Research Groups

Religion and Nationalism in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu Worlds

[RG #102] Religion and Nationalism in Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Hindu Worlds

September 1, 2005 - February 28, 2006

Organizers:

Hedva Ben-Israel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Yosef Salmon (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
Emmanuel Sivan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Nationalism is one of the prominent subjects in scholarly discourse. There is a great deal of disagreement over its origins, essence, impact and degree of historical "naturalness", as well as its connection with religion. This relationship is riddled with paradox. Nationalism and religion appear sometimes as related and sometimes as opposed forces. Many historians and social scientists tend to see nationalism as a modern, political and secular phenomenon prompted by social and economic conditions that could emerge only after the decline of religion and as a substitute for it. Our choice of subject was prompted partly by the academic controversy and partly by contemporary cases where nationalist fervor and religious devotion are found together. It is also apparent that more historians are finding that in the past, too, many cases of nationalism were allied with religion or inspired by it. The purpose of our group is to compare the role of the three monotheistic religions and Hinduism in different cases of nationalism.

 

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Muʿtazilism within Islam and Judaism

[RG #101] Muʿtazilism within Islam and Judaism

September 1, 2005 - August 31, 2006

Organizers:

Wilferd Madelung (University of Oxford)
Sabine Schmidtke (Free University of Berlin)

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The Muʿtazila was a rationalist school of Islamic theology and one of the important currents of Islamic thought. Muʿtazilīs stressed the primacy of reason and free will and maintained that good and evil can be known solely through human reason. The beginnings of the Muʿtazila were in the 8th century, and their classic period of development was from the 9th until the middle of the 11th century. While it briefly enjoyed the status of an official theology, over the centuries the Muʿtazila fell out of favour in Sunnī Islam and had largely disappeared by the 14th century. Their influence, however, continued to be felt in two groups: Shīʿī Islam and Karaite Judaism. There has been a trend in the 20th century to revive Muʿtazilī thought, particularly in Egypt. The Neo-Muʿtazilīs are attracted by the Muʿtazilī affirmation of reason and free will, which they see as a basis for intellectual liberty and modernity. Muʿtazilī thought also had a major impact on Jewish theologians, both Rabbanite and Karaite, from the 10th through the 12th centuries.

Muʿtazilī works were evidently not widely copied, and few manuscripts have survived. So little authentic Muʿtazilī literature was available that until the publication of some texts in the 1960s, Muʿtazilī doctrine was known mostly through the works of its opponents. While Muʿtazilī manuscripts have not been preserved in large quantities, most of the material that has survived has not yet been utilized or published. Muʿtazilī manuscripts have survived largely by two means: Yeminite public and private libraries, and the Firkovitch Collections in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, which came mostly from the manuscript storeroom of the Karaite synagogue in Cairo. In the early 1950s numerous manuscripts were discovered in Yemen that included the works of various representatives of the Muʿtazilī school of Abū Hāshim al-Jubbāʾī (d.933), the Bahshamiyya, which were subequently edited in Egypt during the 1960s.

The goal of our study group is to examine, identify and edit as many as possible of the Muʿtazilī writings and fragments scattered in the various Muslim and Jewish repositories around the world, in order to broaden our understanding of rational theology in Islam and its reception among Rabbanite and particularly Karaite Jews.

 

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Transmission and Appropriation of the Secular Sciences and Philosophy in Medieval Judaism: Comparative Perspectives, Universal and National Aspects

[RG #108] Transmission and Appropriation of the Secular Sciences and Philosophy in Medieval Judaism: Comparative Perspectives, Universal and National Aspects

March 1 - August 31, 2007

Organizers:

Gad Freudenthal (CNRS, Paris)
Ruth Glasner (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Our project will focus on the study of the patterns of transmission to, and appropriation by, medieval Jewish cultures of Greek-Arabic thought, with special emphasis on a comparison with the parallel processes in the Muslim-Arabic and Christian-Latin cultures. The group will study different aspects of the absorption of originally Greek knowledge (mainly but not only scientific and philosophical ideas) within the different medieval Jewish cultures in the Mediterranean between the 8th and the 15th centuries, and examine the role played by Jews in knowledge transfer from Europe to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. These processes are worthy of study, not only in and of themselves, but also as a reexamination, comparatively speaking, of the varying accounts offered for the Muslim-Arabic and Christian-Latin cases, based on the role of institutions of learning. The absence of similar institutions in Jewish cultures affords the possibility of "controlling" the thesis that what allowed Western Europe to lead the way from medieval science to the scientific revolution was the institutionalization of learning within that society.

