Studies & Degrees in Near Eastern Studies
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The Near East or Middle East (these terms are generally used interchangeably, although “Near East” is considered somewhat dated) is a vast and culturally diverse swath of land that stretches from the high deserts of Morocco to the sweeping plains of Central Asia. Programs in Middle East studies examine the history, languages, cultures, geography, and current events in this fascinating region. The majority focus on the modern era, using history as a backdrop, but others take historical time periods as the main object of investigation. The Near East and Middle East have been the location of seminal events in world history for thousands of years, notably the rise of agriculture, the birth of 3 of the world's major religions, and the myriad conflicts that shape the geopolitical circumstances of the modern age.
Almost any program in this field will require a significant amount of language study, and this can be the most important and often the most challenging aspect of the program. The languages of the Middle East, particularly Arabic, are notoriously difficult to learn, but they open up an exciting world of culture and education. In addition to language courses, most Middle East studies majors will take at least one semester to study abroad in one or more of the countries in the region. This experience provides a language immersion experience and insight into foreign cultures that simply cannot be acquired in any other way.
- Open-mindedness and respect for other cultures and religions
- Language skills (and the patience and diligence to improve them)
- Basic knowledge of current events and world history
- Desire to travel widely and learn about diverse ways of life
While most undergraduate programs in Middle East studies are generalist degrees–meaning they cover all topics more or less equally–some degree of specialization is usually possible at the graduate level. This may either involve a concentration in a particular country or group of countries or a thematic focus such as economics, politics, or religion. Students of Middle East studies will also need to make a choice about which language they want to focus on. The most popular option is Arabic, which is widely spoken throughout the Middle East, but there are other options such as Turkish and Persian that can provide a unique window on events in the Middle East.
Most programs in Middle East studies do not focus on one particular career. Rather, they provide a general understanding of the region and familiarity with its languages that can be applicable in many kinds of work. This is particularly true in the global labor market of today, in which language skills are extremely useful. Among graduates of Middle East studies programs, popular career options include diplomacy, business and commerce, and the nonprofit sector.