The Graduate Program in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures

The graduate program in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures is divided into the eight sub-plans listed below. Applicants choose one sub-plan and one secondary sub-plan when applying to the program. Although an admitted student is expected to complete a single sub-plan's requirements, they may also receive training in a secondary sub-plan. 

Contact the MELC Graduate Program Advising Team with any questions.

Ancient Iranian Studies

The Ancient Iranian Studies sub-plan provides students with training in the languages and textual and material cultures of antique and late antique Iran and Central Asia (roughly 6th c. BCE to 8th c. CE). Students obtain proficiency in Old and Middle Iranian languages and philological and literary-critical approaches to texts in those languages, in-depth knowledge of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, as well as familiarity with visual and material sources from Iran and Central Asia. There are also opportunities to conduct hands-on research with Berkeley's holdings of Middle Persian manuscripts and Sasanian seals and sealings. Themes in graduate coursework, in addition to language seminars, include late antique religions, philological method, social and cultural history, historical linguistics, and more.

Arabic Language & Literature

Description coming soon!

Cuneiform Studies

The Cuneiform Studies sub-plan prepares students for independent research in Sumerian and Akkadian, the principal cuneiform languages of the Ancient Middle East. Students are trained in reading and interpreting multiple textual genres, such as literary texts, administrative and legal documents, omen texts and royal inscriptions. The dissertation project demonstrates a student's skills in utilizing text material for answering questions of a cultural-historical or linguistic nature. The Cuneiform Studies program is currently not accepting new applicants, but will do so in the near future. 


The Egyptology sub-plan provides professional training in two specializations, archaeology and philology. Students learn to analyze the textual, material and visual culture of ancient Egypt and its neighbors from the Pharaonic Era to the Greco-Roman Period using campus collections as well as in faculty-led projects in Egypt. Topics such as the digital humanities, reception history, religion, magic, museum and cultural heritage studies are common themes in graduate training. 

Hebrew Language & Literature

**MELC is not accepting graduate student applications for the current academic cycle.**

Students interested in Modern Hebrew and/or Yiddish literature may contact Prof. Roni Masel in the Comparative Literature Department with inquiries.

Islamic Studies

The Islamic Studies sub-plan provides cross-disciplinary training in the field of Islamic Studies that incorporates the historical-philological, developmental, and disciplinary approach to Islam with suitable theoretical frameworks and perspectives drawn from allied areas, such as ethnography, literary criticism, sociology, and anthropology.  Students obtain proficiency in two languages fundamental to the development of Islam (including Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish), and are trained in the textual traditions and theoretical interventions that allow for engagement in contemporary topics of global and transregional concern. While students are provided with significant training in the pre-modern historical and textual developments of the religion, dissertation research may take any period or region as its focus and may draw from the disciplinary approaches that are most suitable to the object of its study.

Middle (Near) Eastern Art & Archaeology

The Middle Eastern Art and Archaeology sub-plan provides professional training in the material and visual culture of the Middle East, with a particular focus on Mesopotamia, the Levant, Iran, and Arabia. Students are trained in field, laboratory, and collections-based research and use these skills to conduct independent research for their dissertation projects. Students are prepared for careers in research, teaching, museum curation and exhibition, and cultural heritage management.  

Persian Language & Literature

The Persian literature sub-plan provides students with professional training in Persian literary history, theory, and criticism, as well as the cultural heritage of the Persian speaking lands since the advent of Islam to the modern/contemporary period. The geographical expanse of the sub-plan extends to Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan as well as Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The flexible program of study will allow students to obtain a comprehensive understanding of Persian poetics, rhetoric, and stylistics and to enrich their knowledge of such topics as Persian Sufi poetry and prose, comparative poetics, translation studies, historiography, and the Persian philosophical tradition and forms of knowledge. Graduate students in Persian literature are encouraged to complement their studies by taking courses broadly related to Persian studies in other departments.

Learn more about how to apply to the MELC Department's graduate program here and explore frequently asked questions here.

Graduate Program Requirements at a Glance

The length of time needed to complete the Ph.D. in the department depends on financial considerations, the extent of the student's prior preparation, and similar factors. Students lacking the M.A. degree upon entering the program are required to complete the M.A. requirements in two years and usually complete the Ph.D. degree requirements in an additional five years. Degree requirements should be completed according to the University's "normative time" standards.

