The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations came into existence on July 1, 1996 as a result of the merger of the formerly separate departments of Near Eastern Studies (NES) and Middle East and Islamic Studies (MEI). These departments, under various designations, have existed in the University of Toronto for over 150 years. Near East is generally understood to refer to the region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and beyond, from ancient times up to the advent of Islam in the seventh century CE. Middle East refers to a much broader geographical area whose predominant Islamic culture in medieval and modern times has stretched to North Africa and Spain in the west and to Central Asia, India and South Asia in the east.
The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations is concerned with the interdisciplinary study of the civilizations and cultures of the Near and Middle East from neolithic times until the present, including their languages and literatures [Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian); Arabic; Aramaic, and its closely related dialect Syriac; ancient Egyptian; Hellenistic Greek; biblical, rabbinic, medieval and modern Hebrew; Persian and Turkish], archaeology, history, art and architecture. The Department’s programs are conceived in the broad tradition of the humanities and provide an opportunity to study non-western complex societies and civilizations. An understanding of these societies will reveal the ultimate roots and historical development of western civilization.
As it happens, three world religions originated in this geographical region. The Department offers courses on the origins and earliest phases of Judaism and, as a contributor to the Jewish Studies Program, on medieval and modern Jewish history, culture and thought, even though such pursuits sometimes lead to Europe and other places beyond the Middle East. Although the Department deals with eastern (Syriac) Christianity, the study of Christianity as a religion falls within the purview of the Department for the Study of Religion. The study of Islam as a religion and the development of Islamic thought, and their role in the creation of Islamic civilization, are major concerns of the NMC Department.