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Ph.D. Degree Requirements

When applying to the doctoral program in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELC Degree Code 667800), which is offered through the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, students select an area of study from among the following: linguistics (theoretical linguistics or language pedagogy), literatures/cultures, history, Hebrew Bible/ancient Near East, or Islamic studies. Through the course of their studies, students develop methodological expertise in at least one of the following areas: textual analysis, literary theory, linguistic theory, or cultural theory. 

Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures Ph.D. Requirements

  • a minimum of 30 hours of MELC courses
  • 9 hours of language seminars
  • at least 3 hours of comprehensive exams
  • reading knowledge of French or German
  • mastery in a Middle Eastern language
  • at least 6 credit hours of dissertation coursework

Students are then aligned with one of the below tracks:

Track Specifications and Requirements

  • Hebrew Bible/Ancient Near East

    The HB/ANE track is designed to immerse students in the critical, academic study of the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Near Eastern context. Students read the entire Hebrew Bible in four semesters, and they learn another ancient Semitic language to an intermediate level. They are prepared for the field of biblical studies via two years of seminars in which they are expected to write and respond as scholars in the field. 

    All students in HB/ANE must develop a second field as well, with an eye toward the kinds of positions that exist for Hebrew Bible specialists in these times. Second fields that have so far been selected include religious studies, New Testament, gender studies, linguistics, and the politics/war/strategy of the Ancient Near East. 

    Admissions Requirements: (1) Earned a master's degree in the field or have an extensive background in the study of the Hebrew Bible; and (2) Three years of Biblical Hebrew (or equivalent); and 2) Knowledge of Biblical Aramaic or experience with a second Semitic language.

    Track Specifications and Requirements:

    • HEB 380C The Bible in Hebrew I-IV (12 hours)
    • RS 383M Theory and Method in the Study of Religion (3 hours)
    • MEL 383 Critical Problems in Hebrew Bible (3 hours)
    • MEL 383 Topical Seminar in Hebrew Bible
    • MEL 383 Comparative Semitic Grammar OR MEL 383 Historical Hebrew Grammar (3 hours)
    • Minor field (12 hours)
    • Semester hours dedicated to preparing students for comprehensive exams: at least 6 hours
    • Four semesters of approved Near Eastern Language work: either four semesters of an ANE language other than Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic, or two semesters of each of two ANE languages other than Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic


    Language Requirement:

    • It is typically expected that students will pass a test demonstrating a high-intermediate reading knowledge of German in the first semester of their third year or earlier.
    • An exam in Hebrew and Aramaic of the Bible, testing how well a student can translate and analyze biblical passages without aids. The exam must be taken before the student can proceed to comprehensive exams and is normally taken at the end of the second year. The exam will consist of the translation of several passages taken from anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, analysis of grammatical forms, and the vocalization of a selection of unpointed classical Hebrew.
  • Middle Eastern History

    The Middle Eastern History track provides students with training in the discipline of History, with a geographic focus on the Middle East region, with the primary goal of training Ph.D.s for academic jobs in history programs. Thus, the program of study is designed to be consistent with the training typically provided in history departments.

    While students may take some non-history courses, the program is structured so that the coursework, Ph.D. exams, and dissertation are all overseen primarily by historians, both within the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and in other departments, such as History or Religious Studies. While most of these historians will be focused on the Middle East, students are also allowed to work with historians who are not focused specifically on the Middle East. Usually, this will be because of shared theoretical, thematic, and methodological interests, but it could also be because of the desire to develop a secondary area of research or teaching competence. It also is not uncommon for students to include a historian from another university on their Ph.D. committee.

    • Track Specifications and Requirements: Students are required to reach Advanced / Superior in the language of their research field.
    • Language Requirement: French or German. A second Middle Eastern language may be substituted with Advisor approval.
  • Islamic Studies

    The doctoral program in Islamic Studies at UT Austin provides in-depth multidisciplinary training in the study of Islam coupled with a strong grounding in languages and theoretical approaches in religious studies. 

