Overview for Applicants


Apply to our PhD program in the Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

A PhD in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Yale is distinguished from PhDs in other disciplines and at other universities in several ways.

* We pay special attention to premodern languages using philological methods and careful historical contextualization. Our students develop exceptional precision with their research languages.

* We foster a hands-on, direct approach to primary sources in physical form such as archaeological materials, manuscripts, and inscriptions. Both in Yale’s collections of rare antiquities and abroad on site in the Near East, our students come face to face with the remains of the distant past in our living context.

* We insist on interdisciplinary training in at least one major area of method such as archaeology, history, linguistics, literary studies, or religious studies. Our students branch out.

* We require five or six semesters of graduate seminars and advanced language training (rather than four) prior to dissertation research. Our students receive ample preparation before undertaking their independent research on new projects.

* We guarantee experience in teaching. Each of our students participates in teaching for four semesters.

If you are interested in advanced research on the premodern Near East and its peoples, and you are considering a career as academic who studies the Near Eastern past, then this may be your program.

Four areas of specialization

Students apply to and are admitted into one of these four specializations within the PhD in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.

·       Arabic Humanities: the Arabic literary tradition of the manuscript age

·       Assyriology: the cuneiform texts, languages, and history of ancient Mesopotamia

·       Classical Near East: Sasanian Persia, the Roman Near East, and the early Islamic caliphate

·       Egyptology: hieroglyphs and archaeology of ancient Egypt

Course requirement

NELC PhD students admitted in 2022 and later are required to take a minimum of 20 to 23 one-semester courses. The minimum number depends on area of specialization.

Arabic Humanities


20 courses


Classical Near East

23 courses


For all students this normally means five semesters of full course load (four courses per semester) followed by a sixth semester of reduced course load in preparation for the qualifying examinations.

Extraordinary resources

Yale University is home to

·       the Yale Babylonian Collection, the largest collection of cuneiform tablets in the Americas.

·       Yale in Egypt.

·       Archaia: Yale Program for the Study of Ancient and Premodern Cultures and Societies.

·       the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, housing thousands of Arabic manuscripts as well as hundreds more in Persian, Ottoman, Syriac, Armenian, and other Near Eastern languages.

·       The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.

·       The Whitney Humanities Center.

Small program, strong support

Our PhD program is highly selective and small by design. Students work closely with leading scholars in their field. Our students do not get lost in a crowd of other students.

Yale’s Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations PhD students are awarded comfortable funding to study and conduct research for five years, covering all three years of formal training in seminars and classes followed by two years of funding for the period of dissertation research and writing. Students demonstrating good progress may be awarded a sixth year of funding.

The Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations provides conference attendance funds for its PhD students. Funds for study abroad are available from several sources at Yale University.

The Yale Graduate School has generous policies to assist graduate students with dependent children or who welcome a new child during enrollment in the PhD program.

Training through teaching

Every doctoral student is an apprentice teacher, and teaching is one of the best ways to learn. Each PhD student teaches for four semesters in five years, either as a teaching assistant or supervised instructor of a course, before completing the PhD. Our students receive opportunities to teach their research languages when they are ready, pending the curricular opportunity to do so.

Typically, the teaching assignments are fulfilled in the third and fourth years of enrollment.

Yale’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning offers substantial teacher training leading to a Certificate in College Teaching Preparation.

How to prepare for applying

The deadline for applications is January 2. Details are available on the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences web site.

There are some basic requirements:

·       An accredited degree in a field relevant to premodern Near Eastern research, or working toward one.

·       Three teachers and mentors who will vouch for your promise as a scholar in letters of recommendation.

·       A annotated, clear, well written writing sample representing research you have done in the past which ideally shows how you work with research languages.

What else can you do to improve your chances of admission? There is no formula for applicants. We take many factors into account and study all components of applications closely. Nevertheless, we can tell you some of the factors particular to the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations PhD program that regularly attract our attention.

·       Language preparation in ancient and premodern languages. 

·       Prior formal study in archaeology or linguistics is helpful for students in any specialization.

·       Prior study of or ability in French, German, or both, is an asset.

