The Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University was founded by Professor Raphael J. Z. Werblowsky and the late Professor David Flusser in 1956 and was designed as a Graduate department within the Faculty of Humanities. Ever since, its aim has been to provide graduate students with knowledge of the major questions, concepts, methods and texts related to various religious systems, as well as to equip them with rigorous academic and philological methodologies for researching the historical and comparative aspects of religions.
The curriculum within the department offers courses in the general study of religion, religious phenomenology and hermeneutics, with particular emphasis on the in-depth reading of texts in their original languages. In order to promote an interdisciplinary approach to the study of religion, the students are encouraged to explore the philosophical, sociological, anthropological and psychological aspects of religion by linking with the relevant departments at the university. Consequently, the curriculum has been developed in consultation with other university departments.
Members of the faculty are active in teaching, research and supervision. Research has focused on specific areas, such as early Christianity and its relationship to Judaism, Gnosticism and Manichaeism, the religious tradition of Armenia, the phenomenology and structural analysis of religion, the religions of Asia– particularly those of India and Iran. Recently the department has included within its research and teaching foci also the study of Islam, in particular Islamic mysticism. In the last three years it has thus offered combined M.A. seminars highlighting various comparative topics in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The department offers M.A., in religious studies.
Current research topics of departmental members include the following:
Early trends in Christian literature, especially the New Testament and their relationship to Judaism
Jewish religious thought and literature in the Second Temple Period
Early Christianity, in particular in its relationship with Judaism
Gnosticism and Manichaeism
Greek and Latin literature and thought
Early Syriac Christian Exegesis and Literature
Monasticism and Christianity in the Holy Land in the Byzantine Period
The thought of the Greek and Latin Church Fathers and Byzantine Christianity
The dialectic of Asceticism and Mysticism in religious systems
The history and literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the history of the Ethiopian Jewish community
The modern study of religion and its history
Hindu mythology in Sanskrit and South Indian religious traditions