Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures: Cultures and Societies of the Middle East and North Africa, BA

Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELC). MELC’s Cultures and Societies of the Middle East and North Africa is an interdisciplinary major which allows students to explore broadly the cultures, societies, religions, and literary and visual traditions of the greater Middle East. The geographical scope of this major includes: Arabia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran and the Persianate world, Egypt and the Nile Valley, North Africa (including the Maghreb), and Asia Minor (including present-day Turkey). This major encourages students to develop an understanding of deep continuities through time, and close connections among the cultures of the region and adjacent areas. The major also promotes the humanistic study of Middle Eastern societies across ancient, medieval and modern periods –  something that no other majors currently do – while exposing students to the current methodologies and breadth of scholarship in Middle Eastern studies at Penn.

Because this concentration does not include language coursework, and does not contribute towards the University’s Language Requirement, the major consists of 12 CU. Students pursuing this major must complete the department's foundational courses: MELC 0001 (Introduction to the Ancient Middle East) and MELC 0002 (Introduction to the Middle East). Additionally, students must complete a breadth requirement consisting of one introductory to intermediate course in each of the following areas: the Ancient Middle East; Hebrew and Judaic Studies; Societies and Cultures of the Islamic World; and the Modern Middle East. To gain grounding in methodology two credits must cover literary or visual cultures and methodologies used to study them (such as MELC 0102, Reading Ancient Mesopotamia, or MELC 0700, Iranian Cinema: Gender, Politics, Religion). The remaining electives (3 CU) should consist of intermediate to advanced coursework in the student’s area of primary interest. To develop experience in researching and writing substantial analytical essays, during their senior year, students must complete a concentration paper within a MELC class in consultation with their Major Advisor.


College General Education Requirements and Free Electives
Foundational Approaches + Sectors 1 + Free Electives20
Major Requirements
Core Requirement
MELC 0001Introduction to the Ancient Middle East1
MELC 0002Introduction to the Middle East1
Visual and Literary Cultures
Select 2 CU in Visual and Literary Cultures2
1 CU in Ancient Middle East1
Origin and Culture of Cities
Myths and Religions of the Ancient World
Ancient Civilizations of the World
Archaeology & The Bible
Reading Ancient Mesopotamia
Land of the Pharaohs
Literary Legacy of Ancient Egypt
Art and Architecture in Ancient Egypt
The Religion of Ancient Egypt
The World of Cleopatra
Water in the Middle East Throughout History
Iraq: Ancient Cities and Empires
History and Society of Early Mesopotamia
History of Ancient Egypt
Ancient Iranian Empires
1 CU in Hebrew and Judaic Studies1
Great Books of Judaism
Jewish Mysticism
Themes Jewish Tradition
Jewish Humor
Jewish Folklore
Introduction to Modern Hebrew Literature
Jews and Christians
The Making of Scripture
Jewish Magic
Rabbinic Writers on Rabbinic Culture
Spirit and Law
1 CU in Societies and Cultures of the Islamic World1
Getting Crusaded
Introduction to the Qur'an
MELC 0505
Muhammad and Society
The Arabian Nights
Age of Caliphs, 600-1100
Age of Sultans 1100-1500
Islamic Intellectual Tradition
1 CU in Modern Middle East1
The Middle East through Many Lenses
Food in the Islamic Middle East: History, Memory, Identity
North Africa: History, Culture, Society
Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East: Historical Perspectives
Nationalism and Communal Identity in the Middle East
Migration and the Middle East
Middle Eastern Jews in Israel
Who Owns the Past? Archaeology and Politics in the Middle East
Methods in Literary and Visual Cultures2
Reading Ancient Mesopotamia
Literary Legacy of Ancient Egypt
Introduction to the Bible
Great Books of Judaism
Modern Middle Eastern Literature in Translation
Modern Arabic Literature
Iranian Cinema: Gender, Politics and Religion
The Bible in Translation
Introduction to Modern Hebrew Literature
Introduction to Persian Poetic Tradition
Introduction to Modern Hebrew Literature
Introduction to Persian Poetic Tradition
MELC 1705
Rabbinic Writers on Rabbinic Culture
Advanced Electives
Select 3 CU chosen in consultation with advisor3
Senior Concentration Paper Course
Select 1 CU in consultation with advisor1
Total Course Units34

The degree and major requirements displayed are intended as a guide for students entering in the Fall of 2024 and later. Students should consult with their academic program regarding final certifications and requirements for graduation.