Undergraduate Study

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The Department of Near Eastern Studies offers courses in the history, culture, archaeology, religion, languages and literature of the Near/Middle East, a region that has had an important impact on the development of human history and plays a vital role in today's world community. Encompassing the Near East from ancient times to the modern period, the department's course offerings encourage students to take an interdisciplinary approach to the cultures of this region and emphasize methods of historical and literary analysis.


An NES degree prepares you for:

  • Law School
  • Business School
  • PhD and MA programs in various fields

With an NES degree, I can work in:

  • Non-governmental Organizations
  • Journalism
  • Education
  • Foreign Services
  • United Nations
  • Private Sector
  • Business
  • International Consultancy
  • Translation
  • Intelligence Agencies

Experts say liberal arts disciplines tend to teach aspiring lawyers the abstract thinking skills they will need to excel both on law school entrance exams and in law school courses.

US News & World Report (Dec. 14, 2017)

Alumni Spotlight

Explore our undergraduate alumni profiles, for more information on careers they have pursued.

Undergraduate Lunch Series

Monthly lunches are hosted by faculty in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and informal discussions focus on current events or research pertaining to the Near/Middle East. Undergraduate students are encouraged to bring a friend and come and go as their schedules allow.

410 White Hall
lunch provided

Spring 2020 Schedule

Thursday, January 30 "Iran and the US (and Iraq and Syria) on the Brink of War" with Prof. Seema Golestaneh

Thursday, March 12 " The US and Iran: The History the Trump Administration Never Mentions" with Prof. Ross Brann

Thursday, April 16 lunch discussion with Banu Ozer Griffin; topic TBD

NES Major

A major in Near Eastern Studies offers students the opportunity to explore the languages, literatures, archaeology, cultures, religions and history of the Near East/Middle East from antiquity to the modern day. The major is designed both to acquaint students broadly with the region and its cultures as well as to study a particular subfield in depth.

Apply to the major

Major applications are available in the Near Eastern Studies Administrative Office, located in 409 White Hall. Prospective majors must meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in order to submit a major application.  Email Director of Undergraduate Studies, Assistant Professor Seema Golestaneh, to schedule a meeting, or with any questions.


The applicant for admission to the major in Near Eastern Studies (NES) must have completed at least one NES course (language courses count).

Major Requirements

All courses for the major must be taken for a letter grade (no S/U) and students must pass the course with a grade of C or better. No course may be used to satisfy two requirements. A maximum of two independent studies may be applied to the major; a maximum of two non-cross listed courses may be applied to the major; a maximum of two courses may receive credit for more than one major. A maximum of 15 credits of relevant, departmentally approved course work taken overseas or at another university may be applied to the major. Arts & Sciences requires that students must carry a minimum of 15 credits during a semester abroad. Students must fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Two years of one Near Eastern language OR, in exceptional cases, one year of two Near Eastern languages.
  2. Eight core courses, at least three must be at the 3000 level or above, and one must be a Research Seminar (designated NES-RS in the Courses of Study). If you have taken a course that you feel meets the criteria, but is not marked as NES-RS, please contact the department for approval.
    1. Required Course: NES 4560 - Theory & Method in Near Eastern Studies (students that have not taken NES 4560 prior to declaring the NES major are encouraged to take it as soon as it is offered) plus, one of the following:     
      1. NES 2651: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
      2. NES 2676: Holy War, Crusade and Jihad in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
      3. NES 2754: Wonderous Literatures of the Near East
    2. Three Historical Breadth Courses, defined as: one course whose chronological parameters fall within the following periods. Please consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to learn which NES courses fulfill the following periods.
      1. 3000 B.C.E to 600 C.E.
      2. 600 C.E to 1800 C.E.
      3. 1800 C.E. to the present
    3. Three Major Electives

NES Minor

Minor Requirements

Cornell University undergraduates with an interest in the history, societies, cultures, archaeology and religions of the Near East are invited to complete a minor in Near Eastern Studies by taking five courses (minimum of 15 credits), subject to the following conditions:

  1. At least three courses should be at the 3000 level or above.
  2. Two languages courses at the 2000 or 3000 level may count towards the minor.
  3. Three (or more) courses will explore the history, archaeology, literature, or religions of the Near East. Students may choose to focus on one of these disciplines or on the ancient, late antique, medieval or modern periods across the disciplines.

Minors will remain in conversation regarding their course of study with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or be assigned to a member of the NES faculty who will serve as their minor advisor.

Please Note: No more than one independent study, one non-NES cross-listed course, and one departmentally approved course taken overseas or at another university may be applied toward the minor.

Apply to the minor

Students interested in the NES Minor should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Assistant Professor Seema Golestaneh. The Minor application is available in the Near Eastern Studies Administrative Office, located in 409 White Hall.

