Modern Middle Eastern Studies Major and Minor

There has rarely been a time in which an in-depth understanding of the languages, cultures, history, and politics of the contemporary Middle East has been more important. This interdisciplinary degree is designed to allow students to specialize in the Middle East as a region of the world and human experience by combining course work using both social scientific and humanistic approaches, underpinned by relevant language skills. Students will work with faculty committed to supporting interdisciplinary, applied, research-oriented advanced study. The major gives students opportunities to work on problems of politics, policy, history, ideology, social thought, economic development, and international relations.

Note: We currently do not offer graduate degree programs.

MMES Pre-Approved Course List

The Major

The major will consist of at least twelve course units to be distributed as follows:

  1. Disciplinary distribution: A selection of three courses that must include both the Social Sciences and the Humanities – three course units.
  2. Language: Four course units in one Middle Eastern language (for example, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish), including at least two course units at the intermediate (second year) level or above.
  3. Regional coverage: Three course units. Students must take at least one of the list of foundational courses in Modern Middle Eastern Studies approved by the associated faculty (here). At least one course should be centered on a culture other than that associated with the language selected in (2). One or two of these may also be courses about the Middle East region in general.
  4. Two seminar courses requiring significant research papers. [Must be approved in advance in consultation with the Middle East Center]

The Honors Program

Honors in Modern Middle Eastern Studies requires a thesis in addition to the basic requirements listed above. The honors thesis will be written over the course of the senior year under the supervision of an advisor selected from the Modern Middle Eastern Studies standing faculty. At the end of the first semester, S (satisfactory) or U (unsatisfactory) grade will be given, which will be replaced upon the completion of the thesis at the end of the senior year. Depending on the student's focus, this may involve the application of language skills acquired in the first three years. The thesis must receive a grade no lower than “A-” for the student to receive honors.

Students must have at least a 3.7 GPA in the major and a 3.3 GPA overall to be eligible for honors.

The Minor

At least six course units on the Middle East including the following:

  1. Two courses from the Humanities
  2. Two courses from the Social Sciences
  3. Two elective courses (which may include two language courses in a single language)

Transfer Credit

For the Major Program up to four courses may be transferred from other institutions (including Study Abroad courses), subject to approval. For the Minor, two courses may be transferred. Language credits may only be transferred upon successful completion of a Penn-administered proficiency test.

Double Majors and Minors

For double majors the number of course units for the major remains at twelve. A maximum of four course units may be double-counted toward this major and another. For double-minors the number of course units remains six. Two units may be double counted from another major/minor.


The advisor for the Major and Minor in Modern Middle Eastern Studies is Dr. John Ghazvinian, Executive Director of the Middle East Center: Affiliated faculty also play a vital role in advising students on coursework, independent studies, and the completion of an honors thesis.

Alumni on the MMES Major

"The MMES major provided me with the flexibility to pursue my own interests while giving me a solid and broad foundation for understanding the Middle East region. I cannot stress enough how very helpful the faculty, staff and graduate students were in guiding me to develop my many academic interests into something substantive and academically challenging." More...

Former MMES Honors Thesis

Lea Makhloufi (2020), "Politics over a Pandemic: The Balance Between Necessity and Public Perception in Israel's Response to the Gaza WASH Crisis"

Ian Lustick

Shoshana Sternstein (2020), "Iran's Significance for Jewish Collective Memory"

Fatemeh Shams

Jack Hostager (2019), "Understanding the Yemen Civil War through the North-South Divide: An Analysis of the Southern Transition Council"

Robert Vitalis

Joshua Kadish (2019), "Beyond a Global Intifada: Assessing the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and its Rise in the United States through Supply-Side Mobilization "

Ian Lustick