The Department of Middle Eastern Studies is the successor of a centuries-old interest in the Middle Eastern region at Charles University where as early as in the 16th century Matthaeus Aurogallus-Golthan worked as a professor of Hebrew. The beginning of our programmes’ modern history is paved with prominent figures, such as Saul Isaak Kämpf, who was interested in the comparative study of Semitic languages, and Arabist Max Grünert.
Versatile Rudolf Dvořák, who had a huge impact on Arabic studies as well as sinology, received a full professorship of oriental philology in 1890 and then was the rector of the entire university (1915-16). Dvořák’s seminar was followed by Alois Musil’s (1921–1939) seminars: Ancillary Eastern Sciences and New Arabic, and by Rudolf Růžička (1923–1939) and his Semitic Philology.
In the post-war period, the tradition continued with the following seminars: Semitic Philology, Turkish and New Persian Philology, Islamic Literature, and Political and Cultural History of Islam. In 1950, they were all unified under the Department of Philology and History of the Middle East and India. The post-war seminars were as well led by some of our eminent researchers, for example, Jan Rypka, professor of Persian and New Turkish literature, who edited the publication History of Persian and Tajik Literature (1956-1963) translated into English, German, and other languages.
The unification of departments was accompanied by affiliation with the Far East sciences and a creation of the large Department of African and Asian Studies. In the 1990s, the need for a more specialized approach and the gradual erosion of the “Oriental Studies” led to the establishment of smaller institutions that focused on organically determined regional and cultural units. The newly founded Institute of Middle Eastern and African Studies (1993) was intended to support the preservation of African Studies that was, despite its importance, closed in 2006.
Afterwards, the department’s development led towards a strengthened position of Middle Eastern Studies at CUFA, especially towards an improved teaching of modern and contemporary history. Its aim was to equalize the traditional strong teaching of the region’s languages, the research in medieval and newer history with respect to the current issues. In 2018, the university has accredited modernised programmes which take into account the development of similar studies in Western Europe and the USA. The result is the creation of Middle Eastern Studies (BAs, follow-up MAs, PhDs). The BA programme offers specializations in Arabic Studies, Iranian Studies, or Turkish Studies. Then, the follow-up MA programme offers specializations in History and Cultures of Middle East and Languages and Literatures of Middle East. In its newly accredited form, the programme Hebrew and Jewish Studies preserves the emphasis on the language study (Biblical and Modern Hebrew), and as well as Middle Eastern Studies, the programme expands its offer of seminarswith courses touching upon the history and present of Jewish people living both in Israel and diasporas. In concord with the academic and social significance of the region, the department was renamed the Department of Middle Eastern Studies (Katedra Blízkého východu).