Research Groups

Research Groups bring together a diverse group of scholars at the IIAS to engage in research questions of common interest. Group fellows participate in group integrative thinking and rich dialogue, while advancing their own individual research. In any given year, the Institute hosts three to five Collaborative Research Groups, composed of scholars from Israel and abroad. Research groups are composed of eight fellows as well as additional visiting scholars. A wide range of disciplines and topics is represented by the Research Groups hosted at the Institute. 

 

Open Call 2024-2025 >

Animals and Human Society in the Sinitic World

Animals and Human Society

Animals and Human Society in the Sinitic World

March 1, 2021 – July 31, 2021

Organizers:

Gideon Shelach Lavi (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Nir Avieli (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

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Research Group Assistant: Azri Amram

The proposed research group will fill a gap in the global history of the human interaction with non-human animals. It will examine the diverse roles that animals – real and metaphorical – have played in Chinese history, society, and culture. Bringing together scholars working in the diverse disciplines of archeology, history, anthropology, art, religious and literary studies, the group will provide a comprehensive picture of the representations, roles and attitudes towards animals in Sinitic world (including not only China proper but other regions that were in contact with it and adopted elements of the Chinese culture). Extending from prehistoric times animals, through dietary practices and sacrifice, to the representation of pets in Chinese literature and art, the research group will make multiple contributions to Chinese studies. At the same time, it will provide a crucial and hitherto neglected perspective on the human interaction with the environment. In recent decades the humanities and social sciences have become increasingly aware of the significance of the interactions between human and non-human animals.

Anthropologists have termed the growing interest in human-animal relationship the "animal turn," the "trans-species turn" or the "post-human turn." This new perspective is transforming our understanding not only of animals’ effects on the development of human society and culture, but also of the rigid hierarchy where humans are on top and the rest of the natural world is subordinate to them.

The "animal turn" has largely passed China by. We still lack detailed studies not only of the literary and artistic representation of animals but also of the roles they have played in practice during the temporally long, and throughout the geographically vast, Chinese universe. Moreover, no integrative research have been carried on the complex networks of human-animal interactions, including the influences of those interactions on the shaping of human society and culture in the Sinitic world. The proposed interdisciplinary research group will fill this scholarly lacuna.

Anthropologists and historians alike have noted that the self-definition of humans is inseparable from their conception of non-human animals. Similarly, human attitudes towards beasts all too often tell us how they perceive fellow humans. In this respect, it is important to compare the Sinitic worldview to the Western one. Unlike the monotheistic faiths that have humans fashioned in god's image, the Chinese philosophical tradition holds that humans and beasts differ in degree, rather than essence, of spirituality. Imported from India, the Buddhist theory of transmigration contributed to the Chinese tendency of minimizing the existential divide between human and non-human animals. Does this theological affinity between people and their beasts of burden have any bearing on the latter's fate in human hands? Dose it create specific types of human-animal interactions that are Sinitic and different from Western types? The research team intends to investigate these questions, which answers are likely to be complex.

 

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Triangulating Towards Socrates: The Socratic Circle and Its Aftermath

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Triangulating Towards Socrates: The Socratic Circle and Its Aftermath

October 12, 2020 - February 11, 2021

Organizers:

Gabriel Danzig (Bar-Ilan University)
James Redfield (University of Chicago) 

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Research Group Assistant: Shlomit Kulik

The fourth century BCE saw a flourishing of philosophical speculation centered around the figure of Socrates. More than a hundred different Socratic compositions were produced between 394 and the middle of the fourth century. This unprecedented flourishing of philosophical literature in this period created not merely a new literary genre, but a new cultural phenomenon that eclipsed the previous intellectual traditions, both naturalistic and sophistic. It would influence the major philosophic traditions of the ancient world, not only the Platonic and Aristotelian schools, but also the Stoic, Skeptical and Cyrenaic schools; and it has had a huge influence on the modern world, including on the curricula of today's leading universities. This project aims to recover the unique features of the Socratic revolution by exploring the diversity of opinions within and around the Socratic circle. Our hypothesis is that the impact of Plato and Aristotle has effectively blocked out alternative views of the nature of virtue and the human good and reduced our appreciation of what is unique in Plato and Aristotle. In particular, we expect to challenge the Aristotelian conception of the virtues as fixed traits of character acquired through repetition and practiced with pleasure. This account of the virtues, which has become almost self-evident to scholars in all fields, does not fit well with the descriptions of virtues found in the full Socratic corpus. Xenophon, for example, believes that virtues are inherently unstable, require constant supervision and effort, and are not necessarily practiced with pleasure. This view requires the re-examination of the concept that virtues are ends in the themselves, so familiar from Platonic and Aristotelian thinking. We also find a much wider range of virtue terminology in the full Socratic corpus. Aristotle seems to restrict the virtues by schematizing them in relation to distinct emotions and behavioral challenges. By examining the other Socratic writers, we hope to be able to reconstruct an alternative account that can stand up to philosophical challenge.

