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The graduate program in Near Eastern studies emphasizes the languages, literatures, archaeology, history and cultures of the Near East. It is designed to help students acquaint themselves with the fundamental elements of these cultures and also to acquire a high degree of specialization in one or more of the following areas: ancient Near Eastern studies (including archaeology); Arabic literature; biblical studies; early Christianity; Hebrew literature; Islamic studies; Judaic studies and the modern Middle East.

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree are expected to demonstrate mastery in the language or languages of the main texts that are directly related to the topic of their dissertations. Students are advised to determine early in their training the special field of their concentration and to consult their advisors about linguistic requirements.

Before the end of the sixth term of graduate study, each Ph.D. degree candidate must demonstrate competence in reading scholarly secondary materials in two of the following languages, chosen in consultation with their committee chair: French, German, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Candidates for the master's degree must demonstrate competence in one of those languages at least one term before the degree is awarded.

Although the student’s particular in-depth course of study will vary according to her/his specific historical and disciplinary interests, the NES graduate program expects the future scholars and teachers it trains to take advantage of the opportunity to appreciate the sweep and encounter the breadth of Near Eastern past and present. For example, students interested in the modern history of the region are strongly encouraged to acquire a background in its pre-modern history and culture, and students interested in a particular Near Eastern literary or religious tradition are advised to investigate another such Near Eastern tradition.

Students will find that our field’s commitment to comparative and interdisciplinary training enriches understanding of their chosen sub-field and prepares them to assume the teaching responsibilities and research regimens of the specialist. It also affords them the possibility of entering into conversations with different sub-fields and disciplines in Near Eastern studies. 

Application Requirements

Application Deadlines:

Fall: Jan. 15

The application is online at the Graduate School website (

Requirements Summary:

  • All Graduate School Requirements, including TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants
  • Three recommendations
  • GRE general test
  • At least two years of study in one Near Eastern langugage
  • A writing sample of approximately 25 pages


Upon completion of the doctoral program, we expect a Near Eastern Studies Ph.D. ideally to be able to:

  1. Demonstrate broad knowledge of theory and scholarship across relevant sub-fields
  2. Demonstrate advanced research skills
  3. Demonstrate the ability to produce and communicate original, publishable research
  4. Demonstrate the ability to teach effectively

Graduate Handbook

Good Standing

  1. To maintain satisfactory progress in coursework, a student must achieve minimum grades of A- and earn a full registration unit (RU) each semester.
  2. NES grad students are expected to attend and participate in the NES Colloquium.
  3. The Special Committee Chair will review the student’s progress at the end of each academic year and report on it to the graduate faculty. If there are concerns the Director of Graduate Studies will advise the student in writing.
  4. No graduate student shall be permitted more than one grade of Incomplete per semester.
  5. During the following term, the student must complete the coursework for which the Incomplete was assigned; otherwise, the Incomplete will become permanent.
  6. If a student receives a permanent Incomplete in a required course, the student will be placed on academic probation. Under such circumstances the graduate faculty will meet to determine whether the student’s standing warrants continuing in the program or withdrawal from it.

The First Year

The first task of the new graduate student in Near Eastern studies is to meet with his or her presumed/prospective Special Committee Chair (a member of the NES Graduate Field). Together they will outline a course of study for the first semester and review the student’s options for assembling a Special Committee.

  1. Required first year courses include coursework in a second Near Eastern language.
  2. In selecting courses, the first year graduate student should keep in mind that he or she must take at least one course each term in which students are required to write a research paper.
  3. The student must assemble and formalize a Special Committee during the second semester in residence.
    a. The Chair of the Special Committee must be a member of the NES graduate faculty.
    b. At least two of the members of the Special Committee must come from the NES graduate field.
  4. Graduate students pursuing a research degree (master’s or doctoral) are required to complete appropriate training in the responsible conduct of research. Each student must complete online training through the Cornell Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA) in authorship, peer review, and avoidance of research misconduct. Required training must be completed prior to the end of the student’s second registered semester.

The Second Year

  1. During the second year, the student will continue with course work chosen in consultation with their Committee Chair.
  2. Second- and third-year graduate students will serve as Teaching Assistants in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.
  3. The faculty expects students to broaden their exposure to the field by taking courses with faculty in other subfields. Students will be required to encounter in their courses at least two areas of study removed from their own subfield.
  4. After completing three semesters in residence, the student will meet with their Special Committee for a “Q” exercise during which students review their progress in the program by informally presenting the results (selectively) of their research papers. This also serves as an opportunity for the Special Committee to assess the student’s progress.  The Special Committee and student will then sketch out a preliminary program of study for the next three semesters. They will also agree upon the academic subfields in which the student will be examined for admission to candidacy at the conclusion of the third year. 

