Research Groups

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


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

September 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022


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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Computability: Historical, Logical and Philosophical Foundations

[RG#143] Computability: Historical, Logical and Philosophical Foundations

September 1, 2015 - January 31, 2016


Jack Copeland (University of Canterbury)
Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)

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The theory of computability was launched in the 1930s by a group of logicians who proposed new characterizations of the ancient idea of an algorithmic process. The theoretical and philosophical work that these thinkers carried out laid the foundations for the computer revolution, and this revolution in turn fuelled the fantastic expansion of scientific knowledge in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. 

The 1930s revolution was a critical moment in the history of science: ideas conceived at that time have become cornerstones of current science and technology. Since then, many diverse computational paradigms have blossomed, and still others are the object of current theoretical enquiry - massively parallel and distributed computing, quantum computing, real-time interactive asynchronous computing, relativistic computing, hypercomputing, nano-computing, DNA computing, neuron-like computing, computing over the reals, computing involving quantum random-number generators. The list goes on; few of these forms of computation were even envisaged during the 1930s' analysis of computability.

The fundamental question tackled by the group is: do the concepts introduced by the early pioneers provide the logico-mathematical foundation for what we call computing today, or is there a need to overhaul the foundations of computing to fit the twenty-first century?



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The Poetics of Christian Performance: Prayer, Liturgy, and their Environments in East and West (5th to 11th Century)

[RG # 144] The Poetics of Christian Performance: Prayer, Liturgy, and their Environments in East and West (5th to 11th Century)

September 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016


Bruria Bitton-Ashkeloni (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Derek Krueger (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

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This interdisciplinary research project is exploring the performance of prayer, liturgy, and hymns among a variety of Eastern and Western Christian traditions from the end of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Focusing on the history and environments of worship shifts the emphasis in the comparative study of Christianity beyond the history of doctrine.

The timeline extended from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 - when the great division between Eastern Christianities took place - to the eleventh century, just before the cultural upheaval brought about by the Crusades. The geographical framework includes Christianity's religious centers - Palestine, Constantipole, and Rome - and its periphery - East Syria and Medieval France. New models of piety, the ways in which people imagined their interaction with the divine, and the rise of asceticism in the late antique Mediterranean world brought forth new conceptions and patterns of worship. Novel religious performances played a vital role in shaping Christian identities in Byzantium and the Latin West as well as encoding specific poetics and theories of how religion should function. Bringing together historians of religion, art, architecture, and music, the project is focused on religious performance as a way to re-narrate the history of Christian religious culture in the East and West in its social and intellectual contexts.



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A Lasting Vision: Dandin’s Mirror in the World of Asian Letters

[RG #145] A Lasting Vision: Dandin’s Mirror in the World of Asian Letters

September 1, 2015 - January 31, 2016

Organizer: Yigal Bronner (The Hebrew University)

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Dandin’s Mirror of Poetry (Kāvyādarśa), a Sanskrit work on poetics composed in South India around 700 CE, is one of the most influential treatises ever produced in Asia.

The work was translated and adapted into a variety of languages in the south of the Indian peninsula and the island of Sri Lanka (Kannada, Tamil, Sinhala, and Pali), travelled to Southeast Asia (Burma and Indonesia), was repeatedly translated in northern and central Asia (Tibet and Mongolia), and may even have exercised influence on poetic praxis in China. Moreover, it is hard to overstate the profound impact of Dandin’s Mirror, which, in distant corners of Asia and at different times, consistently emboldened new literary beginnings.


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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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Ancient Arabia (from 1st Millennium BCE to the Emergence of Islam) and its Relations with the Surrounding Cultures

[RG # 118] Ancient Arabia (from the 1st Millennium BCE to the Emergence of Islam) and its Relations with the Surrounding Cultures

September 1, 2009 - July 31, 2010


Joseph Patrich (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Michael Lecker (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Arabia (the Arabian Peninsula) may no longer be terra incognita, but many aspects of its history remain unknown. The study of the history and culture of this territory is still in its infancy. One of the difficulties in properly evaluating the historical evidence about the ancient Near East is that modern Europeans or westerners approaching it inevitably do it with a host of confused and half-formed preconceptions about the "Orient", as Fergus Millar has noted in his book The Roman Near East 31 BC - AD 337.