Arabic Minor

The undergraduate minor in Arabic is intended for Cornell students who wish to broaden and deepen their competence in the Arabic language and knowledge of Arab culture. Such linguistic competence and knowledge have helped Cornell students in the past obtain positions in government agencies and think tanks and to enroll in the most competitive Arabic programs in this country.

Apply to the Arabic minor

Download an Arabic Minor Application or pick one up at the Near Eastern Studies Administrative Office, in 409 White Hall. Students interested in the Arabic Minor should contact the Arabic Program Director, Munther Younes.


The prerequisite for the minor is fulfilling the College of Arts & Sciences language requirement. This may be fulfilled with one of two options, or by proving native speaker proficiency and/or permission of Arabic Program Director, Munther Younes.

  1. Passing
    1. a non-introductory Arabic language course of 3 or more credits at Cornell at the 2000-level or above or 
    2. any other non-introductory course at the 2000-level or above conducted in Arabic at Cornell.
  2. Completing the first three courses of the Arabic language sequence:

  • ARAB 1201- Elementary Arabic I
  • ARAB 1202- Elementary Arabic II
  • ARAB 1203- Intermediate Arabic I                                                             


To complete the minor, students must take five Arabic courses with a minimum grade of C. These five courses include ARAB 2200 (Intermediate Arabic II), ARAB 3201 (Advanced Arabic I), and ARAB 3202 (Advanced Arabic II) and two electives, one course in each group:

Group A (taught entirely in Arabic) choose one course                                        

  •  NES 3203 - Current Events in Arabic Media                       
  •  NES 3700 - Arabic Language Through Film                         
  •  NES 4200 - Modern Arabic Literature                                
  •  NES 4210 - Arabic Grammar and Writing (in Arabic)      

Group B (text in Arabic, taught in English) choose one course                       

  •  NES 2204 - Introduction to Quranic Arabic                          
  •  NES 2212 - Quran and Commentary                                     
  •  NES 4867 - In Search of the Original Quran                        
  •  NES 6201 - Readings in Medieval Arabic Literature          
  •  NES 6221 - Judeo-Arabic                                                                                     
  •  NES 4639 - Readings in Arabic Historical Texts                  

Honors Program

Honors Thesis Cover Sheet and Guide PDF

To graduate cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude, a student in Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences must complete a departmental honors program and be recommended by the department for an honors degree. 

The Near Eastern Studies Honors Program is open to department majors who have done superior work and wish to devote a substantial portion of their senior year to advanced, specialized and independent study in Near Eastern Studies.

Honors Program Eligibility

For admission to the honors program, candidates must fulfill all of the following requirements:

  • Minimum grade point average of 3.5 in the Near Eastern Studies major
  • Superior performance overall at Cornell (minimum 3.3 GPA)
  • Completion of at least 4 semesters or equivalent in a relevant Near Eastern language
  • Satisfactory completion of an NES research paper (marked as NES-RS in Courses of Study)
  • Completion of at least one course in the subfield relevant to the proposed thesis (e.g. early Islamic history, modern Hebrew literature, etc.)

Prospective honors students are strongly encouraged to take NES 4560 (NES Proseminar) in their junior year.

Application Process

Honors Program Applications are available at the Administrative Office in 409 White Hall.

Application Deadline: April 15 of the student's junior year

Identify a Topic:

By the beginning of the spring semester of their junior year, students should have identified a topic or research question of abiding intellectual interest. Students should bear in mind that an honors thesis is far more than a research paper, and therefore should propose a topic based on original research using primary sources. Students should make sure that they have the appropriate language skills for their proposed thesis.

Select a Thesis Supervisor:

Once students have a thesis topic in mind, they should approach a faculty member to supervise their work on the honors thesis. The student's major advisor or Director of Undergraduate Studies can help identify a thesis advisor appropriate to the topic. The student and the thesis advisor will then review the student's transcript to make sure that s/he is eligible for admission to the Honors Program (see admission requirements above). The thesis advisor should also ensure that the student has appropriate and sufficient language skills for the proposed topic.

Select a Thesis Committee:

The student and the thesis advisor will together identify two additional faculty members to serve on the thesis committee. It is the student's responsibility to contact (at least) one of these faculty members to request their participation on the committee before they submit their honors application.

Submit a Thesis Proposal:

After consulting with the prospective thesis advisor, the student must prepare a formal, well-thought out proposal for honors research. The proposal must include a statement of the research question, discussion of the relevant methodology, and a preliminary bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Additional components of the proposal are outlined on the honors application cover sheet. The proposal and this cover sheet should be submitted to the thesis advisor, committee member(s), and the Director of Undergraduate Studies by April 15 of the student's junior year.

