester at the 100- or 200-level, with lower-division language courses as appropriate.
At least 2 years of course work in a single ancient language during graduate career, or pass proficiency exam
MELC 200Graduate Proseminar1
MELC 291Dissertation Writing Workshop4
Egyptology Concentration
Course electives that include the following:
At least 12 units of coursework during each semester at the 100- or 200-level, with lower-division language courses as appropriate.
2 semesters of ancient Egyptian language beyond second-year level during graduate career, and pass proficiency exam in Egyptian and/or Coptic
MELC 200Graduate Proseminar1
MELC 291Dissertation Writing Workshop4

Fieldwork for students in Egyptology and Near Eastern Art and Archaeology

Each student specializing in Egyptology or Near Eastern Art and Archaeology must acquire practical experience in archaeology or museum studies. The student should confer with his or her examination committee on ways of gaining this experience, which may include participation in excavations, study in approved museums, or other activities related to fieldwork and approved by the examination committee.

Foreign Language(s)

All PhD students must have passed reading examinations in two modern European languages before proceeding to the preliminary examinations. The modern language proficiency examinations will follow the form prescribed under the MA requirements (see the Master's Degree Requirements tab). Students who have passed through an MA program of this department will already have satisfied the requirement in at least one language. Credit is not given for language examinations taken at other schools.

Preliminary Exams

The department requires that its doctoral students pass comprehensive written preliminary examinations before proceeding to the comprehensive oral qualifying examination (QE). Students are eligible to take the written examinations after completing all prior requirements for the PhD. Students must complete one written preliminary examination for each subject area specified in the application sent to the Graduate Division to be covered during the comprehensive qualifying examinations. Three comprehensive written examinations are required, therefore, to cover the student's major subject area and two minor areas. The preliminary examinations may be of any written form determined by the examiners, but it is suggested that they should consist of a choice of not more than three from a wide range of essay questions. Students should consult with their committee members well in advance concerning the form that each examination will take.
 For all students in the department specializing in a language concentration (Cuneiform Studies, Hebrew, Arabic or Persian Language and Literature), the comprehensive written preliminary examinations will include examinations in at least two Middle or Near (ancient) Eastern languages. Egyptology students should pass a separate ancient Egyptian language exam in two parts prior to sitting for their comprehensive PhD examinations.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is designed to reveal the breadth and depth of the student's knowledge, as well as his or her sophistication of reasoning. It is therefore not to be concerned narrowly, nor to be concerned solely with a dissertation prospectus. Based on the student's performance, the faculty will determine whether the candidate is ready to enter the research phase of PhD study. Students are eligible to take the comprehensive oral qualifying examination after passing the written preliminary examinations.


Before applying to the Graduate Division for advancement to candidacy to the PhD, the student must first obtain approval of a dissertation prospectus on an appropriate topic from his/her proposed dissertation committee. The prospectus should include a detailed outline, a short essay-type description of the dissertation, and a bibliography. A proposed timeline to completion and methodology statement are frequent additions to the prospectus.

Time in Candidacy

Advancement to Candidacy

After the student passes the oral qualifying examination, the student must apply for advancement to candidacy. Before submitting this application, the student must first obtain approval of a dissertation prospectus on an appropriate topic from his/her proposed dissertation committee.


The completed dissertation must be signed by all three members of the dissertation committee. It is the student's responsibility to be in touch with all members of the committee and to arrange for each member to have enough time to review each stage of the dissertation.

Dissertation Colloquium for PhD Candidates in Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Programs

All PhD students in the ancient Egyptian (Egyptology) and Near Eastern (Near Eastern Art and Archaeology) subplans are strongly encouraged to give an oral presentation of approximately 45 minutes on their dissertation. The candidate should consult with his or her dissertation advisers to determine the scope of the presentation. The colloquium should be scheduled during the advanced stages of the dissertation and must be attended by the candidate’s dissertation inside committee members. It is expected that all graduate students and faculty in ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern programs will attend dissertation colloquia.

Required Professional Development


Every year, the department appoints graduate students as Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) to teach discussion sections of lecture courses and sections of language courses. As part of the PhD program requirements in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, each graduate student should act as a GSI for a minimum of one course during their graduate career. In exceptional cases, this requirement may be waived with the approval of a student's faculty advisory committee.

Master's Degree Requirements


In addition to the courses required for specific concentrations in the MA in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (listed below), all entering graduate students must take the following course:

MELC 200  

Language Concentrations, and Islamic Studies Concentration

24 units course work in 100 or 200 series, including 12 units graduate courses (200-level) in Middle Eastern major language24
3 semesters, Middle Eastern minor languageVariable
MELC 200Graduate Proseminar1

Near Eastern Art & Archaeology Concentration

24 units of course work in 100 or 200 series, including 12 units in 200-level courses24
MELC 223Seminar in Middle Eastern Archaeology2,4
MELC 200Graduate Proseminar1

Egyptology Concentration

24 units of course work in 100 or 200 series, including 12 units in 200-level seminar courses; may include one graduate-level Egyptian language course in 200 series24
2 semesters Ancient Egyptian language beyond second-year levelVariable
MELC 200Graduate Proseminar1

Foreign Language

The students must pass the modern European language proficiency examination or receive approval of the graduate advisor and dean for a waiver of the examination before applying for candidacy for the MA degree. In this department, the language required is normally French or German. Another modern language may be substituted for one of these if it is clearly necessary to the student's field of study. Any such substitution must be approved by the graduate advisor and the student's advisory committee.

Preliminary or Field Exams

The student must successfully complete written examinations covering one major and two minor fields. Two research papers, one of which must demonstrate bibliographic mastery of a given topic, must be placed on file in the departmental office at least four weeks prior to the MA examinations. These papers may be written in the context of coursework taken for the MA or may be written independently of coursework, under the supervision of a faculty member. Any paper submitted as an MA paper must be approved by the faculty member for whom it was written, as well as by the MA committee.


The department appoints graduate students as Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) to teach discussion sections of lecture courses and sections of language courses.

Advancement to Candidacy

Students must be unofficially advanced to candidacy by their committee prior to taking their comprehensive MA examinations. The student's petition for candidacy must be filed with the Department after the student satisfies the European language proficiency exam requirement and before the student appears for the MA examinations.


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Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures




Contact Information

Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures

250 Social Sciences Building

Phone: 510-642-3757

Fax: 510-643-8430


Visit Department Website

Department Chair

Wali Ahmadi

284 Social Sciences Bldg.

Phone: 510-642-3757


Head Graduate Advisor & Graduate Advisor in Ancient Studies

Niek Veldhuis

280 Social Sciences Bldg.


Graduate Advisor in Islamic Studies/Arabic/ Hebrew/Persian

Asad Q. Ahmed

272 Social Sciences Bldg.


Graduate Student Services Advisor

Deanna Kiser-Go

250B Social Sciences Bldg.

Phone: 510-642-4915


Undergraduate Assistant

Rania Shah

250A Social Sciences Bldg.

Phone: 510-642-3758


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