In the last three decades an ever growing amount of new archaeological data, including a wealth of new inscriptions in many languages and scripts (Akkadian, Aramaic, Nabataean and South Arabian) has been gathered from sites in Saudi Arabia, the Yemen, the Persian Gulf, Sinai, the Negev, Jordan and Syria, as well as from sites of the cultures bordering with Arabia. Moreover, many texts in classical Arabic are now more accessible than ever before through various electronic media.

The group will evaluate the state of our knowledge about Arabia and the prospects for future research.



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Personal Versus Established Religion: Revision and Stagnation in Eastern Christian Thought and Praxis [5th-8th Centuries]

[RG #119] Personal and Institutional Religion: Christian Thought and Practice from the Fifth to the Eighth Century

September 1, 2009 - August 31, 2010


Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Lorenzo Perrone (University of Bologna)

Encountering Scripture In Overlapping Cultures: Early Jewish, Christian And Muslim Strategies Of Reading And Their Contemporary Implications

[RG #121] Encountering Scripture In Overlapping Cultures: Early Jewish, Christian And Muslim Strategies Of Reading And Their Contemporary Implications

September 1, 2010 - February 28, 2011


Meir Bar-Asher (The Hebrew University)
Mordechai Cohen (Yeshiva University)

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Contemporary critical theory, which highlights the creative dimension of the reading process, is increasingly reorienting the study of the history of scriptural interpretation, situating it within the flux of literary and cultural movements at large. This international research group brings together scholars of Jewish, Christian and Muslim interpretation to conduct a close comparative analysis of shifting encounters with Scripture in three overlapping cultures. Drawing upon diverse yet complimentary perspectives, the participants in this group will investigate five fundamental subjects:

a. The critical role that interpretation played in the formation of Sacred Scripture;

b. Changing conceptions of the "plain sense" of Scripture;

c. The ways in which classical rhetoric and poetics informed scriptural interpretation;

d. Tensions created by the need to transplant Scripture into new linguistic media;

e. The ways in which the Bible has been reconfigured in literature, art and scholarship.



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Algorithmic Game Theory: The Next Decade

[RG # 123] Algorithmic Game Theory: The Next Decade

March 1 - August 31, 2011


Michal Feldman (Tel Aviv University)
Noam Nisan (The Hebrew University)

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The last decade has seen the emergence and growth of a new interdisciplinary field of research often termed "Algorithmic Game Theory". This field lies at the crossroads of computer science, game theory, and economics; a combination which is necessary for addressing many of the challenges posed by the Internet. Not only is this field full of intellectual excitement internally, and not only has it already begun to intellectually influence the three parent disciplines, but it also has significant implications for the Internet, as evidenced by the large number of researchers in the field hired by Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

At the approximate age of ten years, it seems that the field of Algorithmic Game Theory is maturing. The goal of this group is to elucidate the main challenges of the field and attempt to chart the future course of the field for the next decade.

Some research topics that will be explored:

- Networks with contagious risk, the different aspects of how the evaluation of the Generalized Second Price mechanisms are used for selling ads on the Internet, and the understanding of the performance of simple auctions and modeling auctions used in practice (Eva Tardos)

- Interviewing in stable matching problems and cost-sharing mechanisms (Nicole Immorlica)

- Sketching valuation functions, the equilibria of simple market mechanisms, and optimal multi-item auctions (Noam Nisan)

- Auction design for agents with uncertain, private values (Anna Karlin)

- A general framework for computing optimal correlated equilibria in compact games, computing Nash equilibria of action-graph games via support enumeration, mechanical design and auctions, and computational equilibrium analysis of voting games (Kevin Leyton-Brown)

- Envy-free mechanisms for multiunit auctions with budgets, cost sharing games with capacitated network links, and game theoretic perspectives of the facility location problem (Michal Feldman)

- Bargaining in networks (Amos Fiat)


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Computation and the Brain

[RG # 124] Computation and the Brain

March 1 - August 31, 2011


Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)
Oron Shagrir (The Hebrew University)

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The concept of computation plays a major role in the current research of brain function. As Peter Stern and John Travis wrote in "Of Bytes and Brains" in Science (2006:75), "Computational neuroscience is now a mature field of research. In areas ranging from molecules to the highest brain functions, scientists use mathematical models and computer simulations to study and predict the behaviour of the nervous system". Another typical statement of the centrality of computation to the study of the brain can be found in Christof Koch's introduction to his book, The Biophysics of Computation: "The brain computes! This is accepted as a truism by the majority of neuroscientists engaged in discovering the principles employed in the design and operation of nervous systems".