 

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Combinatorics of Polytopes and Complexes: Relations with Topology and Algebra

[RG #109] Combinatorics of Polytopes and Complexes: Relations with Topology and Algebra

March 1 - August 31, 2007

Organizer:

Gil Kalai (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Polytopes have intrigued mathematicians since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians knew quite a bit of the geometry of polytopes, and the pyramids are, of course, a special type of polytopes. The ancient Greeks discovered the five platonic solids. The five platonic solids: note that the Icosahedron is dual to the Dodecahedron, the Cube is dual to the Octahedron and the Tetrahdron is self-dual.

Euler, who can be regarded as the father of modern graph theory, proved a remarkable formula that explains the relationship between combinatorics and polytopes.  Euler's formula asserts that: for every polytope in space with V vertices, E edges and F faces: V - E + F = 2

For example, for the cube, V = 8, E = 12, and F = 6 and indeed 8 - 12 + 16 = 2.

Euler's formula is one of the most important formulae is mathematics and can be regarded as a starting point for topology.

Polytopes in dimensions higher than three have been studied since the 19th century. The first rigorous proof of an extension of Euler's formula for higher dimension was obtained by Poincaré. Poincaré used tools from algabraic topology, a new subject of study that he himself developed. It turns out that Euler's formula is closely related to topology, an important part of geometry.

The research group will explore the following topics: the important and mysterious notion of "duality" between polytopes; the notion of "valuations" of convex sets; random polytopes and complexes; the relationships between combinatorics and topology; the "rigidity" of graphs; and metric aspects of polytopes.

 

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Charity and Piety in the Middle East in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Continuity and Transformation

[RG #107] Charity and Piety in the Middle East in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Continuity and Transformation

September 1, 2006 - February 28, 2007

Organizers:

Miriam Frenkel (Ben-Zvi Institute)
Yaacov Lev (Bar-Ilan University)

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Charity needs to be understood as deeply embedded in, and shaped by, the existing society's religious, social and cultural context. Charity is also capable of molding social structures and their attendant mental attitudes. Therefore, the group's basic assumption is that research on charity as a concept and as an institution may offer a promising way to understand a given culture and the changes it undergoes. In addition, it is also assumed that charity offers a valuable perspective from which to view historical change and intercultural encounters.

Charity practices create and give shape to individual social institutions. They may have a crucial impact upon rulers' policies and public image, and affect patterns of social solidarity, stratification and social control. They are capable of impinging upon the social position of individuals, the place ascribed to family, religious institutions and civil society, as well as influencing economic and daily life and certain aspects of the life cycle.

At the discursive level charity may both reflect and shape worldviews and concepts. It is a field in which social values and norms are competing and being tested. This discourse is conveyed in theological, liturgical, literary and documentary texts which may express the image of the ideal society, the ways in which societies treat the "other", and how they interpret such basic aspects of life as wealth, poverty, work, destiny, individuality etc.

We will ask the basic questions that might assist us in analyzing charity from various perspectives: What were the motivations for giving charity? Who were the recipients of charity? Who were the agents of charity distribution? What was the place of charity in society, its relation to religious institutions, gender, family structures, etc.? These questions have been presented in the past but only sporadically, and they were never applied to a number of interrelated cultures over a vast span of time. In dealing with these questions we will attempt to bridge over eras and cultures that are normally perceived as distinct and separate.

