The Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters (CSoC)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


Religion has been and remains a predominant aspect of human experience and social practice, nation formation and factionalism, international relations, global security, spirituality, and artistic expression. Ignorance of the religious belief and history of others is a major cause of strife and violence in our world. Understanding the role of religion in changing historical, cultural, and material contexts is an intellectual challenge that demands collaborative interdisciplinary research.


CSoC creates the opportunity for such research by bringing together faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students into a vibrant and devoted community of scholars. It promotes creative academic scholarship and public discussion about the three Abrahamic religions and relations between them at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and impacts the field worldwide. It is the only forum dedicated to the study of religion at BGU, and the only center of its kind in Israeli academia.


CSoC was founded by Prof. Haim Hames in 2012 as an inter-university I-CORE (Israeli Centers of Research Excellence) project. In 2018, CSoC became a BGU center in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Each academic year highlights a particular theme within the study of religion. The Center supports a cohort of promising younger fellows – outstanding postdocs and Ph.D. candidates – whose research relates to this theme. The center holds weekly seminars and reading groups, multiple book events, international workshops, and field trips. It has invited guest-lectures and research fellows from leading universities worldwide. Within BGU, the center's seminars and conferences serve as a hub for the many scholars and graduate students who are interested in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and continues to draw in former-fellows, scholars from other institutions and guests. The center is proud to have nurtured 20 postdoctoral Israeli and international fellows and 10 PhD candidates, not only with stipends, but also with an intellectually stimulating atmosphere and opportunities for academic entrepreneurship and international collaborations. Some of our fellows have already achieved tenure track positions (Hebrew U, BGU), fellowships in prestigious post-doctoral programs (at Harvard, Yale and Penn.), nominations for prestigious awards and the publication of articles and monographs in leading academic presses.


In 2020-2021, CSoC's seminars were devoted to Materiality in the three Abrahamic Religions. Due to Covid constraints, most meetings were held on Zoom, an arrangement that enabled the invitation of world-renowned scholars from afar and the participation of wider audiences. The Center hosted two successful international virtual conferences, in collaboration with the Department of Middle East Studies at BGU and with the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University, and six international book launches.


The theme of 2021-2022 was Rethinking Center and Periphery. We had a wonderful group of 5 postdocs and 2 PhD candidates who met each week for lively seminars and discussions. The year's program was mainly in-person, with a few Zoom and hybrid meetings with international scholars. That year's program also included a conference on Gerim and Giyyur (conversion to Judaism) with the CNRS (in Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem), a workshop with the Abrahamic Seminar at Oxford University (in Lady Margaret Hall), the hosting of the annual conference of the Israeli Society for the Study of Religions, and four book launches. We have added to our program outreach to the community via a series of podcasts, an exchange of Zoom lectures with Doshisha University in Kyoto, and an exchange of visits of faculty and PhD candidates with Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.

​Religion and the Natural Environment was our theme for 2022-2023, and the title of our weekly seminars and international workshop, which took place in mid-January 2023. We had 6 guest lecturers from abroad and 8 from Israel, dealing with multiple scholarly perspectives of this important and fraught relationship, and with activism in the field. CSoC continued the fruitful exchange of visiting scholars and PhD students with Gutenberg University of Mainz Research Training Group “Byzantium and the Euromediterranean Cultures of War," and exchange of Zoom lectures with friends at Fordham University.

In the 2023-2024 academic year, we studied the topic of Religion and Politics, had bimonthly seminars with guest lectures and bimonthly reading groups that our fellows arranged for themselves. This year will also include an annual site visit, two book events, 1 conference and activities to the general public (lectures for Amcha and a new podcast season).

Trauma and Coping with Trauma in World Religions will be CSoC's annual research theme for the 2024-2025 academic year.

For all CSoC activities, see: