Middle East Studies

About the Concentration

Learning Goals

The concentration in Middle East Studies (MES) seeks to build a strong, interdisciplinary understanding of historical and contemporary issues within the Middle East, broadly defined. Requirements are intentionally flexible to accommodate the focused interests of students in understanding the diverse dynamics, histories, and societies of this region. A variety of courses from departments across the University, addressing subjects from antiquity to the present day, expose students to methods and materials of different disciplines and help them build a framework for understanding the Middle East in historical and contemporary context. Concentration requirements are structured around four major cornerstones: language, foundational knowledge and methods, multidisciplinary area studies, and research.

Concentrators in MES will:

    • Develop competency in at least one modern Middle Eastern language (such as Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, or Turkish).
    • Understand basic dynamics of the region in the modern and pre-modern periods.
    • Familiarize themselves with approaches to studying the Middle East and some major problems and questions that have characterized academic inquiry into the region.
    • Become acquainted with different disciplinary approaches to studying the Middle East, as well as multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary models for its study.
    • Produce a work of original research focused on the Middle East that draws on their experience in the concentration in terms of knowledge, skills, and approaches.


2     Foundational Courses

MES 0100: The Middle East: Cultures and Societies (offered each spring semester)
MES 1968: Approaches to the Middle East (offered each fall semester)

5     Electives

from Affiliated Faculty Course Offerings listed on MES website (at least 1 course in the humanities and 1 course in the social sciences)

4     Language Semesters (Intermediate)

1     Semester Capstone or 2 Semesters Honors Thesis

12 Total

13 for Honors

More information on requirements is available here. Please direct any questions to the MES Director of Undergraduate Studies.


2 Foundational Courses

All MES concentrators are expected to take both MES 0100 (The Middle East: Cultures and Societies—offered every spring) and MES 1968. Students should take MES 0100 before taking MES 1968. Foundational course requirements cannot be fulfilled via independent study, study abroad, or transfer credits.

MES 0100: The Middle East: Cultures and Societies

This broad, interdisciplinary course will be offered every spring and will provide an overview of major historical, cultural, religious, and social developments within the region presently described as the Middle East. Covering a vast expanse of time and space, the course coheres around four themes: architecture and urban culture; law and cultures of governance; literature and textual culture; and art and visual culture. The course provides a foundation for further study of more specialized topics in the Middle East. Although enrollment is not limited to MES concentrators, it is intended to provide MES concentrators with a shared baseline of knowledge about the region and to begin forming an intellectual community of MES concentrators.

MES 1968: Approaches to the Middle East

This seminar introduces students to the interdisciplinary field of Middle East Studies in the broader context of the history of area studies in the humanities and social sciences. It asks students to consider the context within which the Middle East became an area of study and introduces them to the major approaches and topics that have shaped the development of the field of Middle East Studies. Further, students are challenged to consider the political implications of contested visions for the future of Middle East Studies. Readings sample canonical and alternative works in Middle East Studies to probe the foundations, limits, and possibilities of the field, and features visits by leading scholars—including Middle East Studies faculty at Brown—who research and write on this region. This seminar is designed to solidify the intellectual community of Middle East Studies concentrators by introducing them to core texts and debates, as well as to new research trajectories, in the field. It is recommended that concentrators take this class in their junior year, as it also serves as an opportunity for students to take steps toward developing their capstone projects.

5 Electives

Students must take at least five elective courses chosen in consultation with the DUS among the courses listed by MES as approved electives on its website. Students may apply up to two Middle Eastern language credits (beyond those that fulfill the language requirement: see below) to the MES electives requirement. To allow for exposure of different disciplinary approaches to the Middle East, students must take at least one course in the humanities (offered within the departments of Archaeology and the Ancient World, Classics, Comparative Literature, History of Art and Architecture, Modern Culture and Media, Philosophy, or Religious Studies) and at least one course in the social sciences (offered within the departments of Anthropology, History, International Relations, Political Science, Sociology, or Urban Studies). Some examples of recent courses that would fulfill these requirements include:


    • CLASS 0660 The World of Byzantium
    • COLT 1310J The Arab Renaissance
    • HIAA 0041 The Architectures of Islam
    • MCM 1505Z Kiarostami: Questions of Cinema & Reality
    • PHIL 0203 Introduction to Islamic Philosophy
    • RELS 0088 Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Social Sciences

    • ANTH 1150 Middle East in Anthropological Perspective
    • HIST 0243 Modern Middle East Roots: 1492 to the Present
    • INTL 1802Q Iran and the Islamic Revolution
    • POLS 1822I Geopolitics of Oil and Energy
    • SOC 1872T Social Innovation and Disruption: The Case of Modern Turkey
    • URBN 1870K Jerusalem since 1850: Religion, Politics, Cultural Heritage 

Courses offered outside of these departments/programs may be used to fulfill the humanities or social science elective requirement via petition and with the consultation of the DUS. Transfer credits and study abroad credits may count toward elective requirements. Independent study courses cannot be used to fulfill elective requirements except with written approval from the DUS.