However, the instrumental and explanatory role of the notion of computation in neuroscience is still in need of analysis and clarification. There are various different ways in which computational models and the notion of computation are applied in the study of the brain, and it is important for these to be distinguished and assessed. For example, as attested by the two quotations in the previous paragraph, the term "computational neuroscience" may refer to two different enterprises: Stern and Travis talk of the extensive use of computer models and simulations in the study of brain functions, while Koch gives expression to the view that the modelled system itself, i.e. the brain, computes. Both perspectives are part of what is one of the major scientific projects of our time -- the effort to explain how the brain, as a physical systme, works. However, together these two perspectives manifest a duality that is not found in other sciences, where e.g. stomachs, planetary systems, and tornadoes are studied through the use of computational models and simulations, but are not perceived as computing systems.

Thus what is called for is a systematic, philosophical analysis of the role of computation in neuroscience. What is the exact role of computer models and simulations in brain research? What is the explanatory role of the view that the brain itself performs computations? How are the two enterprises (of using computer models in brain research, and of viewing the brain as a computer) related: Do they employ the same concept of computation? Are they components of a wider exaplanatory framework? These are the questions that our research group set out to consider, discuss, and offer answers to.


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Cultural Archaeology of Jews and Slavs: Medieval and Early Modern Judeo-Slavic Interaction and Cross-Fertilization

[RG # 125] Cultural Archaeology of Jews and Slavs: Medieval and Early Modern Judeo-Slavic Interaction and Cross-Fertilization

March 1-August 31, 2011


Alexander Kulik (The Hebrew University)
Moshe Taube (The Hebrew University)

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The aim of the group is to bring together historians, philogists and scholars of comparative religion to help bring down disciplinary barriers and to show how the Slavic and the Jewish cultures can be revealed, each one of them respectively, as unique repositories of the lost texts, sensibilities, and traditions of the other's culture. It seeks to examine, on the one hand, unique data which Slavic cultures preserve on Medieval and Early Modern East European Jews, and on the other hand, key elements of Slavic cultural traditions preserved by Medieval and Early Modern East European Jews.

We will explore cultural exchange within the Khazarian-Slavic, Judeo-Greek-Church Slavonic, Old Russian-Jewish, early modern Polish-Jewish, and other cultural realms from the late 9th - early 10th celturies to late 17th - ealry 18th centuries. The topics are not limited to direct Judeo-Slavic contacts, but include, inter alia, issues such as Slavic reception of ancient Jewish sources, Slavonic Bible and pseudepigrapha, Slavonic Josephus, Biblical iconography, etc.


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Sovereignty, Global Justice and The Ethics of War

[RG # 126] Sovereignty, Global Justice And The Ethics Of War

March 1, 2011 - August 31, 2011


Eyal Benvenisti (Tel Aviv University)
Yitzhak Benbajo (Bar-Ilan University)

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In an era of globalization and massive institutional change in the international community, developing a workable set of ideas about global or international justice is one of the most important tasks facing philosophers, political theorists, lawyers and economics. Current events raise imperative political and moral questios concerning the moral standing of states and ethnocultural communities, states' rights against interventional in their internal affairs, their right to use force to protect their territorial integrity, and their right to protect their citizens or to protect citizens of other states.

Similarly, the growing interdependence among states introduces an entire set of concerns regarding global distributive justice, whereas the histories of relationships among states (colonialism, wars, secessions, etc.) suggest concerns regarding global corrective justice. These questions focus on the duties of affluent states to aid poor countries and refugees, the duties of colonial states to compensate their former colonies, the just treatment of statelessness and the just distribution of cultural rights, citizenship, residency, wealth, and the world's natural resources. These ample practical applications of global justice are what make it one of the most viable and increasingly important subfields of political philosophy.

Some of the most fundamental themes of global justice have been widely discussed in the context of just war theory. 

The research group will study three areas:

(1) The morality of the laws of war, with special attention to the institutional arrangements recommended by the statist and the cosmopolitan competing theories of just wars

(2) The statist and cosmopolitan theories of global justice, mainly distributive, but also corrective

(3) How debates between statists and cosmopolitans in these two fields -- international justice and just war theory -- are related, and how morality and the laws of war are implemented in the different conceptions of international justice.



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