The Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures Undergraduate Program

The Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELC) major and minor offers students the opportunity for in-depth study of the languages, literatures, art, archaeology, and history of the Middle East from antiquity to modern times. Language and literature courses are offered in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish, as well as in the ancient languages of Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Iranian. Students can explore the interconnected worlds of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and their neighbors, as well as the diverse cultures of the modern Middle East. The major also offers study in pre-modern and modern Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. During their studies, students can take part in a discovery experience that is innovative, collaborative, transdisciplinary, and features digital research.

Have any questions? Contact the MELC Undergraduate Advising Team.


The Department offers an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts major in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures with a specialization in 1) Languages and Literature or 2) Middle Eastern Worlds. Students choose one concentration in a specialization and follow the recommended course of study listed in the Berkeley Academic Guide. Students may take courses from outside the department to fulfill a major requirement. All courses taken for the major must be approved by the faculty major advisor.

Students are required to complete two courses, MELC 10 (Ancient Egypt & Mesopotamia), offered every fall semester, and MELC 11 (Modern Middle East), offered every spring semester. Together, these courses survey the scope of the department's different fields.  The department recommends students enroll in these courses as soon as they begin their studies. 

Specialization I: Languages & Literature


The Arabic Program introduces students to the language, peoples, cultures, and histories of the Arabic-speaking world. The Arabic language and literature program prepare students for advanced research by providing a solid foundation in Modern Standard Arabic (both modern and classical), and familiarity with the major genres in Arabic literature including poetry, prose, and visual culture.

Arabic coursework can also be used toward an interdisciplinary program in Islamic Studies and programs in anthropology, comparative literature, history, linguistics, religion, sociology, global studies, and other fields. Study of the Arabic language through study abroad is particularly recommended for students who want to develop proficiency for research or fieldwork. Interested students are urged to begin studying the language early in their academic careers, so they will have time to develop language proficiency and complete the major or minor requirements.


The Hebrew Program offers a rigorous and engaging curriculum. Students achieve elementary to advanced levels of fluency in the Hebrew language. Students can also take courses in the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Hebrew literature and cultures courses. Learning Hebrew opens windows to the study of Jewish history, literature, religion, and culture, Israeli and diasporic life, archaeology, and linguistics, among other topics.

In addition to working toward proficiency in the Hebrew language, students will develop close reading and critical thinking skills. Thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of the major, students will be well prepared for the rigor of graduate studies or careers in various fields. Interested students are urged to begin studying the language early in their academic careers, to have time to develop language proficiency and to complete the major or minor requirements.


The Persian and Iranian Languages Program studies the diverse geographic and linguistic landscape of both historic and modern Persianate societies. UC Berkeley has long enjoyed particular strength in the fields of Iranian languages and literatures, archaeology and art history, and history, and scholars across campus offer a broad range of interdisciplinary expertise and courses in various aspects of Persianate cultures. The UC Berkeley Initiative for Iranian Studies (BIIS) is a broad and multi-disciplinary initiative which supports research, teaching, and programming in of Iranian Studies.

The MELC department offers major and minor programs in Persian language and literature in both modern and classical Persian, from the most elementary level to the most advanced. Courses in ancient Iranian languages (e.g., Old Persian, Middle Persian) are also offered. The major provides students with a global lens from which to explore Iran and Persianate societies across time and space. Students can take a variety of classes related to Iran in subjects such as history, comparative literature, language, cinema, art, and politics.

In the Languages & Literature Specialization, students are required to complete lower-division prerequisite language courses in order to enroll in upper-division language courses. For the language and literature specialization, students will enroll in at least five upper-division courses taught in the language of study.

Specialization II: Middle Eastern Worlds

Ancient Middle Eastern Worlds

Ancient Egypt, Iran, the Levant, and Mesopotamia are typically the core focus areas of the Ancient Middle Eastern Worlds concentration. Often called the cradle of civilization, the ancient Middle East is where agriculture and writing systems first developed, cities and empires first arose, the wheel was invented, astronomy and mathematics first flourished, and monotheism first appeared among the region’s diverse religious traditions.

