Arabic (four year course) is the principal language of Islamic civilization and the key to understanding the modern Middle East. Various forms are spoken from North Africa to the borders of Iran, and as a literary language it is used throughout and far beyond this area. Owing to its sacred status it has exerted immense influence throughout the Islamic world. Arabic has a vast 'classical' and a varied and vital modern literature.
Persian (four year course) is spoken throughout Iran and over large areas of Afghanistan. In the early modern period it was the lingua franca for the elite in the Indian subcontinent and is still taught in Muslim communities there. The general intellectual and artistic contribution of Iran to Islamic culture is of crucial significance, and today Iran is one of the most important countries in the Middle East.
Turkish (four year course) The Turkish of present-day Turkey is a language of Central Asian origin related to many other 'Turkic' languages such as Azerbaijani, Türkman, and Uzbek. Although Turkish is structurally unrelated to Arabic and Persian, the Ottoman language is written in the Arabic alphabet and includes thousands of Arabic and Persian loan-words. Modern Turkish is written in the Western alphabet and differs considerably from Ottoman.
Hebrew and Jewish Studies The Hebrew Studies course at Oxford lasts for three or four years, depending on whether a year is spent at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Hebrew was the language of ancient Israel and Judah, and has remained one of the chief literary languages of the Jewish people. It is now the official language of the State of Israel. These two syllabuses span the period from biblical times to the present, taking in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies alongside Rabbinic, medieval, and modern Jewish studies. The Hebrew course deals primarily with language and literature, with study of Jewish culture and history as the necessary background. The course in Jewish Studies also gives students skills in understanding Hebrew, but here the history, religion, and culture of the Jews are the main focus.
Ancient Near Eastern Studies The three-year B.A. course in Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies offers a route of study concentrating on Ancient Near Eastern Studies and the Akkadian language of Babylonia and Assyria. Spanning c. 3500-100 BC, the course focuses on the civilizations of Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and extends into the Persian, Greek, and early Parthian periods. Mesopotamian achievements in areas such as urbanization, empire-building, art, cuneiform script, literature, medicine, and astronomy are still of fundamental importance today. Options for a second language or subject include Sumerian.
Egyptology The three-year B.A. course in Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies offers a route of study concentrating on Egyptology and the Egyptian language. Egyptology is the study of ancient Egypt from prehistory to the Christian period. Egypt was one of the two places where civilization originated in the Near East, and was a major power for upwards of 3,000 years, producing remarkable achievements in art, architecture, literature, and other fields. The legacy of Egypt is important in the West. As Coptic, the Egyptian language remains central to Christianity in Egypt.
Sanskrit is the key to Indian civilization, and is taught in this spirit at Oxford. While India may be best known in the West for its religious leaders from the Buddha to Gandhi, it has excelled in fields from logic to music. Sanskrit literature, both sacred and secular, is immensely rich and varied. While the course concentrates on the Sanskrit language, students also specialize in a subject area of their choice.
Chinese (four year course) China has a recorded history of 3,500 years. The range of Chinese achievements in philosophy, literature, art, science and technology compares with those of a whole continent rather than a single country. Students learn Classical Chinese, the medium through which traditional Chinese civilization has been transmitted, and the contemporary language, which gives access to the world's most populous state.
Japanese (four year course) Japan has a rich traditional culture dating back more than 1,500 years and a modern period distinguished for its vigour and variety; traditional and modern culture are studied through Japanese language sources and the work of Western scholars. In their final year students can choose from specializations ranging from classical literature and art to modern literature, history, politics, and economics.
Joint Honours Degrees
Theology and Oriental Studies (three year course) The course enables you to learn in depth about a number of the world’s great religious traditions, including Christianity (taught primarily in the Theology Faculty) as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism (taught primarily in the Oriental Studies faculty). There will be an intensive and substantial language component to the course so that religious texts can be studied from source. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to read primary materials. For example, students would learn the Arabic language in order to read and study The Qur’an; Sanskrit to read Hindu texts such as the Vedas and epics such as the Ramayana and Pali to read Buddhist sutras.
Classics and Oriental Studies (four year course) This course allows you to combine the study of an Oriental language and culture with Latin and/ or Greek and the study of the ancient world. Students can either start out with Classical Mods and take up Oriental Studies as a subordinate part of the course after five terms, or start with Oriental Studies and add on Latin and/or Greek as a subsidiary subject after the first year.
European and Middle Eastern Languages (four year course) This course in European and Middle Eastern Languages (EMEL) enables students to combine papers in one of the languages taught in the Faculty of Modern Languages with papers in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish, thus providing opportunities to take advantage of the cultural linkages which exist between a number of European and Middle Eastern languages. For example, appropriate combinations might well be French and Arabic, German and Turkish, or Hebrew and Russian, but even some of the less obvious pairings would provide similar cultural and historical linkage. Thus Spanish and Turkish would be an interesting combination for the history of Sephardi Judaism, while Persian and Portuguese are important for the study of early imperialism. For more information on the Year Abroad, please refer to this webpage.
Many courses allow for, or require, an appropriate additional language. Apart from those taught as main subjects, the following, depending on the main language choice, may be available: Aramaic with Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Hindi and Urdu, Korean, Old Iranian, Pali, and Prakrit.