    The core faculty consists of eight tenured and tenure-track members who offer courses in a range of subjects that include Islamic law, gender and women’s studies, history, Shi'ism, Sufism, art, architecture, devotional poetry, diaspora, political theory, and sovereignty in Islam. Besides Arabic, students can take advantage of advanced teaching of Persian, Turkish, Urdu and other vernacular languages of Muslim societies. All students are also required to take a theory and method course in the study of religion and to develop a minor field. Overall, the doctoral program strives to produce well-rounded and rigorous scholars of Islam who are experts in their own fields and capable of collaborating with colleagues in related disciplines.

    • Coursework must include 3 hours of the following seminars: Trends in Islamic Studies; Theory and Method in Study of Religion; Supervised Teaching.
    • Students must also take 9 hours in the following fields: "Institutions and Traditions of Islam", "Thematic Approaches to Islam", a chosen Minor Area
    • Students are required to have four semesters of approved language coursework, two of which must be at an advanced/research level.

    Language Requirement: Students must achieve reading proficiency in two Islamicate languages, one of which must be Arabic, and in one European language appropriate to their research needs. 

    Track Specifications and Requirements:

    1. Students must take three courses from the category "Institutions and Traditions of Islam." Courses that can count towards this requirement include: 

    • “Introduction to Islamic Studies”/”Islamic Studies: History, Theory, Method” (Azam/Aghaie, Moin)
    • “Qur’anic Studies”/”The Qur'an and Its Interpretations” (Azam)
    • “Medieval Islamic Historiography” (Spellberg)
    • “Intellectual History of Indo-Iranian Islam” (Moin)
    • “Shi‘ite Islam: Hist. Dev., Beliefs & Practices” / “Shii Islam” (Aghaie/Hyder)
    • “Comparative Middle East Law” (Ayoub)
    • “Arabic Readings in Islamic Texts” (sometimes taught via individual instruction) (Ayoub, Azam, Noy)
    • “Arabic Humanities” (Noy)
    • “Sufism / Islamic Mysticism” (Hyder)
    • “Women in Scriptures” (Shirazi)

    2. Three courses from the category "Thematic Approaches to Islam.” Courses that can count towards this requirement are:

    • “Islamic Feminism” (Azam)
    • “Islam in Europe and America” (Spellberg)
    • “Sovereignty in Islam” (Moin)
    • “Islamic Revolution of Iran” (Aghaie)
    • “Nationalisms in the Middle East” (Aghaie)
    • “The Islamic City” (Mulder)
    • “Islamic Ornament” (Mulder)
    • “Renaissances” (Mulder)
    • “Ottoman State and Society” (Ayoub)
    • “Islamic Law and Political Violence” (Ayoub)
    • “Comparative Middle Eastern Law” (Ayoub)
    • “Arab Monarchies” (Barany)
    • “Reading Arabic Literature” (Noy)

    3. Students are required to take four semesters of approved language coursework, two of which must be at an advanced/research level (see above).

    4. Students should take four courses in a supporting discipline. This can be met through an approved graduate portfolio or minor.

    5. Coursework must include “Theory and Method in the Study of Religion” and “Supervised Teaching in Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures” (398T). 

  • Linguistics

    For those interested in the study of language, MELC offers a track in linguistics within the Semitic and/or Middle Eastern contexts. Students receive an in-depth training in one or more of the following fields: comparative Semitics, historical linguistics, the autochthonous Arabic linguistic tradition, language contact, dialectology, and syntax. Students are encouraged to explore other areas as well by taking courses in the Linguistics Department in relevant subdisciplines.

    What distinguishes MELC from a degree in linguistics is that MELC students are expected to attain a high degree of language proficiency as well as cultural proficiency in their area. Entering students are expected to have advanced proficiency in one Middle Eastern Language and all students are encouraged to study an additional language or languages. Graduates of the linguistics track are competitively positioned for the job market in Middle Eastern Studies, Linguistics, and Area Studies. 

    • Track Specifications and Requirements: Students are required to choose a major field in either literature/culture or language/linguistics; students are required to choose two minor fields, as well.
    • Language Requirement: French or German.
  • Literature and Culture

    This track provides graduate students with a comprehensive and in-depth training in Middle Eastern literary and cultural production. The course of study is engaged within and across national and linguistic boundaries, disciplines, genres, and historical periods. Students are trained in comparative and theoretical approaches to literature, film, and media. By interrogating conventional nationalist, cultural, and literary paradigms, students will deepen their understanding of the cultural dynamics of the region and confront complex questions as part of a larger humanistic inquiry. 

