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Islamic and Middle East Studies (IMES)

University of Edinburgh


In 2000 the Department commemorated the 250th anniversary of the beginning of Arabic teaching at the University of Edinburgh. Over the years a series of scholars have ensured that both the Department and the University have maintained a reputation for academic achievement and teaching excellence in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. These include Professor Sir William Muir (Principal of the University in the later years of the nineteenth century), Dr Richard Bell (a scholar whose name is almost synonymous with Qur'anic studies), Professor L P Elwell-Sutton (an outstanding scholar in the field of Persian studies), and Professor W Montgomery Watt (who, from the time of his appointment as Lecturer in Arabic in 1947 until his retirement as Professor in 1979, made an outstanding contribution both to Islamic scholarship and to the development of his Department). The present Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies is, in effect, an amalgamation of the old Departments of Arabic, Turkish and Persian (established in 1912, 1950 and 1951 respectively).

Among the graduates of the Department are R B Serjeant, a native of Edinburgh, who in 1970 became the Sir Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at Cambridge and who has donated his entire library to the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Edinburgh. An authority on the Arabian Peninsula, Professor Serjeant enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for field work that has preserved for posterity a remarkable record of traditional ways of Arabian life. Another well-known student of Edinburgh is C E Bosworth who became Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester.

The Department is renowned here, throughout the UK, and world-wide for its knowledge and expertise in Islamic history, the development of Islamic law and theology, Arabic and Persian language and literature, modern Middle Eastern history and politics, translation studies and the teaching of Arabic as a foreign language. A number of Honorary Fellows extend the Department's coverage.

In recent years, the University of Edinburgh has made a number of appointments in areas covering a wide range of disciplines within its extensive profile of academic subjects. This has resulted in a massive increase in the number of postgraduate students from various parts of the world who are enrolled on postgraduate courses in the University. Apart from undergraduates and postgraduates drawn from the English-speaking world, Edinburgh has long had a strong postgraduate body made up of students from many different countries.

The Department's staff also works in close collaboration with the Religious Studies Unit of the Faculty of Divinity and provides the teaching for the MA in Religious Studies with Islam as the major religion. Similar teaching is also provided for students of the Islamic component in a course on comparative religion.

The Department is housed in an 18th century building in the central University area. Most classes take place in the Department, which has its own library open to all members of the Department. Upwards of 200 undergraduates take courses in the Department at any one time, and there are more than 50 postgraduates, mostly from the Islamic world.

The main University Library is only a stone's throw away from the Department and most Arts and Social Sciences Departments are located in or near the Square. During the last three years the holdings of the University Library in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies have been considerably strengthened as a result of the generous donation of three professorial libraries to the University. In addition, the University has been successful in obtaining two collections of important archival materials of considerable scholarly interest for the study of Arabia.

Statement of the Department's Aims and Obligations

Through its various programmes and activities the Department strives to encourage high standards of teaching and research in all areas of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and a multi-disciplinary approach. Indeed, the field embraces a wide variety of academic disciplines - including, for example, language, politics, history, literature, law - and thus offers a varied approach to understanding cultural and social life in the Middle East.
At the undergraduate level the Department aims to promote knowledge and the development of skills which are useful in later life as well as to foster understanding of and respect for backgrounds different to one's own.

The PhD

Candidates for the degree of PhD pursue a research project, under the continuous guidance of a supervisor who is a member of the staff, for a period of not less than 36 months if studying full-time, or 48 to 72 months part-time. The outcome of the research is embodied in a thesis written by the candidate, and the doctorate is awarded if the thesis is of sufficient standard and it is judged that the research has made a definite contribution to knowledge.


Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies
19 George Square,
Edinburgh EH8 9LD
Tel: + 44(0)131 650-4182

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