In order to recover and test alternative views, we will make use of a variety of methods. Where complete literary texts remain (as in the case of Xenophon and the Platonic pseudepigrapha) we will attempt to reconstruct the author's views of the substantial issues connected with the virtues and the human good by standard literary and philosophical analysis. Work on this has been started by members of the group and others. In cases where we only have fragmentary remains we will focus on comparative semantic analysis of ethical and political terms and concepts, following principles of the history of concepts (Begriffsgeschichte) which pays careful attention to the historical and philological roots of philosophical concepts. While not a replacement for philosophical interpretation, this approach provides a necessary starting place and corrective to purely philosophical research. It will be supplemented by philosophical analysis and defense.

 

 

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Cultural Brokerage in Pre-modern Islam

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Cultural Brokerage in Pre-modern Islam

September 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021

Organizers:

Uriel Simonsohn (University of Haifa)
Luke Yarbrough (UCLA)

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Research Group Assistant: Alon Ben Yehuda

Islamic civilization is a term used to describe a set of shared cultural, confessional, and social ideas, institutions, practices, and conventions, all positively related in some manner to Islamic revelation and the notional community of Muslims.  It took shape over many centuries following the formation of Muhammad’s community in the seventh century and, to an extent, is still undergoing change. Recent studies on different aspects of Islamic civilization have challenged the notion of a linear formation ex nihilo and advocated instead that we think in terms of processes by which diverse cultural phenomena took on an Islamic coloring. Thus, in contrast to an image of an emerging Islamic civilization that sprang up in a particular location and time, a revised interpretation offers a dynamic by which Islamic civilization was informed by cultural polycentricism and pluralism, and which multiple groups and traditions took part in molding. Islamic civilization, therefore, did not originate, but began when diverse cultural traditions entered into dialogue with Islamic history; it took on variegated interpretations in diverse social settings and has remained multifaceted to this day.

This revised outlook, however, does not rule out moments of exchange, borrowing, influence, or hybridity, but rather broadens the scope of inquiry by suggesting alternative forms of cultural motion. It is in the course of these processes that a variety of individuals played decisive roles as the human vectors through which cultural commodities of different sorts were gradually integrated within (and disseminated from) Islamic civilization. Such individuals acted as cultural brokers, a term derived from anthropological and historical literature, where it refers to individuals who serve as mediators between what are often (though not always) distinct social and cultural groups. They served as conduits of cultural transmission by transferring, mediating, embodying, and exchanging various social and cultural capitals,e.g., spiritual authority, erudition, kinship ties, legal capacities, and more. Yet their roles, intriguing in themselves, also highlight the complex nature of the societies they inhabited and the subtlety of intergroup relations. The proposed research group seeks to address the role of cultural brokers in premodern Islam; in particular, to identify the different types of brokers (courtiers, converts, communal leaders, women, missionaries, merchants, holy individuals, etc.); the circumstances which facilitated their activities (intellectual encounters, translation requirements, bureaucratic services, technological exigencies, trade and travel, enslavement, etc.); and the cultural outcomes or products of those activities (the availability of information and its types, literary enterprises, poetic styles, technology, urban planning, architecture, etc.). 

We thus propose to assemble a group of leading specialists in Classical Islamic history whose scholarly concerns are related to the social and/or cultural aspects of cultural brokerage. Our intention is that this collaborative endeavor will allow for a fruitful investigation into the circumstances that facilitated multidirectional cultural brokerage around the edges of Islamic societies, the type of cultural commodities that were brokered, modes of reception and impact of brokerage, and the correlation between historical phenomena and the activities of cultural brokers.

 

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Behavioral Ethics Meets Corporate Governance: Paradigm Shift?

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Behavioral Ethics Meets Corporate Governance: Paradigm Shift?

September 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021

Organizer:

Adi Libson (Bar-Ilan University)

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Research Group Assistant: Barak Or

 

Over the last few years, there has been a growing academic interest in the field of behavioral ethics: people’s ethical biases in decision making. This scholarship has focused on the behavioral mechanisms that explain why ordinary unethicality is so common among people who view themselves as law-abiding individuals.

