(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A new research center is to be established at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
for the study of conversion and inter-religious encounters, it was announced on
The project is part of the government-funded Israeli Centers of
Research Excellence program, or I-CORE, an initiative designed to promote and
strengthen academic research in a range of fields.
The new center –
I-CORE’s first at BGU – will be headed by Prof. Chaim Hames, chair of the
university’s Department of General History, who will direct research efforts
aimed at understanding the different societal causes and impacts behind
conversion, as well as the history of the phenomenon.
one religion to another is a significant moment, not only for the person
converting, but also for the religious community abandoned and the one adopted,”
“Historical materials contain records of thousands of
inter-religious (individual as well as mass) conversions, which, when examined
using interdisciplinary approaches, can shed light on religious, social,
political and legal phenomena relevant for understanding how religious
communities function, how they deal with questions of identity and belonging and
how and why they erect boundaries.
“Conversion can also illuminate the
internal politics and structures of a religious community, how they interact
with those perceived as ‘others’, as well as the dynamics of minoritymajority
cultures living side by side,” Hames explained.
One of the major projects
the new center will undertake is the creation of a database that will seek to
record every known instance of conversion during the Middle Ages and the Early
Modern Period from one religion to another.
According to Hames, the
database will help shed light upon the socio-economic status of converts, their
professions and educational and cultural background.
It will also help
identify patterns of individual conversion and the conversion of whole
communities, as well as the familial ties and relations between proselytes and
members of their former religious community.