The MELC Department’s graduate program requirements are summarized below. More information can be found in the MELC Graduate Student Handbook. These requirements are based on the campus Guide to Graduate Policy.

Admitted Students without an M.A. Degree

Upon admission to the graduate program, the student will complete the M.A. degree requirements if they have not already done so at another institution. Students will have fulfilled the equivalent of the department’s requirements for the B.A. degree before starting the program. Minor deficiencies in preparation will need to be repaired in the student's first year of graduate work.

Requirements for students in language programs include: (1) at least 24 units of coursework, at least 12 of which must be in 200-series courses in the major and (possibly overlapping) three semesters of work in a Middle Eastern language other than the student's major language; (2) two scholarly papers written independently or in connection with coursework; (3) written M.A. examinations to test (a) working knowledge of the pertinent languages; (b) general knowledge of the history and civilizations of the area of emphasis; and (c) knowledge of and familiarity with other subjects suggested by the student's degree committee.

Requirements for students in the Middle Eastern art and archaeology program include: (1) at least 24 units of course work, at least 12 of which must be in 200-series courses; three semesters must be drawn from MELC C220 and MELC 223; (2) two scholarly papers written independently or in connection with coursework; (3) written M.A. examinations covering one major and two minor fields.

Requirements for students in the Egyptology program include: (1) at least 24 units of course work at least 12 of which must be in 200-series courses. The required 24 units must include two semesters work in the ancient Egyptian language beyond second year level. The 12 200-series units must be from seminar courses (one 200-level Egyptian language course may count towards the seminar course requirement.); (2) two scholarly papers written independently or in connection with coursework; (3) written M.A. examinations covering one major and two minor fields.

In addition to these requirements, students will pass a reading examination in French or German. If it is necessary to the student's field of study, an alternative modern language may be substituted on approval of the graduate adviser and the student's advisory committee.

Students completing the M.A. degree requirements will pass a Permission to Proceed exam after completing the M.A. requirements. 

Admitted Students with an M.A. Degree

Students are required to complete the following requirements:


Except for the Graduate Division's academic residence requirement, there are no specific course requirements for the Ph.D. in the department. In consultation with their faculty advisor, students select courses that will prepare them to research and write their dissertations. Students are expected to take seminars in at least two sub-fields in the department before taking their preliminary examinations.

Reading Examinations in Modern Languages

Students must pass reading examinations in French and German, if they did not already do so when completing their M.A. requirements. Students may complete a reading exam in another language pertinent to the student's field of emphasis on approval of the student's advisory committee. Only under rare exceptions will language exams completed at other universities be accepted. 

Proficiency in Middle Eastern Languages

For language sub-fields, students' language proficiency in two Middle Eastern languages might be tested by a comprehensive exam, depending on the particular sub-field. This exam must be taken and passed no later than the semester prior to the student's qualifying PhD exam. In most instances, however, students' compentency in two Middle Eastern languages will be tested in their qualifying PhD exam. 

For the Egyptology sub-field, proficiency will be tested through a written preliminary exam prior to the qualifying PhD exam. The exam will cover two phases of the language and two scripts.

Middle Eastern Art and Archaeology students who have not completed a minimum of two years of coursework in an ancient language must pass a proficiency examination in an ancient language before taking their qualifying PhD examination.

Fieldwork and Collections Research

Students following the Egyptology or the Middle Eastern Art and Archaeology sub-field will acquire practical experience in fieldwork or museum studies such as an archaeological excavation and collections research in a museum.  

Qualifying PhD Exam

Students prepare for and take three written examinations on topics pertaining to their research interests. Soon after completing the written exams, students defend their answers in an oral qualifiying exam with their committee members.

Dissertation Prospectus

Upon passing their oral qualifiying exam, a student forms a dissertation committee and submits a prospectus outlining the scope of their dissertation project. 


The student researches and writes a substantial piece of original scholarship in consultation with their dissertation committee. Students follow the Berkeley Graduate Division's guidelines for writing and submitting a dissertation.