A recently published book by Professor Yuval Feldman (2008) systematically explored the far-reaching implications of this literature to the legal field: Instead of assuming that its primary target are "bad people" which the law must deter from maximizing their own self-interest, the law should aim to address "good people." These changes require a better understanding of the mechanisms which cause good people to do wrong. Better understanding will also lead to better ways of addressing this problem, by designing the situation in ways which would reduce people’s unethicality, such as verifying they have fewer justifications to behave unethically or ensuring they have a clear view of who are they harming.

The proposed research is aimed at examining the interaction of the behavioral ethics literature with the legal field which provides the most fertile ground for its acceptance: corporate law and governance. The corporate context serves as a 'perfect storm' combining and exacerbating several aspects emphasized in the behavioral ethics literature that lead individuals to act wrongly, such as doing things for the benefit of others, diffusion of responsibility, remoteness of the victim and contagiousness.

Furthermore, addressing the issue of conflict-of-interests and agency problems is central to the field of corporate law. As such, the understanding that a central way for curbing conflicts-of-interest is by increasing the saliency of the conflict-of-interest in the eyes of the agent may have far-reaching implications in the realm of corporate law and completely alter the arsenal of its tools. In many instances, such an analysis may reach opposite conclusions to that of the conventional law and economics framework on the effectiveness of certain instruments in curbing conflict-of-interest problems. Are independent directors an effective tool for monitoring conflicts-of-interests? How significant should be the role of fiduciary duties in dealing with the agency problem? What effects does the group dynamics of boards have on the monitoring of conflict-of-interests? Two types of implications of behavioral ethics on corporate governance will be examined: structural implications and procedural implications.

The central goal of the group is to facilitate a reciprocal engagement: examining the possible contribution of behavioral ethics to the corporate governance literature and the contribution of corporate governance to the organizational psychology literature. Behavioral ethics has many potential implications for corporate governance and can yield various feasible policy applications. Legal corporate scholars can also contribute to behavioral ethics scholars, by providing real-world contexts and suggesting additional experiments which can validate experimental findings in the field of behavioral ethics. This is an important contribution to the behavioral ethics literature, which faces a serious challenge concerning the extent of its external validity.

 

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Mathematical Modelling of Biological Control Interaction to Support Agriculture and Conservation

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Mathematical Modelling of Biological Control Interaction to Support Agriculture and Conservation

February 1, 2022 – June 30, 2022

Organizers:

Tamar Keasar (University of Haifa)
Eric Wajnberg (INRA)

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Global crop losses due to arthropods amount to 18-26% of the annual production. Efficient and sustainable pest control strategies are needed to reduce these losses. Many tools for controlling insect pests are available. Among them, biological control by insect natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) has recently gained renewed interest because of environmental concerns and problems encountered with the use of pesticides. Biological control has a long history of use in pest management and has been outstandingly successful in many instances. Nevertheless, such successes remain limited in number and failures are often under-reported. Moreover, biological control programs are still widely practiced as trial-and-error enterprises, rather than being guided by theory-driven principles.

The deficiency in theory-based biological control practices is not only due to insufficient basic information. A wealth of knowledge exists on the behavioral mechanisms employed by insect natural enemies to find and exploit their hosts/prey, as well as on their population dynamics and evolutionary adaptations to their environments. Moreover, a variety of modeling approaches are available to describe these processes and to predict their long-term population-level effects. These include tools such as static and dynamic optimization, game theory, stochastic dynamic modeling, matrix models and genetic algorithms. However, theoretical and empirical knowledge are often being advanced independently, limiting the interplay between the two fields and hence the connection between theory and practice.

Our study group will span the continuum between theoretical approaches (behavioral, population and community ecology) and application (biological control). Our main aim will be to bridge the existing gaps between the well-developed theory of interactions between insects and their natural enemies, and the optimization of the efficacy of biological control projects in agriculture and conservation. This interdisciplinary group will comprise mathematical biologists and experimentalists interested in close collaborations. 

Photo credit: Hans Smid (www.bugsinspace.nl)

 

 

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Purity and Pollution in Late Antique and Early Medieval Culture and Society

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Purity and Pollution in Late Antique and Early Medieval Culture and Society

September 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

Organizer:

Yaniv Fox (Bar-Ilan University)

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Late antique and medieval cultures were preoccupied with cleanliness. Everything they held dear was susceptible to corruption, a concern that weighed heavily on the minds of contemporary writers. Early Christians were driven to produce a response to Jewish and pagan perspectives on the question of purity and pollution very early on. As Muslims advanced into Christian lands, they too came into contact with competing notions of purity and pollution and were made to respond.

