nl en

MA Thesis Middle Eastern Studies


This study guide gives you essential information about your MA thesis process – on matters of supervision, field research, academic integrity, and more. Read all sections carefully.

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.

Doing research abroad often involves obtaining permission from the local authorities, getting a research visa (rather than a tourist visa) and e.g. working with a local researcher/guarantor. It is therefore essential that you make sure that you are well informed regarding the formal requirements for doing research before you leave. Your fieldwork supervisor may be a starting point for information, but also check the embassy of the country you are planning to go to. Not following existing laws, rules and procedures may result in your being kicked out of the country, or worse.

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. 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 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 assigns students to a lecturer from the department for thesis supervision. To find the best possible match,, students must fill out an online form, one month after the start of their studies (1 October or 1 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.

Potential supervisors and their fields of expertise

  • Dr. Eldad Ben Aharon specializes in the field of modern Middle East studies and the region's diplomatic history during the Cold War. His research focuses on Israel's foreign policy from 1948 to present and his other main areas of interest are Memory Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Arab Jews, and the theory and practice of Oral History. He welcomes students interested in, among other topics, diplomatic history in the Middle East after 1945, international intervention in war and conflict in the Middle East, memory and commemoration practices of violent past. Ben Aharon also welcomes students who wish to include oral history methodology in their research projects.

  • 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. Sai Englert works on the political economy of the Middle East, with a specific focus on Zionism, labour movements, and the Israel/Palestine conflict. He is happy to supervise theses on any of these topics, as well as those dealing with settler colonialism and Jewish history in the MENA region.

  • Dr. Crystal A. Ennis supervises students working on the political economy of the Middle East, the Middle East in Global Political Economy, and the Middle East in International Relations. Dr. Ennis welcomes topics dealing with labour markets, youth and the economy, gender and work, migration governance, transnational labour activist networks, resource dependence, local content policies, knowledge economy and innovation policy, central bank history, south-south cooperation, development finance, investment, and trade. Students interested in focusing on the Arabian Peninsula (and GCC in particular), and the flow(s) of capital or labour within and across the Gulf from the Indian Ocean and wider Asia are especially encouraged to approach her.

  • 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. Christian Henderson is interested in supervising dissertations on political economy, environment and development in the Middle East and North Africa. He has a country specialism in the Gulf states, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, and would also consider projects that cover contemporary issues in these countries.

  • 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. Judith Naeff is specialized in urban imaginaries of Beirut and memory cultures of the Arab left. She is willing to supervise theses in the fields of cultural analysis, urban studies, memory studies, comparative literature and critical theory of the modern and contemporary Middle East.

  • 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. 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 (for students starting in September and for students starting in February) with strict deadlines designed by the department.

As of 2019/20, thesis submission is limited to two deadlines per academic year. Students of the September 2019 intake need to submit the thesis before Tuesday 9 June 2020 in order to graduate in August 2020. If this deadline is not met, the next opportunity for submitting the thesis will be Tuesday 5 January 2021. In the latter case the date of graduation will be January 2021.

For students of the February 2020 intake who fail to submit by Tuesday 5 January 2021, the next opportunity to submit will be Tuesday 8 June 2021. The date of graduation will be August 2021.

Supervisors are only appointed for a specified period, and for a specific number of consultations. Missing the dealines (not finishing the thesis within the set period) will result in serious consequences, which likely include the appointment of a new supervisor, and beginning a new research project.

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. To facilitate this process and manage expectations, students and their supervisors are expected to fill out the appointment form (for students starting in September and for students starting in February).

Supervisors may have plans for research and may not always be available during the periods when no classes are taught. No supervision or grading will be done between 1 July and 15 August.


A student can ask the Examination Commission for permission to rewrite and resubmit a failed thesis under the following strict conditions:

a) A full and complete final thesis was submitted on the set deadline in June.
b) That thesis was not graded below 4.5 and the supervisor thinks that there is a good chance that rewriting will produce a pass.
c) The supervisor supports this request to the Board of Examiners.

A student granted this opportunity uses the comments given by both readers to rewrite, but does not get any further supervision during the rewriting. The deadline for this resubmission is on 31 August 2020. The rewritten thesis will be graded by the supervisor and a second reader. The student will receive the grade 3 weeks after the deadline.

In this case, the student will have to re-enroll and register in the new academic year for a month.


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.