In the process of the modernization and the intra-Jewish Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), Jewish Studies have shifted more and more from the purely theological education to subjects such as philosophy, literature studies, history, fine arts, and cultural studies. This process gave rise to the emergence of the “Science of Judaism” in the 19th century, which would create a broad spectrum of Jewish scholarship, most notably in Berlin. On account of the antisemitism in the German Empire and the Weimar Republic – which was also prevalent in the sciences – the “Science of Judaism” did not gain access to German universities. In hindsight, of course, it is clear how significant the Jewish shares in the German culture and science have been and still are. In this respect, “Jewish Studies” also imply the exploration of German intellectual and cultural legacies. This becomes manifest, for example, in the fact that texts and questions from the field of “Jewish Studies” have become part of the canon of many subjects.
In the foreground of the questions is the exploration of the participation and transculturality of Judaism particularly in the context of European culture, starting with its development in the Late Antiquity. Taking into consideration the religious dimensions of European Judaism, which include the religious teachings and practice, and therefore also the religious Jewish literature, the diversity of European Judaism with its distinct religious and secular characteristics can be illustrated in the respective research contexts. By means of a synchronous, diachronic and at the same time inter- and transdisciplinary examination, not only the rich cultural and religious heritage of Judaism reveals itself, but it is also expected that in the process of research the scientific methods will be refined and, in terms of contents, enhanced. The enrichment and transfer arising from the participation of establishments representing a Jewish Theology and Philosophy of Judaism will benefit all academic facilities. Along with the promotion of young academics, its research results, and the reinforcement of the internationality of Jewish Studies in Germany, the Center will make a vital contribution to the content-related and institutional reconception of religious studies by incorporating these results into the discourse of a variety of disciplines.
In all of the disciplines and establishments in which Jewish Studies are pursued today, an adjustment in society’s interest has become perceptible in the last years: When until the 1980s, it was concerned primarily with the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity, since the 1990s it has focused on the relation of the three major monotheistic religions among themselves. For this reason, the ZJS will not only link Judaism-related institutions, but also include the interreligious perspective in its selection of subject-matters and partners.
(Excerpt from the application for the establishment of the Zentrum Jüdische Studien Berlin-Brandenburg)