Clare College Cambridge

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Link to University Subject Page

You could learn Chinese, a language spoken by one fifth of the world’s population, study the cultural history and politics of the Middle East, or engage with the intriguing culture of Japan. Studying at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) gives you the opportunity to join a small number of people with expertise in languages and societies that are increasingly of global importance, whether you choose to study Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese or Persian, or a combination, which could include a European language. Clare welcomes applicants committed to the enterprise of getting to know about and understand the languages and cultures of vital areas of our world outside Europe. No prior knowledge of your chosen Asian or Middle Eastern language is required or expected, but imagination, perseverance and a sense of adventure will be essential.

The subjects offered are Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew (Biblical and Modern) and Persian, with the possibility of learning some Korean, Hindi or Sanskrit as well. Arabic, Hebrew and Persian can be combined with another one of these three, or with a modern European language post A-level. Chinese and Japanese can only be studied as single subjects. Apart from these combinations we do not offer joint honours courses (e.g. with History, Law, Economics or
Politics), but you can take some courses in other Faculties as part of an AMES degree, and it is possible to change to a different subject after taking Part IA of the Tripos at the end of the first year or Part IB at the end of the second. Part II takes two years, with the third year spent abroad in Asia or the Middle East, making a four-year course in all.

All the courses centre round gaining a high level of competence in the language(s) concerned. This of course needs a strong commitment and regular attendance from the student. Alongside this there are courses in history, literature, religion and a range of other subjects such as politics, economics, sociology, archaeology, or film, depending on the language being studied.- Some of these are optional, others compulsory. The first year generally focuses on laying the foundations of the language, and gives broad introductions to the culture and history of the regions concerned. There is little choice with these basic building blocks, but the choice increases in the second year, where students can study particular aspects of the region in more depth, and follow some courses in other faculties. This is even more so at Part II, where you can specialize in areas of interest to you and write a dissertation on a subject of your choice. During the year abroad students in Chinese and Japanese follow courses organized by us, while those in Middle Eastern languages combine language study with work placements and can choose within reasonable limits where to spend the year. -

There is more detailed information on each subject available on the website of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies  (

Why choose Clare?

Clare has a strong commitment to the study of Asian and Middle Eastern languages. Even though supervisions are arranged centrally by the Faculty, Clare is fortunate in that both the Senior Language Teaching Officer in Arabic and the Professor of Chinese are fellows of the college. Having a Director of Studies who is also a staff member of the Faculty provides the crucial advantage of being able to receive all necessary guidance and support throughout the course from Clare fellows. Asian and Middle Eastern Studies is a relatively small subject, with an intake of about 50 to 60 students per year, but Clare does not have a limit on how many AMES students it takes. Typically we have two to three students a year, a small but very friendly and lively group. We welcome applicants from all nationalities and educational backgrounds.

If you have particular questions, please feel free to contact either of the Clare AMES Fellows by email: Dr Rachael Harris directs studies for students reading Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian. Prof. Roel Sterckx looks after students reading Chinese and Japanese at Clare.

Admissions Requirements

Offers for studying Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Clare are based on A-level or equivalent examination results, a typical offer being A*AA at A-level or 7,7,6 (40+ overall) in the IB or the equivalent from other educational systems. We don’t ask for specific subjects at A-level, but we do look for a good record of formal language learning, to reassure both ourselves and potential students of their ability to cope with learning a new and very different language fast. However, if you do not have much formal language learning experience it does not automatically rule you out. Candidates wishing to combine Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a modern European language, need to apply for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. You will need to have an A-level or equivalent in the European language.

Written Assessment

All applicants for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies are required to take a university-wide pre-interview written assessment. Further information about this is available here. In addition, candidates wishing to combine Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a modern European language will need to take the university-wide at-interview assessment for Modern and Medieval Languages. Further information about this is available here

Written Work

Candidates are asked to send in one school essay before the interview, written in English. The essay may be related to the proposed course of study, but since applicants come from a wide variety of subject backgrounds, we do not make specific stipulations.


Applicants who are selected for interview will be called for interview in the second or third week of December and most candidates will have two interviews, with at least one interviewer being from a different college. Applicants wishing to combine Asian and Middle Eastern Studies with a modern European language will be interviewed as well for their European language, like candidates for Modern and Medieval Languages (for details see the information on studying Modern and Medieval Languages at Clare).

Fellows in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Dr Rachael Harris Senior Language Teaching Officer in Arabic.  Dr Harris is Director of Studies for Arabic, Hebrew and Persian.

Professor Roel Sterckx Needham Professor of Chinese. Professor Sterckx works on Chinese thought, religion and cultural history, teaches classical and literary Chinese, and is Director of Studies for Chinese and Japanese. 

Reading Lists

Click on the name of the department for a list of recommended books: Arabic & Persian Studies, Hebrew & Aramaic Studies, Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies.

See Student Profile: Caroline Meinhardt