    In consultation with an adviser from their chosen field, students devise a program of study that includes training in literary and cultural theory and close textual reading in original languages. MELC students have the unique opportunity to draw on a wide range of Middle East experts and literary and cultural theorists across the university. They are expected to take graduate seminars conducted in the Middle Eastern language of their primary specialization, and to contextualize and complement their chosen focus by taking seminars in other Middle Eastern literature and intellectual history, comparative literature, and in other relevant fields and departments. Some work in a second Middle Eastern language is also recommended. Students who complete this track will be equipped with the necessary critical methodologies and literary training that will strategically position them for the job market in Middle Eastern Studies.

    • Track Specifications and Requirements: Courses must include 6 hours of literary theory/cultural studies. Students are strongly encouraged to acquire a second Middle Eastern language.
    • Language Requirement: French

Degree Progress

Students must pass the research language examination before starting the comprehensive examination. The examination consists of several pages of text that the student must translate into English. The text commonly is selected from a book chapter or journal article. The use of a dictionary is permitted.

Please see above for specific requirements by track

Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken between the third and fourth years of study or between the fourth and fifth years of study, depending on the student’s background. There will be three exams. One exam tests a student’s knowledge of the secondary literature of the field. It will be based on a long list of questions handed out ahead of time, but the exam itself will be a sit-down exam, written in a 3-hour period. Two other comprehensive exams test research and analytical skills and will be take-home exams written within a 28-day period. One of these exams will ordinarily test some aspect of an area the student is considering for a dissertation topic; the other will be a commentary on a passage chosen specifically for the student.

Comprehensive Exam Prep

Students must spend at least one semester in comprehensive exam prep, and typically will spend several semesters preparing for their comprehensive exams. Students usually begin comprehensive exam prep when they have finished their coursework. They must have passed their language examinations, have established a three-person faculty committee, and prepared an abstract outlining a preliminary idea for their dissertation project. Generally, anywhere between three to eight months before taking their comprehensive exams, students will establish reading lists in consultation with each of their committee members and will being reading.

The purpose of the comprehensive exams is to ascertain whether a student possesses a breadth of knowledge outside the dissertation specialization and at the level expected of a new assistant professor, to evaluate whether students have the depth of knowledge to participate in professional and scholarly discussions in the general field of Middle Eastern Studies and their field(s) of specialization, and to prepare students for academic job interviews where they will be expected to discuss their field(s) at a high level.

Written Examination

The student has 30 days to prepare the written examination. For the written exam, students may be asked to prepare any of the following: analytical reviews of books and articles, answer synthesis questions, define key terms in their field(s), prepare response papers, etc.

Oral Examination

2-3 weeks after submission of the written exam, an oral examination is held in which the student defends before the committee their research, analyses, and arguments presented in their written exam. The committee will assign a grade of pass, fail, or pass with conditions. Any conditions imposed must be satisfied before the student advances to candidacy. The oral exam also includes a discussion of the student’s future professional development.

After the Comprehensive Exams

After the successful oral defense of the comprehensive exams, the student will then write and defend their dissertation prospectus. Please proceed to the Prospectus Defense tab for more information.

For detailed information on the dissertation prospectus, application for candidacy, defense, and applying for graduation, please see the Dissertation Stage page.

Dissertation Prospectus

Students should defend their dissertation prospectus no more than 90 days after passing their comprehensive exams. The prospectus must be successfully defended before the student is eligible to advance to doctoral candidacy in the Graduate School.

Applying for Candidacy

Passing both the comprehensive exams and the prospectus defense allows a student to apply for candidacy and, therefore, begin official work on the dissertation. To complete the candidacy application, the student must establish a full dissertation committee, have defended a dissertation prospectus, and collect the necessary documentation requested by the Office of Graduate Studies. Some initial steps toward these requirements should be taken during the comps process.

Dissertation Defense

Doctoral students’ final oral examinations are open to all members of the University community and the public unless attendance is restricted by the Graduate Studies Committee. Scheduled oral examinations are published here. You must provide your Dissertation committee with your completed Dissertation no later than four weeks before your Dissertation Defense. 

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