Nature between Science and Religion: Jewish Culture and the Natural World

Nature between Science and Religion: Jewish Culture and the Natural World 


During its 2017–2018 fellowship year, scholars at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies will ask new questions about the history of science, medicine and technology from the perspective of Jewish culture. This year will explore the theories, institutions, and paradigms that shaped how Jews have studied nature, and the ideas, applications, and cultural and religious consequences that emerged from such study.

Fellows will include scholars working on particular thinkers, texts or theories, as well as research projects that frame the subject in relation to Classical, Christian, Muslim, or secular approaches. This theme spans the entirety of Jewish history, and encompasses the history of science, the anthropology of science, philosophy, philology, and environmental studies, among other potentially relevant fields.

The Center embraces an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, seeking to better understand how Jews have understood, interacted with, or sought to intervene into nature. Potential fields of inquiry include: astrology, magic and other esoteric forms of knowledge; medieval and early modern natural philosophy; Zionism and its impact on scientific and medical practice; contemporary research in genetics; as well as mathematics and technology.

Central research questions include:

  • How have Jews conceived, studied, and talked about nature and the natural world in different historical periods?
  • In what ways has Jewish scientific engagement in nature been shaped by religious belief and practice? What is the relationship between science and Halakhah, or between science and Jewish religious thought?
  • What can be learned by reframing Jewish engagement in nature within a broader context? What insights can be gleaned by comparing Jewish scientific interest with Islamic, Christian, or modern secular science? To what extent has science or medicine served as a medium of interaction and exchange with non-Jewish communities?
  • What can one learn about Jewish engagement in science by attending to the practices and institutions of scientific culture (e.g., universities, medical schools) or by examining the social and discursive practices of science? How has Zionism shaped Jewish medical and scientific activity or vice versa?

Related Links:  Participating Fellows  |     |     |