 

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The Interface Between Evolutionary Biology and Game Theory

[RG #106] The Interface Between Evolutionary Biology and Game Theory

September 1, 2006 - August 31, 2007

Organizers:

Sergiu Hart (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Avi Shmida (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Our research group will focus on addressing fundamental questions in ecology and evolutionary biology, using the modeling tools of game theory. In particular, the group will examine the topics of the evolution of sexual reproduction, the evolution of communication and signaling, and evolutionary dynamics.

The phenomenon of "warning colours" in poisonous insects, reptiles, and plants is one of the examples that can be used to demonstrate how biology and game theory can interact. Poisonous animals and plants are well known for their conspicuous contrasting colours. This is interpreted as the signal that indicates "I am poisonous, don't eat me". The question is, can we trust this signal? Biologists have studied this topic for decades, attempting to explain why "cheaters" -- non-poisonous animals with conspicuous colours -- are rare. This question will be tackled from a different standpoint, where perhaps the conspicuous animal does not warn its predator, but rather signals it to "come and inspect me". Other investigations will deal with mechanisms that can explain patterns of morphology, systematical and also behavioural, by using game-theoretic models.

 

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Movement Ecology: Establishing a Novel Interdisciplinary Field of Research to Explore the Causes, Patterns, Mechanisms and Consequences of Organism Movements

[RG #105] Movement Ecology: Establishing a Novel Interdisciplinary Field of Research to Explore the Causes, Patterns, Mechanisms and Consequences of Organism Movements

September 1, 2006 - August 31, 2007

Organizer:

Ran Nathan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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We begin our research with the premise that movement is virtually a condition of life, as all living organisms move at some stage of their lives. There have been at least 25,000 papers published in the last decade on various aspects of movement, both in the ecological and allied biological literatures, but this field of study -- while extremely active, indeed growing -- still lacks a coherent focus. Previous attempts to provide this focus have moved the field along incrementally, but it can still be said that the literature consists of a voluminous collection of loosely related work, and the field is still defined more by what large numbers of people are doing individually rather than by any sense of a coherent field.

We aim to develop a coherent representation that captures the essential features of movement in terms of casual components, goals, information requirements and capacities, around which future studies could be organized and from which predictable consequences could be established for all sorts of organisms. This would be a launching pad for mathematical modeling, hypothesis generation, measurement and data analysis -- a coherent basis reaching from first principles to consequences, and allowing prediction and testing in real world situations. The four elements of the framework are the internal state of the organism, its movement and navigation mechanisms, and the external factors affecting the system, all resulting in the final movement behaviour and trajectory.

Once the framework has been developed, we can develop qualitative mathematical machinery that will allow us to simulate movement patterns under various explicit assumptions abot the four basic components of our conceptual model. If we can simulate under different scenarios, we can predict. If we can predict, we can compare prediction with observation, and we can test hypotheses about the model itself and our construction of it as being representative of reality.

 

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Moral Psychology, Moral Motivation and Moral Realism

[RG #112] Moral Psychology, Moral Motivation and Moral Realism

March 1 - August 31, 2008

Organizer:

David Enoch (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Metaethics is the philosophical sub-discipline that does not study normative issues (such as which actions are right, what makes a life go better, etc.) but rather second-order questions, questions about (not within) morality. These include the semantics, metaphysics, epistemology, and psychology of morality (and perhaps of other normative discourse). Modern metaethics is said to have emerged at the beginning of the 20th century (perhaps with Moore's Principia Ethica), and dominated the philosophical interest in morality until the 1960s when philosophical study of first-order, normative issues became more popular and influential. But the last decade or so has witnessed a tremendous rise in the philosophical interest in metaethics.

Though not often found in the interdisciplinary literature -- metaethics (in the analytic tradition) is a fairly abstract, professional-philosophical debate -- metaethics is easily characterizable as intersubdisciplinary: one cannot seriously study the metaphysics of morals without possessing at least a good overall grasp of metaphysics; one cannot seriously study moral epistemology without at least a good overall understanding of epistemology; and similarly, it is impossible to me a metaethicist without a good grasp of major theories and arguments in the philosophy of language, mind, and action, and perhaps in aesthetics as well.

