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The Sociology of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism in Comparative Perspective

[RG #115] The Sociology of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism in Comparative Perspective

September 1, 2008 - August 31, 2009


Jonathan Garb (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Philip Wexler (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The research group seeks to address the vibrancy of contemporary Jewish mysticism, both as a social movement and as an emerging research field, as well as the absence of comparative and social scientific study of this exciting temporary development. Our goals are to draw on the significant strength of the academic expertise of the group members in the sociology and social psychology of religion, the study of classical and contemporary Kabbalah and the comparison between mystical systems. We believe that this will serve to support and enrich the work of Israeli researchers who are exploring numerous case studies, yet without a strong theoretical and comparative foundation.

Some of the central themes we will explore include: topics in Jewish mysticism, with an emphasis on contemporary and "modern" Jewish mysticism; studies in comparative mysticism, where we will explore both historical and contemporary questions, especially in Buddhism and Christianity, but also with regard to Islam; more general issues that touch on the theory and method of the study of mysticism. Within this last category, we will explore sociological, anthropological, social psychological and psychological questions that traverse the specific traditions and modern expressions of the varieties of contemporary mysticism.


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Interconnections and Regional Narratives in Mediterranean Archaeology (ca. 1700-700 BCE)

[RG #114] Interconnections and Regional Narratives in Mediterranean Archaeology (ca. 1700-700 BCE)

September 1, 2008 - February 28, 2009


Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University
Amihai Mazar, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Assaf Yasur-Landau, University of California, Santa Cruz

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The tension between pan-Mediterranean tendencies in history and archaeology as opposed to perspectives more oriented to the uniqueness of each regional narrative has seldom been discussed in relation to the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Eastern Mediterranean. Our research group will tackle key questions of trade, migration and other interactions in the eastern Mediterranean, ca. 1700-700 BCE, by reconciling insights from both studies that concentrate on regional archaeologies, with those dealing with intercultural contacts such as trade, migration, emulation, military conflicts and diplomacy.


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The Concept of Urban Change

[RG #116] The Concept of Urban Change

September 1, 2008 - August 31, 2009


Ronnie Ellenblum (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Gideon Avni (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The past fifty years have witnessed significant development in the study of the structure of urban centers. Dozens of cities in a variety of geographic regions and cultural environments have been studied, and their shape and society reconstructed.

Concurrently, the disciplines of urban archaeology, urban geography and urban history were defined and developed, enabling an integrated study of historical sources, archaeological remains and the analysis of geographic, architectural and regional data.

However, the theoretical interpretation of ancient and historic cities is still conditioned by the chronological and sociological paradigms established as far back as the 19th and early 20th centuries. Thus, for instance, the classification of cities into Eastern, i.e. "Oriental/Muslim/Middle or Far-Eastern" cities as opposed to "Occidental", i.e. European and North American ones is based, to a large extent, on the 19th century's neo-classical interpretation of historical economy. The accepted periodization of urban history into "Biblical", "Greek", "Roman", "Medieval" or "Early Modern" periods also reflects the ideologies, theologies and identities that created them. In many cases they are culturally or ethnically conditioned and cannot be justified outside of the specific culture that created them. Urban history is sufficiently complex and continuous to sustain different cultural definitions and different types of biased periodizations. As a result, the characterization of specifically defined types of cities such as "Muslim", "Medieval" or "greek" cities became almost self-evident, and the terms themselves, let alone the periodization that created them, was rarely contested.

In light of these conceptual paradigms, our research group will examine the processes of cultural, political, social and religious changes in both past and contemporary urban contexts. Adopting a multidisciplinary apprach and a wide chronological range, the members of the group will address an array of changes in urban structures, such as the formation of new centers of political might, structural changes of the public spaces, the creation of architectural icons, and the expansion and collapse of urban tissues, all in relation to major political, cultural and religious changes.


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Contesting Liberal Citizenship: New Debates and Alternative Forms of Democracy and State Power in Latin America

[RG #117] Contesting Liberal Citizenship: New Debates and Alternative Forms of Democracy and State Power in Latin America

March 1 - August 31, 2009


Mario Sznaider (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Luis Roniger (Wake Forest University)

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The goal of our research group is to examine the changing context of procedural, representative and liberal democracy in Latin America, analyze the contesting modes of democracy that have crystallized in the region, and evaluate their implications for a redefinition of citizenship models and alliances.

Latin America has long been a laboratory for comparative research. With its 20 independent polities, it provides a shared ground for systematic analysis into the resilience or breakdown of formal democracy against the background of contesting models of citizenship.

While in the days of the Cold War these models were relatively clear-cut and impacted on the region, generating the contrasting projects of reform and revolution, in the last two decades Latin America has witnessed both a renewal of democracy and the diversification of democratic experiments. The international presence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the election of an indigenous president in Bolivia and female presidents in Chile and Argentina, and recent policy decisions in Cuba, reflect the profound changes these countries have undergone, raising questions that are of far more than just regional interest.

Our research group brings together experts on various dimensions of citizenship in Latin America with a record in comparative research to reflect on the challenges affeting liberal democracies, as derived from the shift from corporatist to neo-liberal citizenship regimes; the increasing recognition of group rights and multiculturalism, evident with the potent rise of new indigenous movements; the emergence of participatory forms of anti-politics in situations of policy ineffectiveness and institutional collapse; the increasing use of plebiscitary democracy as a means of attaining political legitimacy; and the persistent challenge of mass citizen mobilization to existing forms of limited democracy.



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