Aims and content

In the minor The Middle East, we study the manifold connections between the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Emphasis is placed on the countries in the eastern Mediterranean and in the modern Middle East. This is the region in which many of today’s global conflicts are rooted. In the minor, we examine the background and reasons for these conflicts. To what extent can we explain contemporary problems in this region in terms of the region’s internal political, economic, cultural and religious dynamics? To what extent should the history of Western colonialism and neo-imperialism be factored into such explanations? The minor seeks to provide students with solid basic knowledge over the creation and historical development of the modern Middle East, but also to familiarise them with the approaches and methods employed in Middle Eastern Studies to interpret the history, religious landscape and political systems in the region..


Course 1, The Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, takes as its point of departure processes of reform and modernization in the late Ottoman Empire (18th and 19th centuries) and its demise in the early 20th century. On this background, the course sheds light on the entanglement of politics, religion and ethnic identity in the region, but also on the impact of Western powers. In addition, the course introduces students to scholarly approaches in Middle Eastern Studies, to its cultures and religions, and to its conflicts in historical perspective. This includes a critical appraisal of hackneyed terms and binaries, such as the east/west dichotomy, the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis, and the very concept of ‘the Middle East’ itself.

Course 2, Religion and Modernities in the Modern Middle East, zooms in on the role of religion. The religion with the greatest number of followers in the modern Middle East is Islam. In this course, we examine the many different ways in which Muslims in the 19th and 20th centuries reacted to the increasing cultural and political influence of the West. We also study the role of Christianity in the modern Middle East. Attention is paid to the century-old Christian communities in the region (Marionites, Copts, and others) as well as to Western Christian mission in the colonial and postcolonial periods. Finally, we examine the position of Judaism and discuss the role of religion in the Palestianian-Israeli conflict.

Course 3, Imperialism and the Middle East, focuses on economic and political aspects, in contrast to course 2, which looked at the cultural and religious roots of conflict in the Middle East. This course emphasizes Europe’s economic and political influence in the region, especially in the period from Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 up to WW2. Between the two world wars, special attention is paid to the emergence of Arab, Turkish and Persian nationalism, as well as the role of ‘petro-p

Course 4, Iran and the Modern Middle East: The modern history of Iran has been tumultuous, full of revolts, revolutions and reversals. Key political developments in the nineteenth century included the impact of European political philosophies and Western educational systems, the Tobacco Revolt (1891), the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911) and its aftermath, and the rise of feminist movements. Pivotal events in the twentieth century included the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty and the modernization project, the nationalization of oil production, the CIA-staged coup that removed the democratically-chosen Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (1882-1967), the White Revolution and urbanization, the repression of intellectuals and the 1979 Revolution, the hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), and the consolidation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These events have been followed in recent decades by reforms and revolts and even, most recently, by the possibility of war against the United States.
The year 1979 marked the start of several weighty political developments in the Middle East, which have considerably changed the region and international relations. The rivalry between Iran and Saudi-Arabia, the Shiite-Sunnite divide, the role of Iran in Afghanistan, the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and Hizballah in Lebanon are among topics which are going to be treated in this course. We will survey this period from the perspectives of Iranians, seeing how they view their own history and use religious tenets, poetry, art and material culture to contribute to the modernization of their country. How have they positioned Iran in the regional and international political settings? While secondary sources will be used to examine Iran’s modern history, key primary sources will be introduced in translation, to show how Iranians look at their own history in relation to their neighbours and Western powers.

Study Programme

The minor The Middle East consists of four compulsory courses (30 EC).

For students who started the minor in 2020: please register for GE2V17013 European Imperialism and the Middle East in block 1 and IA2V20002 Iran and the Middle East in block 2.

Entry Requirements

Look carefully at the entry requirements of the courses and whether there is a placement committee.

Application and registration

How to register for this minor and its course modules, depends on whether you are a student of Utrecht University or not.

Utrecht University students can register for a minor and the individual modules online via OSIRIS during the Faculty of Humanities course registration period. You must register for both the minor itself and each course module individually.

Courses with priority rules

If you wish to register for a course to which priority rules apply, make sure to register for both the course and the minor during the first two weeks of the course registration period. We will publish a list of courses with priority rules two weeks prior to the course registration period.


Once you have completed the course modules, provided that you were enrolled for both the minor itself and each course module individually in OSIRIS, the minor and study results will be listed on your Study Progress Review.

Deviation standard programme

If you wish to deviate from the standard minor programme, you must request approval from the Board of Examiners of the Bachelor's programme that offers the minor.

Students from other Universities can register for the minor and each course module using the digital registration form during the Faculty of Humanities course registration period. Besides that we also need a Proof of Payment of your tuition fees from your own educational instituion. Please send the form and the Proof of Registration -preferably via email- to the Student Desk Humanities.

Courses with priority rules

If you wish to register for a course to which priority rules apply, make sure to register for both the course and the minor during the first two weeks of the course registration period. We will publish a list of courses with priority rules two weeks prior to the course registration period.

Study results

Once you have completed the course modules with as passing result, you can apply for a list of grades (transcript) of the minor programme at the Student Desk Humanities.

More information

If you wish to know more, or have questions about this minor, please contact the Student Desk Humanities.