The Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University was established during the mid-1960s as a small language and literature department with a focus on “Semitic studies.” Thanks to institutional and alumni support, the department has grown enormously in recent decades and its goals have become quite broad: to serve as the central hub at Cornell for teaching and research on the Near East/Middle East; to offer undergraduates and graduate students the opportunity to study the languages, literatures, cultures, religions, and the full sweep of Near Eastern history from ancient Sumer to the modern Middle East; and to educate students and the wider academic community in cross-cultural, trans-historical, and inter-religious understanding. The department meets such goals by enrolling nearly 1000 students each semester, mentoring over 40 majors, and operating a small but dynamic graduate program.
The “Near East”—as defined by the department—extends from Morocco (and medieval Spain) across North Africa, through Egypt, the Levant (Israel and Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), Turkey, and South-West Asia. Faculty in the department conduct research in areas as diverse as the cuneiform tablets of ancient Iraq, Islamic history and law, medieval Judeo-Arabic, biblical studies, religion in late antiquity, comparative linguistics, modern Egyptian history, medieval Arabic literature, and modern literature and film. In its coverage of the full sweep of Near Eastern/Middle Eastern literature and history, its interdisciplinarity and comparative research, and its commitment to the undergraduate experience, the department is unique among its peers.
Each year, the department offers language instruction in the four main languages of the Near East/Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish as well as ancient and other less commonly taught languages, such as Sumerian, Akkadian, and Ugaritic. In addition, we offer a variety of courses in the various sub-fields represented by our faculty: ancient Near Eastern literature and archaeology; Hebrew Bible and cognate literatures; early Christianity and early Judaism; early and medieval Islamic history and literatures; medieval Spain; modern Arabic and Hebrew literature and film; and modern Middle Eastern history.