Views on purity and pollution reflected a wide range of cultural preoccupations and have been employed to effect profound social changes in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The concept of pollution is therefore a useful lens with which to observe late antique and medieval societies, whose most central convictions were often anchored to the complementary concepts of purity and impurity. For Christian communities, the liturgical year divided time by alternating between sacred and profane. Jewish and Islamic dietary laws restricted the body’s access to nourishment by forbidding certain foods and drinks, regulating the production of permitted food, and controlling bodily purification cycles. In Christianity, access to the shrines of saints and to their relics was gained only after a meticulous process of physical and emotional cleansing. Similarly, handling a Torah or a Qur’an were actions that had clear consequences in terms of purity and pollution. 

The pure/impure dichotomy is pervasive in contemporary compositions, from all fields of knowledge. Medicinal texts were aimed at restoring balance to the ailing body and expelling contaminants. This was also a prevalent motif of thaumaturgically themed episodes in hagiographies, which depicted the discharges and convulsions of the impure body healed by the presence of the saint. Heresiological and theological texts defined the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, condemning divergent expressions of the faith as agents of contamination. The detailed discussions of hypothetical ablution scenarios in Islamic ṭahāra legislation reflect a similar concern. 

The objective of the research group is to investigate how the concept of pollution was understood and applied by late antique and medieval authors, with a focus on the period spanning from the fourth to the thirteenth centuries, in all regions in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims wrote during this chronological timeframe. Thematically, it is interested in expressions of pollution in such areas as dogma, diet, medicine, sexuality, law, and violence.

 

Yaniv Fox: Featured Fellow>

 

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Sensing the Truth: Changing Conceptions of the Perceptual in Early Modern and Enlightenment Europe

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Sensing the Truth: Changing Conceptions of the Perceptual in Early Modern and Enlightenment Europe

September 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

Organizer:

Yaakov Mascetti (Bar-Ilan University)

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The proposed research group intends to provide an interdisciplinary framework for a scholarly debate and a further understanding of the relationship between the sensory sphere and conceptions of epistemology and of devotion in the early-modern and enlightenment periods. Our primary goal will be to present ideas of touch, sight, hearing and tasting against the background of the philosophical, scientific, religious and literary discourses from the 15th to 18th centuries. Such representations of the senses contributed to relocating the idea of truth from the objective to the subjective sphere, though the figures in our study often show the fundamental insufficiency of that dichotomy, challenging and at times proposing alternative models.

Motivated by the significantly growing scholarly interest in the cultural history of the senses, and by new trends in the history of science and philosophy, this group will address, problematize and challenge our understanding of the ways in which emergent philosophical and scientific conceptions of visual and aural perceptions played a role in changing devotional practices such as sacramental ceremonies, methods and forms of meditational attention, while they also fashioned exegetical practices and currents in the literary and visual arts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite the steady growth in interdisciplinary studies of the early-modern, circles of the kind we propose are rare, and which we believe can make a difference in the complication of our idea of what a field of research is. Our main contribution will thus be methodological, to historians, literary scholars and specialists in other disciplines, as we will show, from a number of perspectives, that a cultural matrix is composed of a variety of interacting idioms, modes of speech which provide specific utterances with a spectrum of diverse intentions. Thus we will present conceptions of taste as the relation between the physical sense of taste, and taste as a metaphorical term used to denote various forms of knowledge and judgement (including, but not only, aesthetic taste).

Early modern taste played a key role in the cultivation of humanist erudition, in the so-called ‘scientific revolution,’ in theological debates about how best to access divine truth, and in the experience and articulation of intersubjective knowledge and sexual desire. Similarly, between the late middle ages and the Renaissance, touching truth came to play a central role in conceptions of truth, knowledge and the conveyance thereof in visual arts. The centrality of vision for the philosophical, theological, and artistic spheres has been widely discussed and continues to occupy a primary role in the cultural history of the senses. This research group intends to bring these scholarly strands together and create an interdisciplinary platform within which the entanglements of discourses may lead to a more exhaustive understanding of the senses and their role in the perception of truth.

 

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What Allows Human Language? Seeking the Genetic, Anatomical, Cognitive, and Cultural Factors Underlying Language Emergence

What Allows Human Language? Seeking the Genetic, Anatomical, Cognitive, and Cultural Factors Underlying Language Emergence

February 1-28, 2023
June 1 - July 31, 2023

 

Organizers:

Inbal Arnon (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Liran Carmel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Language is unique to humans: while other species possess sophisticated communication systems, none approach the complexity of human language. Importantly, what allows this unique ability is still not understood. What is clear, however, is that the answer lies in the combination of multiple cultural, cognitive, genetic and anatomical factors. Recent years have seen significant advances in our understanding of the genetic and cultural properties of archaic human groups, our knowledge about the complexity of nonhuman communication systems, and our ability to test questions about human and language evolution using big data sets and novel computational tools. These advances have the potential to provide novel insights about three crucial questions, which will be the focus of this group: (a) the timeline of language evolution, (b) the factors involved in its emergence, (c) the extent to which human language is qualitatively different from nonhuman communication systems.

