University of Sydney Handbooks - 2018 Archive

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Arabic Language and Cultures

About the major

Understanding the Arab world is today of vital importance. Arabic is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world. It is one of the official languages of the United Nations and the religious language of a billion and a half Muslims, as well as millions of Christians and Jews. Political and economic developments in the Arab world and parts of the Middle East, like the internationalisation of businesses and professions around the world, have made understanding, speaking, reading, and writing Arabic an increasingly valuable skill. Arabic is also a language with a rich literary and cultural heritage that deserves to be studied in its own right.

The major in Arabic Language and Cultures equips you to understand the political, social, and cultural importance of the Arab world and its complex regional significance on the global stage. It is focused on the acquisition both of language skills and of cultural competency. You can major in Arabic with or without prior knowledge of the language.

To complement your language study (taught in Arabic), you will have, each semester, a wide range of Arabic literature, culture, art, and film classes (taught in English) to choose from. Not all culture courses are offered every semester, so please consult the departmental website and the University timetable to learn which units are offered any given semester.

Our teaching is strongly focused on student participation, communication, and cultural immersion. This means that a major in Arabic Language and Cultures will help you develop both communicative Arabic language skills and cultural competency. You will gain the background knowledge necessary to understand the diversity of Arab societies today and over time, and be equipped to conduct cross-regional projects and to interrogate geo-cultural boundaries.

Requirements for completion

A major in Arabic Language and Cultures requires 48 credit points units from the Arabic Language and Cultures Unit of Study Table, which must include at least 18 credit points from 3000 level units, including FASS3999 Faculty Interdisciplinary Project unit, or alternative Project unit if FASS3999 has been completed in a different major.

A minor in in Arabic Language and Cultures requires 36 credit points from the Arabic Language and Cultures Unit of Study Table, of which at least 6 credit points must be from 3000 level units.

First year

First year units in Arabic language and cultures provide a broad overview of Arabic language, literature, and culture. The language units are designed to equip absolute beginners with basic communicative skills to hold conversations and read and produce texts about self and immediate environment. The cultural units expose the students to a variety of topics related to Arab societies and cultures. Main themes include national boundaries, ethnic and religious diversity, Muslim contributions to world civilizations, aspects of cultural life, including women and gender issues. Students also engage with contemporary Arab cultural productions such as Arab modernity and the birth of the novel, representation of otherness in Arabic literature, political dissidence and creative writing, visual arts, cinema, music, and popular culture.

Second year

Building on the foundational knowledge provided in first year, second year units expand the students’ language and cultural knowledge. Arabic language units help students develop intermediate proficiency where they can produce more complex ideas and linguistic structures to express ideas about self, immediate environment and society. The cultural units develop their critical thinking ability and cultural competence through the examination of a variety of topics including artistic production from the Arab world and its diasporas, how artists respond to the political and social climates of the societies in which they live, and the interplay between gender, culture and politics in the Arab world. Representations of gender and sexuality, and their politicization, will be studied through feminist, literary, and historiographical criticism, permitting a deep historical understanding of current debates.

Third year

In the third year, students develop advanced Arabic language ability where they are able to express themselves fully on a variety of familiar topics as well as concrete social and professional topics. Students will produce and deal with extended description and narratives. The cultural units develop the students’ capacity to research topics relating to Arabic culture independently and engage in group discussions about these topics. These units will allow the students to understanding contemporary Arab
societies and cultures and will guide them towards developing the ability to analyse authentic materials, including Arab media in its diverse forms and styles both written and electronic.


Students who do well in their undergraduate degree often choose to take an additional Honours year. The minimum requirement for entry into Honours is an average of 70 percent or above across in the major.

The Honours program consists of two seminars (one each semester) and an 18,000 - 20,000 word thesis on a topic in students’ area of interest. The seminars will be taught in English but will also provide students with individualised advanced language training. The Honours thesis is written in English, but some of the primary sources used must be in Arabic. An Honours project may involve a fieldwork component, which greatly enhances the Honours experience.

Advanced coursework

The requirements for advanced coursework in Arabic Language and Cultures are described in the degree resolutions for the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Advanced Studies.

24 credit points of advanced study will be included in the table for 2019.

Contact/further information

Department website:

Chair of the department and undergraduate coordinator: Professor Sahar Amer

Honours coordinator and postgraduate coordinator: Dr Lucia Sorbera
Pathways through the major

The Introductory pathway will follow a 2-3-3 model = 2 language units at level 1000; 2 language + 1 cultural unit at Level 2000; 2 language units at level 3000 + FASS3999 Interdisciplinary Project unit

Year 1: ARBC1611 + ARBC1612
Year 2: ARBC2613 + ARBC2614 + 1 culture unit at Level 2000
Year 3: ARBC3615 + ARBC3616 + FASS3999 Interdisciplinary Project unit

The Intermediate pathway will follow a 0-2-6 model = 0 units at level 1000; 2 language units at level 2000; 2 language units at level 3000 and 3 culture units taught in English at level 3000, plus one interdisciplinary unit.

Year 1: ARBC2613 + ARBC2614
Year 2: ARBC3615 + ARBC3616 + 1 culture unit at Level 3000
Year 3: 2 culture units at level 3000 + FASS3999 Interdisciplinary Project unit

The Advanced pathway will follow a 0-2-6 model = 0 units at level 1000; 2 culture units at level 2000; 3 language units at level 3000 and 2 cultural units taught in English at level 3000, plus one interdisciplinary unit.

Year 1: ARBC3615 + ARBC3616
Year 2: ARBC3201 + 2 culture units at level 2000
Year 3: 2 culture units at level 3000 + FASS3999 Interdisciplinary Project unit

Learning Outcomes
  1. Communicate in Modern Standard Arabic and at least one dialect for both professional and academic purposes.
  2. Demonstrate a critical understanding of Arab and Islamic history, from the seventh century until today, and of Arab societies, politics, and cultural productions.
  3. Demonstrate a deep and nuanced understanding of the social and cultural contexts of the language.
  4. Research a range of issues related to the Arab world, and communicate the products of this research both orally and in writing.
  5. Demonstrate familiarity with the major theoretical approaches in the fields of Arabic, Islamic and Middle East studies, employing comparative perspectives and a range of sources in the study of different Arab countries.
  6. Demonstrate the confidence to work both independently and collaboratively on materials from or related to the Arab world.
  7. Engage with new local and global issues, and academic debates, using both established and emerging methodologies.
  8. Effectively apply disciplinary approaches and knowledge to issues encountered in an interdisciplinary context.