nl en

MA Thesis Middle Eastern Studies


Doing research abroad

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 student advisor, Dr. Nicole van Os.

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 be found on the university website with information for students travelling abroad in the context of their studies.

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). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimize overlap between prior and new work.

Formal regulations around the MA Thesis

The formal regulations around the MA Thesis can be found in Appendix A to the Teaching and Examination Regulations.


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, Turkish Studies, and Israel 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.

Learning objectives

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.

Thesis supervision

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 (15 October or 15 March, respectively) at the latest.

The decision regarding the topic and the supervisor of the thesis is taken by the Board of Examiners. Students may be asked to change the subject of their topic and/or may not be able to work with their preferred supervisor.

Supervisors are appointed for a specified period. Not finishing the thesis within that set period may result in having to apply for another supervisor and may, consequently, mean that the work will have to be revised.

Potential supervisors and their fields of expertise

  • 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.

  • Dr. Marina Calculli's research interests lie at the intersection between Comparative Politics and International Relations of the Middle East. She is ready to supervise MA theses focusing on political violence, irregular armed groups, sovereignty and statehood, civil wars and sectarianism. Students who are willing to work on Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are particularly encouraged to approach her.

  • 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. Mamad Forough’s field of interest are the geopolitical and geo-economic consequences of the China’s New Silk Road initiative and what its implications will be for the connectivity, infrastructure, and energy security of the Middle East and Asia.

  • Dr. C.J.V. Henderson is interested in contemporary topics in the Arab region relating generally to political economy. He is also interested in conflict, development, environment, agrarian change, energy and international relations. He would also consider theses that focus on contemporary social science topics in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and the GCC states.

  • 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.

  • 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. Elena Paskaleva focuses on material culture of Central Asia, the history and socio-political importance of Timurid architecture in Uzbekistan.

  • Dr. Noa Schonmann specialises in modern Middle East studies, concentrating on the region's international relations, foreign policy analysis, and diplomatic history. As a historian of international relations she has special research interests in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and in state-society relations under authoritarian regimes. In particular, she welcomes students interested in developing thesis projects that examine inter-state armed conflicts in the modern Middle East through the lens of culture: exploring the usage of linguistic, visual, and material symbols to categorise and represent societal experiences of inter-state conflict; or investigating practices through which the meaning of conflict is collectively produced, communicated, consumed, and challenged from within and outside the region’s societies.

  • 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.

  • Dr. C. Strava is specialised in Anthropology, Morocco, Urban Dynamics, Urban Ethnography and Urban Studies.

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

  • Dr. Hans Theunissen’s research interests include (Ottoman) Turkish history and culture, and Islamic art and material culture.

  • Dr. Peter Webb is specialised in Classical Arabic history and literature; Arab identity in early Islam; "al-Jahiliyya" and the Muslim reconstruction of pre-Islamic history; pre-Islamic poetry.

  • Dr. Alp Yenen is ready to supervise MA theses on the political history of the modern Middle East. While specialized on the modern history of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, he works on themes of international and transnational history as well as comparative history. His research is informed by theories and approaches in the study of social and political movements, contentious politics, conspiracy theories, and international relations.

Rough time path

Students planning to graduate within one year, are advised to follow the Roadmap designed by the department. Two of the deadlines mentioned are hard deadlines: handing in a request for a supervisor (15 October / 15 March) and handing in of the final version of your thesis (1 August / 8 January). The other dates mentioned can be adjusted according to the agenda of the supervisor and the student.

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.

It is important to realize that students need to hand in and discuss the separate chapters of their thesis over the semester. They are not allowed to hand in a complete thesis at once at the end of the semester.

Students may use the appointment form to structure the meetings with their supervisors.


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 accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.