Answering these questions requires integrating across multiple research fields and scientific communities. The research will address them from an interdisciplinary perspective, by bringing together researchers working on the genetic, anatomical, cognitive, and cultural underpinnings of archaic and modern humans, alongside researchers of animal communication and cognition. Such a conversation can generate new answers on the long-debated question of how language emerged, and why it has only emerged in humans.

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Meta Reasoning: Concepts, Open Issues and Methodology

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Meta Reasoning: Concepts, Open Issues and Methodology

September 1- December 31, 2022

Organizers:

Rakefet Ackerman (Technion–Israel Institute of Technology)
Valerie Thompson (University of Saskatchewan)

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Metacognitive processes accompany people’s thinking while investing mental effort towards achieving their goals (e.g., taking decisions, learning, solving problems). Metacognitive Monitoring reflects feelings of (un)certainty about how well a particular thinking process progresses. Research has demonstrated that monitoring guides further action, such as acting, thinking further, seeking help, or giving up. Miscalibration arises when monitoring relies on unreliable cues (e.g., ease with which information comes to mind) and may misdirect investment of cognitive effort, leading to epistemic failures (e.g., errors, belief in fake news).

So far, metacognitive research has been mostly focused on learning—mostly remembering and knowledge retrieval—and thus often called Meta-Memory. Much less is known about metacognitive processes involved in higher-order reasoning. Relative to memorising or retrieving a piece of information, reasoning typically requires more time and effort, and involves a combination of cognitive processes (including memory). For this reason, we have recently developed a Meta-Reasoning framework in an invited review paper in the prestigious journal Trends in Cognitive Science (Ackerman & Thompson, 2017).

Meta-Reasoning research is nascent. New insights and research methodologies are accumulating, and we are now in the process of establishing a research community. A first step in this direction was establishing a web site and list serve (https://meta-reasoning.net.technion.ac.il/). This research group is the next step, aiming at bringing together experienced researchers with diverse expertise and a proven track-record in offering out-of-the-box research approaches. Our collective goal is to develop concepts, measures, research and research programs for pushing the Meta-Reasoning domain forward.

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New Christian and New Jewish Discourses of Identity between Polemics and Apologetics: Rhetoric and Representation from the Late Middle Ages to the End of the Early Modern Period

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New Christian and New Jewish Discourses of Identity between Polemics and Apologetics

September 1, 2022 - June 30, 2023

Organizers:

Claude Stuczynski (Bar-Ilan University)
David Graizbord (University of Arizona)

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The research group will be devoted to the multi-disciplinary study of how and why New Christians (Iberian Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants who were living as Christians) as well as New Jews (New Christians who adopted normative Judaism, mostly in the Western Sephardi Diaspora) understood (1) their own identities, (2) Jewish and Christian identities in particular, and (3) identity in general. The group will approach these authors as simultaneous targets and creators of polemical and apologetic writings within a time span covering the end of the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The research will pay special attention to the historical generation, content, and contexts of narratives belonging to various (sometimes intersecting) genres, as well as their influence as unique genres. The researchers will especially analyze these narratives as their creators addressed questions of self- and communal identification—its nature, formation, boundaries, and manifold functions. All discussions will pay attention to the construction of the narratives as reactions to anti-Jewish and anti-converso argumentation, or, depending on the case, as spontaneous initiatives to argue for Judaism against Christianity and/or to support the “Men of the Nation,” also known as the “nação” (Nation), a group comprising New Christians and New Jews. This will be a unique occasion to bring together scholars from the fields of Iberian studies (Spain, Portugal and the Iberian colonies) and Jewish studies, medievalists and early-modernists, historians and literary scholars, to map, contextualize and understand polemical and apologetic discourses and explore their impact in framing New Christian and New Jewish identities.

By comparing the New Christian or converso phenomenon to the New Jewish or Western Sephardi experience through this particular prism, we invite comparisons: both to understand the specific contexts and idiosyncratic discursive configurations and also to identify overlapping continuities and analogies between the New Christian and the New Jewish “condition.” In other words, we believe that this will be an innovative way to better understand what it meant to be a member of the Iberian/Sephardi “Hebrew nation (nação)”.

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