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MA Thesis, Middle Eastern Studies


Important remark

Students should be aware that Leiden University will not allow students to do fieldwork for their thesis in areas colored red and orange (meaning “no travelling allowed” and “only necessary travelling allowed”, respectively) by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The website of the Ministry gives further details (in Dutch). For further questions, contact the director of studies.

Students going abroad are furthermore expected to have read and act according to the regulations as laid down in the Leiden University Regulations on Studying Abroad.
More information can also be found on the university website with information for students travelling abroad in the context of their studies.


The thesis is based on original research and makes substantial use of primary materials and professional literature. For the specialisations of Arabic Studies, Persian Studies and Turkish Studies, the literature should consist of a reasonable amount (to the discretion of the supervisor) in the relevant language. The thesis is written in English, and is up to 20,000 words in length, including footnotes and bibliography and reflecting the scholarly virtues of originality, focus and conciseness. The thesis must show the student’s ability to conduct original research under supervision, and to make a contribution to scholarship in a way that inspires confidence in his/her ability to prepare written reports of good quality. Its author must show that s/he is conversant with the discourse as it emerges from influential publications in the field. References should be formatted consistently in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style or the American Anthropological Association Style Guide.

The thesis is preferably supervised by a lecturer of the School of Middle Eastern Studies who possesses the appropriate expertise in the field addressed in the thesis (see list below). The Department ensures that students are put in contact with a lecturer from the department for thesis supervision, preferably at the commencement of the programme. To this aim students must fill out a form to request the Board of Examiners to appoint a supervisor one month after the start of their studies (1st October or 1st of March, respectively) at the latest. Students should be aware that the decision regarding the topic and the supervisor of the thesis is taken by the Board of Examiners and that they may be asked to change the subject of their topic or supervisor.

Potential supervisors and their fields of expertise

  • Dr. Ahmad Al-Jallad can supervise MA theses on a range of topics in linguistics, the history of Arabic, the Arabic grammatical tradition, comparative Semitics, the Qur’an, pre-Islamic Arabian epigraphy, linguistic aspects of the Arab conquests, the modern Arabic dialects/languages (including dialect literature and poetry such as Zajal), the sociolinguistics of Arabic (diglossia, the engineering of Modern Standard Arabia, etc). Al-Jallad is also familiar with topics on the development of Arab Nationalism and its ideological roots, Arabs and neo-Islamic movements in the diaspora, and modern genres of Arabic music.

  • Dr. Gabrielle van den Berg is ready to supervise MA theses on topics related to Persian classical literature, the history of Iran and Central Asia of the medieval and premodern period (10th-17th century), and topics related to modern Central Asia, in particular Islam in Central Asia and Tajik literature, provided that the thesis is based on literature and source materials in Persian, Tajik, English, French, German, Russian or Dutch.

  • Dr. Petra de Bruijn is ready to supervise MA theses on topics based on literary, theatrical or filmic Turkish source materials. The methodological and theoretical perspective should be primarily within the domain of narrative and culture studies. The thesis is based on literature and source materials in Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, English, French, German or Dutch.

  • Dr. Jelle Bruning has a specialization in: the early history of Islam; social and political history of the Rightly-Guided, Umayyad and Abbasid periods; non-literary (documentary) sources on the history of the medieval Near East, especially written in Arabic, Coptic and Greek. He also has an interest in: Islamic/Arabic literature and historiography; medieval scholarship (especially in the field of medicine) in Arabic; literature of non-Islamic, especially Christian, communities in Arabic; medieval Christian-Muslims relations.

  • Prof. Dr. Léon Buskens (absent during the Fall semester 2015-2016) focuses in his research on Islamic law, anthropology and the history of oriental studies. His main regional interests are Morocco, more largely the Maghrib, and Indonesia. Due to his current administrative responsibilities his availability as a supervisor is rather limited at present.