Indeed, the metaethical debate has recently become even wider in scope, for it is now widely noted that just as morality is a particular instance of a largely normative discourse, metaethics is a particular instance of metanormativity. Normative discourse also includes, for example, the part of epistemic discourse that deals with obviously normative notions such as justification, entitlement, and reasons for belief. There is a close link between the philosophical problems surrounding moral discourse and those surrounding epistemic discourse. And a comprehensive metanormative theory will need to be general enough to be applied to different kinds of normative discourses (such as morality, the normative part of epistemology, some parts of aesthetic discourse), but also to accomodate the differences between them.

 

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Common Law Legal Transplants: A Comparative Historical Analysis

[RG #113] Common Law Legal Transplants: A Comparative Historical Analysis

March 1 - August 31, 2008

Organizers:

Ron Harris (Tel Aviv University)
Assaf Likhovski (Tel Aviv University)

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The goal of our research group is to examine the historical process by which common law has spread around the globe. English law and the legal systems that arose from these systems, primarily American law, have enjoyed immense success in conquering the world. Our group seeks to understand the factors assisting and inhibiting common law transplantation in the distant and more recent past. We will do so by bringing into sharp focus two specific historical examples of common legal law transplantation, to compare them to gain a better understanding of the process that we will examine. The two examples are the United States and Israel. Both countries provide instructive examples of common law transplantations, its successes and problems.

 

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Towards a New History of Hasidism

[RG #110] Towards a New History of Hasidism

September 1, 2007 - August 21, 2008

Organizer:

David Assaf (Tel Aviv University)

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Any survey of modern Jewish culture is bound to feature Hasidism -- the most prominent Jewish revival movement of the past three centuries. This revival, which took its spiritual inspiration from the Jewish mystical tradition, began in the middle of the eighteenth century with small circles of individual mystics in the region of the Polish Carpathian Mountains. It spread through the Jewish population of Eastern Europe, and in the course of the nineteenth century became a mass movement. By the final decades of the century, Hasidism was carried by the tide of mass Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe, establishing itself in various outposts in Palestine and the West. The decimation of European Jewry in the Holocaust took a heavy toll on the movement and its leaders, and yet, since the second half of the twentieth century, it has been enjoying an unexpected revival.

Against this background of remarkable resilience, successful transplantation and postwar resurrection, Hasidism has long been the subject of conflicting evaluations. It attracted the admiration of neo-Romantic authors and poets, while being denigrated and even demonized in modern historiography. Under the impact of Jewish Enlightenment values, nineteenth and early twentieth century historians viewed Hasidism as the expression of obscurantist religious fanaticism, obstructing Jewish integration in modern European society and culture. 

Sweeping political and cultural changes marking the second half of the twentieth century -- the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, the Cold War and the collapse of communism -- have inevitably altered the scholarly perspective on Hasidism. In particular, the opening up of Eastern European archives following the fall of communism, and the current multicultural discourse in which religion, once again, features as a fundamental aspect of human experience, have given rise to revisionist academic research.

Hasidic scholarship of the past three decades reflects these changes, but much of it has been fragmented, with individual scholars working in descrete disciplines, each tackling an aspect of the subject from the point of view of his or her own particular field of research. The idea of bringing together a group of leading scholars of Hasidism, who would be drawn from a variety of academic disciplines and employ a wide range of methodologies, sprang from the recognition that the Hasidic movement is a complex cultural phenomenon that cannot be properly understood within the framework of any one field of enquiry. The aim of the group is to break down the disciplinary boundaries that keep apart our respective approaches to Hasidism. We hope to integrate, for the first time, all the Hasidic scholarship of recent years, so as to establish a common basis for future research.

 

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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

Organizers:

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

Organizers:

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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Mathematical Modelling of Biological Control Interaction to Support Agriculture and Conservation

research group

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

Purity

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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