Admission to Candidacy:

At the end of the student's junior year, the Director of Undergraduate Studies will notify students whether or not they have been admitted as candidates in the Honors Program. 

Note to Study Abroad Students:

Students who are not in residence during their junior year (e.g., because of participation in a Cornell Abroad Program) should correspond with the DUS early in the spring semester regarding application to the Honors Program. Keeping in mind that being off campus prolongs the application process, students who are abroad should plan ahead and make sure they begin in a timely manner in order to meet the April 15 deadline.

Note to January Graduates:

If your final semester is the Fall semester, you will need to start the application process during the previous fall semester, to give yourself one full year to complete the program. That will put your deadline for the application in mid October of your junior year. Please consult with the DUS if this is the case.

First Semester Requirements

  • Regular meetings with the honors thesis advisor and committee member(s) throughout the year.
  • Participation in NES honors workshops organized by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The date of these workshops will be announced at the beginning of each semester.
  • Enrollment in NES 4998 in the fall semester. NES 4998 (part I) allows students to conduct research and begin writing the honors thesis.
    • At the end of first semester, submission to the supervisor for evaluation 15-20 pages of the thesis along with an outline of the whole project.

Mid-Year Evaluation

The thesis advisor and committee member(s) evaluate the progress of each honors candidate in December/January and makes recommendations about continuation; students will be apprised of the outcome of their evaluation by the beginning of the spring semester.

  • Students whose work is not progressing satisfactorily will be granted independent study units and a grade for their work in the fall semester, but will no longer continue in the honors program.
  • Students who are progressing satisfactorily will register in NES 4999 in the spring semester.

Second Semester Requirements

The thesis, between 60-100 pages in length, is due on the Friday closest to April 7. Unbound copies should be prepared for the thesis advisor, committee member(s), and the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Final Thesis Evaluation

  • Students must successfully complete the NES major and must continue to maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA in the major and a minimum GPA of 3.3 overall.
  • After submitting the thesis draft, students will receive feedback from their advisors and other committee members about required revisions; students will generally have two weeks to submit a final draft of the thesis.
  • In early to mid-May, a 'thesis defense' will be held with all committee members. The defense is a conversation between the honors candidate and her/his full committee, providing the candidate with the opportunity formally to present her/his research in oral form and to address the substantive concerns of the committee.
  • Final evaluation of the thesis will be determined by the committee after the thesis defense, in consultation with the departmental honors committee.
    • Students will be given a grade for NES 4999 based on their effort.
    • Students may be awarded Latin honors based on the committee's evaluation of the scholarly achievement represented in the thesis.

Determination of Latin Honors

In evaluating a thesis, faculty members take into consideration intellectual creativity, methodological innovation, scholarly rigor, and overall quality of presentation. Students should therefore ensure that the thesis is also well-written, impeccably edited, and abides by the footnote format conventional for their discipline of choice ( e.g., Chicago, MLA).

  • A student whose thesis is meritorious, well-argued, and relies ·on a methodologically sound use of primary sources may be awarded cum laude;
  • A student whose project shows considerable originality and scope, methodological sophistication, and uncommon quality may be awarded magna cum laude;
  • A student whose project is of truly exceptional quality, makes a real contribution to the field, and is deemed publishable may be awarded summa cum laude.

In deciding on the specific level of Latin honors, the committee may consider a candidate's complete academic record, not merely the thesis.

Submitting Final Thesis

Submit a final copy of your project (if copies can be made) to the administrator of the program, Christianne Capalongo, in 409 White Hall. 

More Information

Past Honors Theses are available for students to view by visiting the administrative office in 409 White Hall.

Research Funding

There are several opportunities for students to receive funding for conducting research in the Middle East.

Harry Caplan Travel Fellowships: 

Harry Caplan was one of Cornell’s most renowned and beloved professors of Classics. Two summer travel fellowships are awarded annually to outstanding juniors, not necessarily classics majors, to support travel or other projects that enhance serious study of the classical cultures of the Near East, Greece, Rome and Latinate medieval Europe. Students apply by submitting a proposal for the grant to the Classics Department on the first Friday of November. http://classics.cornell.edu/undergraduate/fellowships.cfm

Hirsch travel scholarships:

Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies offers graduate and undergraduate scholarships to support fieldwork-based travel and research. In order for graduate students to be eligible to apply for Hirsch travel scholarships or CIAMS research grants, they must a) be a member of CIAMS and b) have completed the prerequisite CIAMS seminar. For more information visit ciams.cornell.edu/funding

The Archaeological Institute of America

Offers several Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants for archaeological research and publications. They have a November 1st deadline for several of the Fellowships and the Publication Grants: http://www.archaeological.org/grants

More Research Funding Information:

Visit the A&S Undergraduate Research page.