The Work of the Institute
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.
What Researchers are saying about the James Project
The JAMES project is not only valuable in itself but also as a model of collaborative research among specialists in a common project. The idea of the Institute, realized in this project, and the management of the Institute to date have shown how humanities research can benefit from joint enterprises in the way that natural scientists work together: many experts sharing ideas and knowledge and criticism. For the larger enterprise of systematic philosophical study of religion such as theology undertakes, we stand at the elementary stages of a new field of academic learning, and it is the adventure of founding something fresh and important that has drawn me to Bard as well. This is just one sign of what the Institute can achieve in academic learning.
—Jacob Neusner, Research Professor of Religion and Theology, Bard College
The consultation on James, chaired by Bruce Chilton, is very important because it has recognized the importance of James as a representative of early Jewish Christianity, bridging the gap between Jesus and the forms of Christianity best known to us in the New Testament. Through a study of James, the characteristics of a form of Jewish Christianity becomes visible in the New Testament and this relates to other forms of Judaism known to us in other sources. James, also, relates to other forms of Christianity. The consultation has concentrated on the relationship to Peter and now turns its attention to the relationship to Paul. According to Galatians 2, James, the brother of Jesus, Peter (Cephas) and John were the pillars of the Jerusalem church and as such played roles of great importance in the life of earliest Christianity. Towering over the other two was James, and even Paul does not escape from the shadow of James. The consultation has ensured that earliest Christianity is viewed from the perspective of Jewish sources which is fundamental for a sound study of Christian beginnings. The group of scholars who form part of this collaboration provide a scholarly base capable of work that no single scholar is in a position to achieve. Such a collaborative work deserves the strongest possible support.
—John Painter, Professor of New Testaments
Peter H. Davids, Ph.D.
There are some areas of biblical studies that have been neglected by the scholarly community at large. While there are stacks of books on Paul and the various gospels, there is only a much more limited literature on the lesser-known characters of the first century, and especially those who are more identified with Jewish-Christianity, especially James. Indeed, even the Epistle of James is getting little coverage in the Society of Biblical Literature. In contrast, this series of consultations have put time, energy and money into looking where others have not been looking. It is not only a contribution to a neglected area of scholarship, but by looking at people who certainly viewed themselves as Jewish it is contributing to better understand of the roots of what is now two different faiths. In doing this, and in the creativity of the interchange, this project is unique in my experience in biblical scholarship.
—Peter H. Davids, Ph.D., Director, Schloss Mittersill Center, Innsbruck, Austria