  • Dr. Crystal A. Ennis is ready to supervise students who wish to work on the political economy of the Middle East, the Middle East in International Relations and the Global Political Economy. Students working on the Arabian Peninsula (and GCC in particular), labour markets, migration, resource dependence, investment and trade are especially encouraged to approach Dr. Ennis. With a limited number of supervisory spaces available, students are advised to be in contact sooner rather than later, and send Dr. Ennis their tentative research topic or question along with an abstract.

  • Dr. Emre Erol focuses on the field of late Ottoman and Modern Turkish history, politics and culture.

  • Dr. Nico Kaptein is prepared to supervise MA research on the institutions and the history of Islam. He has a special interest in the religious relations between the Middle East and Southeast Asia in the past and in the present.

  • Drs. Ronald E.Kon is available for the supervision of theses in the field of Arabic literature of any given period (Pre-Islamic, Classical, Medieval, Pre-Modern, Modern, both prose and poetry). His personal predilection is the study of the cultural history of the Arabian Peninsula, with a focus on Yemen. Furthermore, subjects in the field of (the history of) Arabic grammar are most welcome. Arabic language in any given form (written, oral) as research material for the thesis should preferably play a role.

  • Dr. Tsolin Nalbantian ‘s teaching and research interests include contemporary Middle Eastern history, Nationalism in the Middle East, Identity and Belonging, Minorities and their Relationship to the State, and State and Society in the Greater Levant including Syria and Lebanon. While most familiar with Arabic, Armenian, English and French source materials and literature, interested students can draw from theories, methods, and sources from other languages as well, including Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, German, and Dutch.

  • Dr. Jan Schmidt is ready to supervise MA theses on Ottoman history and Ottoman-Turkish literature for which secondary literature and sources in Dutch, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic are used. He particularly welcomes theses on Ottoman codicology.

  • Dr. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab is ready to supervise (Res-)MA theses on classical and modern Persian literature, Iranian film, and modern Iranian culture and history, especially the period of the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) and the Islamic Revolution 1979.

  • Prof. Dr. Petra Sijpesteijn is free to supervise theses on Arab history and culture. Her research concentrates on the social and economic history of Late Antiquity, Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean; Arabic papyrology, codicology and palaeography; the use of documentary evidence; historiography and the history of Islamic and Arabic Studies.

  • Dr. Deniz Tat is a linguist and teaches Turkish.

  • Dr. Maaike Warnaar ‘s ongoig research focuses on Iran in the context of Middle East regional relations. She inquires, among other things, into the views of Iran among the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and how these views have precluded cooperation between Iran and the GCC. She can supervise theses on the topic of modern Iran, national identity and regional relations in the Middle East.

  • Prof. Dr. Erik-Jan Zürcher is ready to supervise MA theses on 19th and 20th century topics, provided that the methodology and theoretical perspectives are primarily historical and that the thesis is based on literature and source materials in Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, English, French, German or Dutch.

Rough time path

Students planning to graduate by 31 August need to hand in a first, complete version of their thesis by 1 June. Students will get feedback before 1 July. They will have the summer to revise the thesis. By 1 August they must hand in the final version after which the first reader (in general the supervisor) and the second reader can assess it. This allows for sufficient time to officially graduate on 31 August.

Students should be aware that official graduation is NOT the commencement ceremony in which they receive their diploma. If students want to receive their diploma (i.e. the actual paper) before leaving at the end of August, they must officially graduate by 30 June. The time path accordingly shifts by two months (first complete version handed in by 1 April, feedback 1 May, final version 1 June).

Students planning to graduate by 31 January need to hand in a first, complete version of their thesis by 1 November. Feedback will be received by 1 December. The students will have through the Christmas break to revise the thesis. By 1 January they will have to hand in the final version after which the first reader (in general the supervisor) and the second reader can assess it. This allows for sufficient time to officially graduate on 31 January.

Students are advised to discuss the actual time path with their supervisor as early as possible. Supervisors may have plans for research and may not always be available during the periods when no classes are taught.


For the MA Thesis no registration in uSis is required.


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).