Ben-Gurion U center to study conversions

A new research center will study conversion and inter-religious encounters; The project is part of I-CORE.

Conversion 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Conversion 311
(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 Sunday.
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.
“Conversion from 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,” said Hames.
“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.