The Third Year

  1. At the end of the third year in residence, students will take an admission to candidacy examination (“A-Exam”).
  2. The examination will have both written and oral components. Each committee member will devise a portion of the written exam based on the academic subfield in which they worked with the student. Following the written comprehensive exam, the entire Special Committee will meet with the student for the oral exam. The results of the written exam will be reviewed and follow-up questions will be posed in the course of the discussion.  

Near Eastern Language Requirement

Students are required to reach a very high level of expertise in their chosen primary Near Eastern language(s)—a level sufficient for  primary research in the language(s). The precise requirements for primary Near Eastern languages will vary by subfield and will be determined by the Special Committee.

Modern Language Requirement

  1. Students must acquire a reading knowledge of two research languages (French, German, Spanish or any additional language deemed necessary by the student’s Special Committee).
    a. Students must pass a reading exam in their first modern research language by the end of their second semester in residence and reading exam in their second modern research language by the end of their fourth semester in residence.
    b. Successful completion of language courses can also satisfy the requirement.

Residence Requirement

Students normally remain in residence for their first six semesters and in their final year of dissertation research.

 The Doctoral Dissertation

  1. After successfully completing the A-Exam, the student will prepare and submit to the Special Committee a dissertation prospectus.* 
    a. The prospectus should include a précis outlining the subject and why it is significant, a discussion of the method(s) of study employed, a brief review of relevant scholarship, and a rudimentary bibliography.
    b. If the Special Committee approves of the prospectus, the student is admitted to candidacy.
  2. At the end of each academic year the graduate faculty will meet to review the candidate’s progress. The candidate’s Special Committee will determine whether progress is satisfactory and will report their assessment to the graduate faculty for review.
  3. Candidates must submit the dissertation within seven years of entering the program.
  4. Once submitted to the members of the Special Committee, the dissertation will be defended by the candidate orally, in the presence of the Committee and other interested students and faculty.
  5. For Graduate School rules governing dissertation format, procedures for scheduling a defense and regulations for final submission, students should consult the Thesis and Dissertation Guidebook.

In special circumstances an external advisor may be asked to serve on the Committee but three Cornell faculty members, including the Chair, must remain.

Financial Assistance

Cornell University Fellowships

All Near Eastern Studies doctoral students studying on campus receive Cornell University Fellowships (referred to as Sage Fellowships or Cornell Fellowships depending on the field of study).  These fellowships include full tuition, a nine-month stipend and Cornell individual student health insurance.  A summer stipend may also be provided to students.

Cornell University Fellowships are awarded at the time of admission. Prospective students apply for fellowships on the admissions application.  To be considered for a university fellowship, respond “yes” to the question on the admissions application asking if you wish to be considered for university assistantships and fellowships.

For more information on Sage Fellowships,  click here.

Teaching Assistantships (TAs)

TAs spend about 15 hours per week assisting the faculty in undergraduate courses. Typically, second, third and fourth year students who are making satisfactory progress toward the PhD degree have priority in the allocation of TAships. TAs are paid a stipend and are offered full-tuition fellowships, as well as health insurance.

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

The fellowships are intended for U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are college seniors or first-year graduate students at the time of application. Awards are for a period of three years and provide a 12-month stipend plus a cost of education allowance. The deadline for receipt of preliminary applications is in mid-November.

In addition, NSF Minority Graduate Research Fellowships are available to U.S. citizens who are members of an ethnic minority group underrepresented in the advanced levels of the nation's science talent pool. Minority fellowships are available on the same terms as the NSF graduate fellowships.

More Information on NSF Graduate Research Fellowships,  here.

A more complete list of NSF programs that offer funding for graduate students,  here.

Fulbright U.S. Student Program

There are several grants offered to U.S. citizens through the Fulbright Institution including, but not limited to, English Teaching Assistant Awards and Open Study/Research Awards. A complete list can be found, here.

Graduate Resources

For more resources listed on the Graduate School website, click here.

More Information

For more information on Graduate Study in the Department of Near Eastern Studies contact: