The programme aimed to contribute to understanding of the ways in which individuals and communities professing different religious and political identities coexisted in the past and live in the present. One of the reasons to undertake the research, for several of the participants, was a hope that understanding of this sort could illuminate some of the difficulties that confront modern societies. The programme provided, through its three strands, what Bernard Bailyn described as the way 'in which public life intersects with... the interior impulses of scholarship.'
The programme’s inquiries employed the concepts of history, political theory and anthropology. They aimed, in particular, to foster new thinking through an inter- and pluri-disciplinary engagement, and through the embedding of historical investigation within global contexts. Thus, for example, the strand Religion and the State focused on pre-modern experiences of minority groups; Coexistence tracked the making up of a cosmopolitan city – Odessa. Religion and the Political Imagination deployed questions arising from discussing experience (secularization, enlightenment) and tested their employability in the discussion of other parts of the world.
The overall programme was guided by a small advisory committee, chaired by Professor Barry Supple, the Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Centre for History and Economics.
Religion and the State in Pre-modern Europe
Coordinated by Ira Katznelson (Columbia University) and Miri Rubin (Queen Mary, University of London), Religion and the State was a forum for intellectual encounter between social scientists and historians, through the sharing of concepts and expertise. It began in 2001 with the examination of the role of minorities in state formation, by applying sociological concepts on political and state-formation to the historical case of the Jews of medieval Europe. The project extended to the consideration of issues of race, ethnicity, and identity as pertaining to individuals, communities and polities in early modern Europe. The interaction between historical case-studies and concepts evolving in contemporary social sciences offered all participants a challenging intellectual environment. The encounters resulted in new and exciting work by those who have taken part, which has spread through teaching and publications.
This strand extended a programme of earlier meetings devoted to exploring interconnections between religion and the state. The annual sessions focused primarily on medieval and early modern Europe, with particular attention to Christian-Jewish relations, but also with reference to Islam and always with awareness of challenges and questions raised by contemporary events.
The July 2006 meeting took place on July 24-25 2006. The theme was Conversion.
A conference took place at the Open University, Tel Aviv, Israel on 13-14 November 2007. This was a follow-up to the Conversion meeting in Cambridge in 2006 and brought together a group of authors contributing towards a volume on the theme of Conversion. Click for the programme, participants, and conference report.
Religion and the Political Imagination
This project strand was coordinated by Ira Katznelson (Columbia University) and Gareth Stedman Jones (University of Cambridge). It engaged historians of political thought and political scientists in the investigation of theoretical and constitutional aspects of relations between religion and political institutions over the period since the American and French revolutions. These two events are widely (and wrongly) supposed to have initiated a new epoch of secular and universal politics. The role of religion in contemporary politics, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, has been examined in literally innumerable conferences, colloquia and research projects. But the historical foundations of political assumptions about universal secularization have been the subject of oddly little attention, at least among historians and political theorists in leading research universities. Even the most prestigious publication series in intellectual history have included few works whose titles signal a central concern with religion. This strand aimed to fill this void.
The 2005 meeting set the agenda for future work by focusing on a set of key questions. The empirical status of western secularisation was explored. The question – is it an exception or the harbinger of the future – was discussed, as was the analytical use of the model of secularisation built to account for this experience, its diffusion and its use in understanding other parts of the world.
The 2006 meeting took place from 25-26 July and discussion focussed on, on the one hand, the historical relationship between religious sentiment and practice and the processes of secularisation and, on the other hand, the changing constitutional relationship between the church (and other religious institutions) and the state.
The 2007 meeting, organised by Ira Katznelson and Gareth Stedman Jones, was held on 16-17 July in the Saltmarsh Rooms, King’s College. The meeting examined secularisation and participants were given brief presentations of essays to be published in the volume 'Religion and the Political Imagination'. Participants included Karen Barkey, Callum Brown, Sudipta Kaviraj, Jytte Klausen and Hugh McLeod. Click for the programme, participants, and conference report.
This final meeting and the publication of the volume was supported by the Edmond and Benjamin de Rothschild Foundations.
Coexistence, Cosmopolitanism and the City: Odessa
This project was led by Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge), the leading contemporary anthropologist of the former Soviet Union, whose books include The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies After Socialism (2002), and Karl Marx Collective: Economy, Society and Religion in a Siberian Collective Farm (1983). Her study of Odessa was conducted in cooperation with Vera Skvirskaya in Ukraine and in the United Kingdom, and was concerned with negotiations of difference as they are practised, spoken and thought, and with their consequences for a theoretical understanding of cosmopolitanism, as described in detail below. The project was undertaken in cooperation with another research project on multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic cities in the former Soviet Union, for which Professor Humphrey provided overall intellectual leadership, and in which another Centre for History and Economics research associate, Dr Magnus Marsden, was actively involved. This larger project began with a study of Bukhara, a city in which the intellectual traditions of eastern and western thought have been drawn together in a unique confluence of Greek, Chinese, Indian, Turkic, Persian, Arab and Slavic ideas and people. Professor Humphrey's own study of Odessa was concerned specifically with relations between Jewish, Orthodox and other communities. A report of the work to date was presented at the meeting in July 2006.