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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Key Facts

  • 14 BA programmes (single or combined), nine taught MA programmes, Research Degrees and Certificates
  • UK’s largest university department specialising in the languages and culture of the Middle East
  • An intensive programme of language instruction with students spending the third year of their studies at a university in the Arab Middle East

Our Strengths

The Near and Middle East Department provides students with the opportunity to develop professional expertise in a region which stretches from North Africa to the borders of China and has produced some the world’s greatest civilisations. Our Arabic programmes are second to none, and we are one of very few universities to offer the comprehensive study of modern and classical Persian and Turkish language and literature at full degree level. We were the first UK department to offer both MA Palestine Studies and MA Israeli Studies concurrently. We host a very active Centre for Islamic Studies which organises conferences, publications and runs an international journal.

With our world ranking specialists, study abroad options and central London campus location which allows our students to take advantage of the capital’s many Middle Eastern venues, the Near and Middle East Department sits at the very forefront of the study of the languages and cultures of this fascinating region.

Facts and Figures

  • Ranked 1st in the UK (NSS 2013/14)
  • 91% satisfaction for teaching (NSS 2013/14)
  • Excellent staff/student ratio
  • SOAS possesses one of the country's best research libraries in Assyriology and related subjects
  • Members of staff have been awarded major grants by funding bodies such as the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust (More about our research)

UG Student Profile

Mia Eskelund Pedersen

The atmosphere at SOAS is incredibly stimulating, and learning in an environment with such a diverse group of engaged students has really made for a very unique learning experience.

Mia Eskelund Pedersen, BA Arabic and Development Studies
Read Mia's full profile

Bactrian Projects

Bactrian belongs to the Iranian sub-branch of the Indo-European family and, until the end of the 20th century, it was virtually unknown. Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams has achieved a remarkable success in securing external funding for a succession of research projects on Bactrian, making it possible to decipher the cursive script and to compare it to other Middle Iranian languages. This research has shed light on a little-known period of Central Asian history and culture. See SOAS’ research into this lost Iranian language.

PG Student Profile

Mohammad Mirbashiri

SOAS is a truly great institution that provides a stimulating learning environment with extensive resources and outstanding teaching staff. My course is structured in a way that has given me the opportunity to study course units exploring the history; politics and cultures of the Middle East region, drawing upon the expertise of renowned academics from different disciplines.

Mohammad Mirbashiri, MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies
Mohammad's full profile

Our Head of Department says

The Middle East has been of vital geostrategic importance throughout its history and never more so than at the present time. Its location at the juncture of Africa, Asia and Europe has made it into a singularly rich meeting point of cultures, languages and religions but also into a theatre of epic conflicts.

There is no better way to get to know this complex and pivotal part of the world than by studying its languages. They are the key to communicate with its people, to unlock its culture and history and to engage with it for the purpose of a career. SOAS degrees in Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Persian and Turkish offer an unrivalled opportunity to do just this.

Intensive, high quality language classes can be combined with a wide range of courses on the history, religion, art, economics and politics of the region. The undergraduate programmes include a mandatory year abroad spent at first-rate centres of learning in the Arab World, Turkey, Israel or Iran. The time spent abroad gives students a precious opportunity to interact directly with the society, culture and language they are studying.

The Near and Middle East Department also prides itself in having internationally acclaimed expertise in the study of ancient Near Eastern languages, including Akkadian, Sumerian and Hittite. Courses on these are offered as part of degree programmes taught in collaboration with the School of Archaeology of University College.

The combination of high class language instruction, training in a range of disciplines and first hand experience of the region provides SOAS graduates with excellent qualifications to apply for any of the increasing number of jobs in which Middle Eastern expertise is of relevance. Former students have gone on to take positions in fields such as foreign affairs, banking and finance, journalism, humanitarian aid, as well as in teaching and research.

Leverhulme Network

A new research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, on Economic integration and social change in the Islamic world system, 800-1000 CE is being set up by Professor Hugh Kennedy and Dr Fanny Bessard. This project will investigate the economic structures of the Muslim world from the end of the eighth to the beginning of the eleventh centuries. It aims to bring a new understanding of the construction and development of the Islamic economy as a world system, stretching from Central Asia to the Atlantic.


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