The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations came into existence on July 1, 1996 as a result of the merger of the formerly separate departments of Near Eastern Studies (NES) and Middle East and Islamic Studies (MEI). These departments, under various designations, have existed in the University of Toronto for over 150 years.
The Department is concerned with the interdisciplinary study of the civilizations and cultures of the Near and Middle East from Neolithic times until the present, including their archaeology, history, mythology, religion and thought, art and architecture, and language and literature (Akkadian, Ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Aramaic, Coptic, Ge’ez, Hebrew, Persian, Sumerian, Syriac, and Turkish). The Department’s programs provide students with a unique opportunity to study non-Western complex societies and civilizations.
The term Near East has been used in scholarship to refer to the region of Southwest Asia at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, including the Levant, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolia, from ancient times until the advent of Islam in the seventh century AD. The term Middle East refers to a broader geographical area stretching from North Africa to West and Central Asia. Although Islam became the predominant religious culture and remains so to the present day, the Middle East has been home to many religious communities, including Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and others. And while Arabic functioned as the interlanguage in much the same way as Latin did in the Christian West, many other languages and cultures (notably Persian and Turkish) contributed to the formation of Islamic civilization.
The Department welcomes students of all academic backgrounds who wish to learn about the Near and Middle East. Many courses do not require knowledge of the languages of the region. However, the Department strongly believes that a deeper understanding of the cultures of the Near and Middle East can be achieved through the study of one or more of its languages.