Undergraduate Study

We offer 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 Middle 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.

I’ve had phenomenal conversations and experienced extraordinary opportunities through the NES department and the humanities faculty at Cornell at large, and I couldn’t be more grateful for them. - Hannah Master '23


An NES degree prepares you for law school, business school and Ph.D. and M.A. programs in various fields.

With an NES degree, you can work in non-governmental organizations, journalism, education, foreign services, United Nations, private sector, business, international consultancy, translation or intelligence agencies.



  1. Obtain a copy of your Cornell transcript. Request a transcript online.
  2. Complete an application (Major, NES minor, or Arabic minor).
  3. Schedule an appointment to review your application and transcript.
  4. Return signed applications to Undergrad Coordinator Christianne Capalongo.

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/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.

Learning Outcomes

  • To attain functional literacy in at least one Middle Eastern language (either ancient or modem).
  • To develop an understanding of the full sweep of NE/ME history and learn about the diverse cultures, literatures, and religions that comprise the region.
  • To learn to conduct advanced and independent research on topics related to the ancient, medieval, or modem periods.
  • To develop writing and advanced critical thinking skills.
  • To understand the history of the study of the Middle East from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.


The applicant for admission to the major in Near Eastern studies 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. The Cornell University College of 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 Middle Eastern language OR, in exceptional cases, one year of two Middle 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.
    • 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:     
      • NES 2651: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
      • NES 2676: Holy War, Crusade and Jihad in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
      • NES 2754: Wondrous Literatures of the Near East
    • 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.
      • 3000 B.C.E to 600 C.E.
      • 600 C.E to 1800 C.E.
      • 1800 C.E. to the present
    • Three major electives

NES Minor

Minor requirements

Five courses (minimum of 15 credits) taken for a grade with a minimum of "C" or higher and subject to the following conditions:

  1. At least three courses should be at the 3000 level or above.
  2. Two language courses may count towards the minor. These must be two courses of the same language (Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish. ancient: Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Hieroglyphic Egyptian) 
  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.

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.


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 the program director.

  1. Passing (a): a non-introductory Arabic language course of 3 or more credits at Cornell at the 2000-level or above OR (b): any other non-introductory course at the the 2000-level or above conducted in Arabic at Cornell University.
  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)                                                 

Minor requirements:

To complete the minor, and in addition to the prerequisite, students must take five Arabic courses with a minimum grade of "C".

Three courses (required):

  • ARAB 2202 (Intermediate Arabic II)
  • ARAB 3201 (Advanced Arabic I)
  • ARAB 3202 (Advanced Arabic II) 

**Important Note: Taking ARAB 3206 (Intensive Arabic II) is equivalent to ARAB 1203 (a prerequisite class for the minor) and ARAB 2202 and 3201 (required classes to complete the minor)

Two Electives (one from each group):

Group A (taught entirely in Arabic) choose one course

  • ARAB 3687 - Kalila wa Dimna for Students of Arabic
  • 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

Starting with December 2025 and May 2026 graduates, Latin honors will not be awarded at the department level. Students who successfully complete the honors program will receive 'Honors in Near Eastern Studies'.

To graduate with Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude), a student in the College of Arts & Sciences must complete a departmental honors program and be recommended by the department for an honors degree. 

The 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.


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 as a downloadable PDF.

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 students studying abroad:

Students who are abroad during their junior year should correspond with the DUS early in the spring semester regarding application to the honors program. Students should plan ahead and make sure they begin the application in a timely manner in order to meet the April 15 deadline.

Note to December 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. The defense provides 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

Starting with December 2025 and May 2026 graduates, Latin honors will not be awarded at the department level. Students who successfully complete the honors program will receive 'Honors in Near Eastern Studies'.

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, AP).

  • 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.

Past Theses

Most are available to review by asking an administrator in 409 White Hall.

Past Near Eastern Studies Honors Theses
Thesis Year Name Title Chair Department
2002 Lewinsohn, Jonathan A Moral Choice: German Humanities Professors and National Socialism, 1928-1935 Prof. Jane-Marie Law College Scholar

Borkowski, Erika

The Question of Monotheism in the Assyrian State Religion

Prof. Gary Rendsburg NES

Chaudhary, Ajay Singh

Mirrors of the Revolution: post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema and the Politics of Religious Democracy

Prof.Deborah Starr NES

Corburn, Jesse

The Radicalization of Gush Emunim: A Comparative Study of the Rabbinical Writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook

Sr. Lecturer Nava Scharf NES

 Kleinerman, Alexandra

** The Garshana Files: The Leather and Textile Industries in the Household of a Princess during the Ur III Period (2113-2004 BCE)

Prof. David Owen NES

Lewental, D Gershon

On the Battle of Al-Qadisayyah and its Perceptions through History: A Comparative Study

Prof. David Powers NES

Stone, Julia A.

