Middle Eastern Studies


Leiden University’s Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies covers virtually the entire Middle East, both in time and in geography. This is unique for the Netherlands, and extremely rare elsewhere. If you are interested in Middle Eastern languages, literature, religion and history, you will discover that developments in modern times take a central place in the study of these disciplines. On the other hand, it is equally possible for you to explore the classical heritage of Islam for which Leiden is internationally renowned.

The staff’s extensive international network will give you opportunities for research abroad at various institutions and universities in the Middle East itself, making the programme even more unique in the Netherlands.

The MA in Middle Eastern Studies exposes you to research covering the history, literature, languages and politics of the Arab, Persian and Turkish world, with special attention for the field of Islamic law, anthropology, philology and the modern Middle East.


You can specialise in one of six different areas, each of which can be further tailored to your field of interest by opting for a particular disciplinary approach, such as linguistics, anthropology, history, literary studies, or the Modern Middle East; or by choosing a particular geographic region, such as Morocco or Central Asia; or alternatively by concentrating on a particular historical period, such as the Middle Ages or the twentieth century.

Arabic Studies
The history of Islam, contemporary developments in the Arab world, Arabic literature, and rich manuscript traditions are your topics of study in Arabic Studies.

Islamic Studies
You study the rich context of Islamic law and anthropology of the Muslim world from the perspective of the social sciences combined with philology.

Israel Studies

Turkish Studies
If you concentrate on Turkish Studies, you take courses on such topics as Turkish history and Turkey’s relation to Europe, viewed against its transition from the multi-ethnic Ottoman state to a nation state.

Persian Studies
Persian Studies will focus on courses combining philology with modern history, literature with linguistics, religion with rituals, and visual arts with the rich Persian iconography and visual arts. The scope of the programme extends beyond present-day Iran.

Modern Middle East Studies
Modern Middle East Studies focuses solely on modern times, as you study the rich cultures, literatures and religions of this strategically important region while examining the Islamic Revolution (1979) in Iran, revolts and revolutions in Arab countries, and political developments in Turkey, Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Master’s or Research Master’s?

It is also possible to study Middle Eastern Studies as a two-year programme.

Apart from the contents, there can be other arguments to choose for either a Master’s or a Research Master’s programme. Have a look at the table in pdf for a quick overview of the differences. For more details on the contents, also visit the Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies (research) pages".

Master details

  • Graad Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies
  • Onderwijsvorm Full-time
  • Duur 1 year
  • Start September, February
  • Taal English
  • Vestigingsplaats Leiden
  • Croho/isatcode 60842

The Master thesis of...

Alexander Wielemaker

Alexander Wielemaker investigated Istanbul’s network of public fountains. It proved to be a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the Ottoman Sultan.

The Sultan’s mind
My research focuses on Istanbul’s network of public fountains, which at the time provided the local population with clean drinking water. Their architecture, ornaments and calligraphic inscriptions make these buildings imposing monuments to power and status. Their construction was financed by the Sultan, his concubines, high officials, Islamic scholars or eunuchs. Linking the sponsors to their fountains makes it possible to discover how each of them chose to express their status and personality. It’s fascinating, like being given a glimpse into the mind of the Sultan or that of one of his eunuchs.

Philanthropy and jealousy
Rich Ottomans would donate one of these fountains to the city out of (Islamic) charity, but they were also aware of the fact that their gift would benefit their credibility and popularity. That is why the design of these fountains was subject to such strict rules. If the calligraphy was one line too long or the ornaments too exuberant for your status, shame and a prison sentence would be your lot. The Sultan was the only one who was free to decorate his constructions as grotesquely as he wished.

Political architecture
The underlying idea is that all cultural expressions, whether high or low, tell us something about how people think and how they view life. What is relevant to my research is the fact that architecture and water distribution were used for political purposes, namely to express power and status. Art and architecture are therefore not simply ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’; they also carry a message. This raises the question: to what extent is this still true in today’s world?

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