For specific specializations

·       Assyriology students sometimes have not had the opportunity to study Sumerian or Akkadian as undergraduates because these languages are not widely taught. Although Sumerian and Akkadian are essential skills, in lieu of those a strong record of formal study of other languages of the premodern Near East such as ancient Greek, Arabic, or biblical Hebrew, can help to demonstrate promise of rapid progress in cuneiform languages.

·       Arabic Humanities students should have several years of Arabic study before applying for the PhD, preferably including a Master’s degree. Time already spent in Arab countries is helpful.

·       Classical Near East students normally require more than two years’ prior study of literary Arabic, because it is not feasible to learn classical Arabic in a few years. Prior experience with ancient Greek or other late ancient Near Eastern languages is highly desirable. A Master’s degree is preferred.

·       Egyptology students ideally have studied archaeology, hieroglyphic Egyptian, or both, before applying. Experience with other ancient Near Eastern languages is useful, especially ancient Greek.

Prior graduate training

Although a Master’s degree is not required, most of the students admitted for a PhD in this program have earned Master’s degrees at other institutions before admission. Master’s degrees give the opportunity to develop the languages skills that advanced Near Eastern research requires and to address the pointers listed above. Several other universities offer funding for Master’s degrees in Near Eastern studies or related fields.

Feel free to contact departmental faculty with questions about your preparation before applying.

Meet the graduate faculty

In academic year 2022-2023, there are seven graduate faculty members of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations. They are all internationally recognized researchers in their fields.

John Darnell (PhD University of Chicago 1995): Egyptian religion; cryptography; scripts and texts of Graeco-Roman Egypt; epigraphy; state formation.

Benjamin Foster (PhD Yale University 1975): Mesopotamia; Akkadian literature; social and economic history of Mesopotamia; history of Oriental scholarship in Europe and the United States.

Eckart Frahm (PhD Göttingen 1996, Habilitation Heidelberg 2007): Assyrian and Babylonian history; Mesopotamian scholarly texts of the first millennium BCE.

Nadine Moeller (PhD University of Cambridge 2004): Egyptian archaeology; archaeological theory and methods; history of settlements and urbanism; directing the Tell Edfu Project since 2001.

Shawkat M. Toorawa (PhD University of Pennsylvania 1998): classical and medieval Arabic literature; the literary and writerly culture of Abbasid Baghdad; the Qur’an; Indian Ocean studies; Creole literatures of Mauritius and the Mascarenes; modern poetry; translation.

Kevin van Bladel (PhD Yale University 2004): the Near East 200–1200 CE; Arabic, Syriac, Middle Persian and ancient Iranian languages; historical sociolinguistics.

Harvey Weiss (PhD University of Pennsylvania 1976): archaeology of Mesopotamia; early agriculture; cities and empires; Holocene paleoclimatology and environmental change.

Extradepartmental graduate faculty

Our students study and collaborate with many faculty members in other departments, who sometimes serve on the committees of NELC graduate students. They include:

Stephen Davis, Religious Studies: Ancient and medieval Christianity; Christian Egypt

Maria Doerfler, Religious Studies: Eastern Christianity; Syriac; law

Frank Griffel, Religious Studies: Islamic theology and philosophy

Samuel Hodgkin, Comparative Literature: medieval and modern Persian and Turkic literatures

Joseph Manning, Classics and History: Ptolemaic Egypt; ancient economy

Jacqueline Vayntrub, Divinity School: Hebrew philology

Travis Zadeh, Religious Studies: Islamic history and culture

After admission: steps on the way to the NELC PhD at Yale

1.     Five or six semesters of graduate seminars and courses and advanced training 

2.     Demonstrated reading ability in French and German, normally by end of first year, by examination or reading course

3.     Qualifying examinations at end of third year, including translation exams, and an oral exam on pre-selected topics before a committee of advisers

4.     teaching for four semesters, normally in the third and fourth years

5.     a brief dissertation prospectus submitted normally within a few months of the qualifying exams

6.     intensive dissertation research and writing

7.     submission of a vetted and approved PhD dissertation at end of the fifth or sixth year