The department was founded by Isaac Rabinowitz, a professor of Biblical literature and an authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, in 1965 as the Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures (now Near Eastern Studies). The department has grown enormously in recent decades, thanks to institutional and alumni support.
The department offers undergraduates and graduate students the opportunity to study the languages, literatures, cultures, religions and Near Eastern history from ancient Sumer to the modern Middle East; and educates students and the wider academic community in cross-cultural, trans-historical and inter-religious understanding. The department enrolls over 1000 students each semester, mentoring over 20 majors, and operates a small and dynamic graduate program.
The Near East is an older term for the Middle East. As defined by the department, the “Near East” extends from Morocco (and medieval Spain), through Egypt, the Levant (Israel and Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), Turkey, Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA).