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The Institute’s mission is to illuminate crucial points of intersection among the world’s religious traditions in order to promote a deeper understanding of both their commonality and diversity. The Institute’s special interest is the first hundred years of the Common Era, in which the seeds of mistrust and intolerance that have plagued Jewish-Christian relations through the centuries were planted. The Institute’s aims are to bring factual evidence and critical analysis to the fore, resulting in a better understanding of New Testament and biblical history; to foster a new spirit of tolerance and cooperation; to improve the quality of religious scholarship and practice through a historically based interdisciplinary program of research, education, and public outreach; to achieve a deeper understanding of the origins of Christianity, from its roots in Judaism; and to develop the potential for collaborative scholarship, bringing together religious leaders, believers, and those who are simply curious, in a shared enterprise of enlightened learning.

The Institute of Advanced Theology was established to foster critical understanding, based in scholarship, that will make true religious pluralism possible. Bard College, a private liberal arts college noted for its progressive traditions and innovation in higher education, has undertaken to support the Institute’s residential and academic development.

The Institute is not interested in making general assertions of the necessity for religious tolerance; well-meaning and useful though such imperatives are, they do not address the heart of the challenge of religious diversity. To promote genuine dialogue, people must be enticed by hope in the possibility of sympathetic acceptance of each other’s views and the common threads within them. Such an open dialogue needs to be supported by serious reading, learning, and thinking–for neither the mystery itself nor the evidence is easy.

Since its inception in 1996, the Institute’s work has focused on how religions influence history, society, one another, and are in turn influenced by them. Institute scholars refine the newest critical research methods to pursue a comparative approach to the study of religion. The Institute’s recent scholarship on James, the brother of Jesus, has sought to develop a common language of comparison between early Jewish Christianity and Judaism. The faculty and resident fellows of the Institute are continuing these research comparisons with Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

John Bard Hall, church and schoolhouse for local neighborhood (1852); and Chapel of the Holy Innocents (1857). Gifts of John Bard, founder of St. Stephen’s College. Photo by Tania Barricklo.