MELC’s Ancient Middle Eastern Worlds concentration offers students an opportunity to explore the Middle East (and by extension Central Asia) by studying the art and archaeology, history, languages and literatures, and religions of the region from prehistoric times to the survival of ancient cultures in the modern world. Courses also incorporate Berkeley’s cutting-edge use of technology to explore ancient artifacts, and often utilize the rich resources of Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, which, inter alia, has the best collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts west of Chicago. The Ancient Middle Eastern Worlds major thus creates an innovative, collaborative, transdisciplinary and computationally engaged research and learning experience for students.

Modern Middle Eastern Worlds

The Modern Middle Eastern Worlds concentration explores the broader modern Middle East through critical analyses of its cultural, literary, artistic, historic, and religious diversity. The Middle East has had profound historical impacts through its languages, literature, and cultures on practically every part of the world. Its influence extends to Central, East, and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and North America. Middle Eastern societies continue to be an important area of academic inquiry on account of their political, economic, and cultural effects on the international arena.

The major offers studies of the pre-modern and modern Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, which provides a broad knowledge of the histories, philosophy, religious thought, and legal institutions of the diverse societies. The major prepares students in the fields of comparative and international studies, foreign service, law, teaching and research, and for further study in graduate programs.

View the MELC Major Map to see how you can complete the major while also including exciting opportunities to study abroad, participate in apprenticeship programs, undertake research, publish your work, and apply for numerous scholarships to study a language or conduct research.

How to Declare the Major

The department recommends that students declare a major as soon as they begin their study at Berkeley. Please see below for steps to declare a major:

1. Review Major Course Requirements for the major in the Berkeley Academic Guide.

2. Meet with the Undergraduate Major Adviser to discuss the major requirements and course options. For more information about the major, students may also meet with a Faculty Major Adviser to discuss their academic plan.

3. Submit an L&S Major Declaration Form and a Program Plan Worksheet for approval to the Undergraduate Major Adviser.

Declaring a Double Major

Please review the L&S Double Major requirements. A student declaring a double major will submit a Double Major Application Form to both major departments and attend a required meeting with an L&S Adviser. No more than two upper-division courses may be used in common to fulfill requirements for both majors.


For students who are majoring in other subjects, but who have a strong interest in one of the modern languages or in the ancient or modern cultures of the Middle East, the department offers minor programs in the following areas:

The minor requires five upper-division courses in one of these areas. Minors in a Middle Eastern language require students to complete prerequisite course requirements before beginning the upper-division courses.

Please review the L&S Guidelines for Minors. The L&S Completion of a Minor Form must be submitted for approval to the Undergraduate Major Adviser one semester before graduation. If you are interested in pursuing a minor program, please schedule an advising appointment.


The Department Honors Program provides students with an opportunity to research and write a thesis in the area of their major specialization. The successful completion of a thesis allows students to graduate with the distinction of an honors degree in their major. Students with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 3.3 or higher and a GPA of 3.51 or higher in courses completed in the major may apply for admission to the honors program in their senior year. Students must maintain the required GPA in order to remain eligible for the honors program.

In their senior year, students will prepare an honors thesis of at least 20 double-spaced pages. In order to research and write the thesis, students enroll in MELC 199 in the fall semester and MELC H195 in the spring semester. Students submit enrollment forms for MELC 199 and MELC H195 to the Undergraduate Major Advisor. The honors thesis must be read and evaluated by a two-member committee consisting of a department faculty thesis supervisor and another member of the faculty. The thesis must be deemed to be at least B+ quality in order to qualify the candidate for graduation with a degree of honors. Successful theses will receive distinctions of either “honors,” "high honors," or "highest honors.” For more information on the Honors Program, please contact the undergraduate major advisor.


Although not required for the MELC Major and Minor, many students participate in study abroad and summer abroad programs that bring them to the Middle East. More details will be posted soon.


The MELC Undergraduate Advising Team is always available to answer your questions. More information about scholarships for summer language programs, archaeological field schools, and campus research opportunities are available here. Information about scholarships can be found here.