History Will Smile: A Comparative Study of Mahmoud Darwish and Yehuda Amichai

Prof. Ross Brann NES
2004 Antonious, Jacqueline Armageddon Theology Prof. Deborah Starr NES

Kleinhandler, Rebecca Marel

The Construction of Identity in the Writing of Yitzhak Gormenzano Goren

Prof. Deborah Starr NES

Mauer, Heidi

Islamism in Egypt: Prison, Torture, and Violent Radicalization

Prof. David Powers NES

Rittenburg, Ryan

** Juristic Thought on the Destruction of Synagogues in Tuwat, ca. 1490

Prof. Shawkat Toorawa NES
2005 Green, Aaron

Fundamentalist Movements in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Comparative Study Between Gush Emunim and Hamas

Professors Ross Brann, Michelle Campos, Tamir Sorek NES

Hashemi, Manata

The Construction of Identity Among Contemporary Iranian Youth: Its Contours and Implications

Prof. Michelle Campos NES
2005 Kahn, Maria

A Historical Analysis of Muhammad’s Daughters and Their Positions in the Islamic Narrative

Prof. David Powers NES

Virani, Sabeen

Unholy Alliance: The Misrepresentation of Islam and the Neoconservative Agenda

Prof. Ross Brann NES

Saporito, Stephanie

The Application of Ethics in Medieval Islamic Law: A Study of Al-Ahkam Al-Khamash

Prof. Ross Brann College Scholar
2006 Warner, Andy

A Man Who Laughs and a Woman Who Writes: Gender, Civil War and Conformity in Hoda Barakat’s Hajar al-Dahik

Prof. Shawkat Toorawa NES

Krohn-Friedson, Meredith

Cultivating Patria in the Homeland: An Analysis of Argentinean Israeli Literature

Prof. Deborah Starr College Scholar

Papir, Ilana

Orly Castel-Bloom’s “Feminist Alternative”: Parody as Protest in Dolly City

Prof. Ross Brann NES

Yun, Elisheva

The Absurdity of War and the Denial of Meaning: Interpreting the Lebanese Civil War in West Beyrouth

Prof. Deborah Starr NES

Guthorn, Harris

Jordan: A Modern Nation in Bedouin Garb Professors Ross Brann & David Powers NES

Pearlman, Amy

** The Politics of Withdrawal: Hezbollah's Resistance to Demilitarization and the Ideology of Arms

Prof. Ross Brann NES

Siegman, Jeremy

Between Rights and Realities: The Politics of Sovereignty, Bare Life, and Humanitarianism in Cairo

Prof. Ross Brann College Scholar

Chammah, Maurice

Listening to Cairo: Sound, Secularism, and Islam Professors Ross Brann and Ziad Fahmy College Scholar

Korey, Leigh

Reading through Films: Promoting Universality in Marjan Statrapi’s Persepolis Professor Shawkat Toorawa NES

Lawrence, Roshanna

Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Sesame Workshop’s Public-Private Partnership in Egypt

Professor Kim Haines-Eitzen NES

Koppelman, Emily

Urdutiniyya: How the Palestinian-Jordanian Identity Crisis Inhibits Jordanian Democracy

Professor Ross Brann NES

Pasch, Melanie Holly

The Streets of Tel Aviv-Yafo: An Urban Biography of the Zionist Narrative

Professor Ross Brann NES

Shaubi, Eli

From Bahya ibn Paquda to Abraham Maimonides: Tracing the Role of Law in Medieval Sefardic Piety

Professor Ross Brann NES

Mundel, Maya

Race, Gender, and Islamic Slavery: An Examination of Opportunities for Advancement of Enslaved Females

Professor David Powers NES

Lipski, Sarah

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Export of the Iran’s Islamic Revolution- Parallels with the Spread of Soviet Communism

Sr. Lecturer Iago Gocheleishvili NES
2016 Newman, Ezra

Polygyny in Greco-Roman Jewish Texts

Professor Lauren Monroe NES
2022 Slayton, Dana "Speak with us, and speak with others": Imagined Speech and Imagined Community in Coptic Language Revival Movements Professor Ross Brann NES & College Scholar

** not available in Department to view

Language Study

The department offers courses in several languages which can fulfill the college language requirement: Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish.

Visit our language study page for more information. 

Transfer Credits

It is strongly recommended that students obtain departmental approval before enrolling in a course for which they are seeking transfer credit. Please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies to seek approval. 

Students should refer to their college registrar's procedures for requesting a credit transfer. Current Arts & Sciences students should review the guidelines and instructions found on the A&S registrar's website.

A maximum of 15 credits of relevant, departmentally approved course work taken overseas or at another university may be applied to the major. One departmentally approved course taken overseas or at another university may be applied toward the NES minor.