4 Language Semesters

Middle East Studies concentrators are expected to reach a level of language proficiency consistent with completion of four semesters of Brown language coursework in at least one of the modern Middle Eastern languages, such as Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, or Turkish, or the equivalent through transfer or study abroad credits. Students who surpass the language requirement can apply up to two Middle Eastern language credits toward the MES elective requirements (see above). 

Students who have reached proficiency in a Middle Eastern language but have not received four credits at Brown (including transfer and/or study abroad credits) can fulfill this requirement:

  • through advanced reading and writing courses in a Middle Eastern language (recent examples include COLT 1310J: The Arab Renaissance; and COLT 1431B: Modern Arabic Poetry, Between Tradition and Innovation);

  • by taking courses in a second Middle Eastern language;

  • or through courses in a non–Middle Eastern language to be used in a senior capstone project (for example, Spanish for the study of Andalucía or French for the study of North Africa).

Concentrators are encouraged to discuss options for fulfilling language requirements with the DUS.

Dual Concentrators

Middle East Studies concentrators may apply up to two courses that fulfill MES concentration requirements toward fulfilling the requirements of another concentration. Language courses do not count toward this two-course limit on overlapping courses.

Study Abroad Policy

Concentrators may apply up to two courses per semester of study abroad toward their MES concentration requirements, with a maximum of four courses (for two semesters abroad). Study abroad transfer credits may only be applied toward fulfilling elective and language requirements. Study abroad transfer credit may not be used to fulfill foundational course requirements. Students should meet with the DUS prior to embarking upon their program to ensure that it will allow them to fulfill relevant MES concentration requirements.


MES requires all concentrators to conduct a capstone project within their senior year (i.e., in their last two semesters before graduation). The purpose of the capstone is to synthesize and apply the skills and knowledge that MES concentrators have acquired through the MES curriculum—including disciplinary perspectives, methodological and theoretical approaches, background in the historical and contemporary dynamics of the region, and language competency—to particular interests developed through the concentration. Capstones offer students the opportunity to integrate and build upon their experiences within the concentration, while demonstrating intellectual creativity, research skills, and effective communication, and should serve in some sense as a culmination of or reflection on what one has gained in the concentration.

All students are expected to present their capstone research in the final semester before graduation. Presentations of honors theses will be approximately twenty minutes long, and those of non-honors capstone projects will be approximately ten minutes long, both followed by a question-and-answer session. 

Capstone projects must fulfill the following requirements: 

      • Must be taken in the final two semesters before graduation (excluding summer and winter sessions)
      • Must incorporate research in a Middle Eastern language.
      • Must be approved or overseen by a MES or MES-affiliated faculty member (see Capstone Proposal Form and Capstone Evaluation Form).
      • Must be presented in the final semester before graduation.

Capstones can take one of three forms:

    1. a Middle East focused research paper of at least 20 pages for an existing concentration-eligible (MES-coded or X-listed) course, undertaken with the permission and supervision of the instructor;

    2. an independent study or project (research, artistic, or otherwise), approved by the DUS and supervised by at least one faculty member for at least one semester under the MES 1970-Independent Study designation; or

    3. a two-semester honors thesis, completed under the supervision of a primary reader (who is an MES or MES-affiliated faculty member) and a secondary reader (who can be from other Brown departments and programs), and in coordination with the DUS.

    All students are required to submit a Capstone Proposal Form and a Capstone Evaluation Form. The Proposal Form will indicate the form that their capstone project will take, the topic or focus of the capstone, and the faculty member under whose supervision the student will undertake the capstone project. This form is due by the end of shopping period for the semester under which the student will undertake the capstone project or, for students writing an honors thesis, with their thesis prospectus. 


    Students may graduate with honors in MES by completing an undergraduate honors thesis in MES. To be eligible for honors, students will have earned an ‘A’ (or 'S' with distinction) in the majority of courses for the concentration and will have submitted a thesis prospectus and secured a faculty advisor by the end of their junior year. Honors theses are substantial research projects driven by a deep interest in engaging with a selected topic of study. They require a time commitment and coordination between students, advisors, and the DUS to ensure completion. Honors students will undertake two semesters of thesis writing in their senior year, the first in a thesis writing workshop (MES 1971) supervised by the DUS or other MES faculty, followed by a second semester of Independent Study (MES 1970) to complete the thesis under the guidance of the thesis advisor.

    Students must declare their intention to write an honors thesis and submit a thesis prospectus (to include a thesis proposal, research plan, proposed thesis outline, initial literature review, and initial bibliography) by April 25th of their junior year (for May graduates) or November 20th of their junior year (for December graduates).

    More about Honors at Brown » 

    For detailed information on pursuing honors in Middle East Studies »