Tel Aviv University's Cohn Institute awarded new Minerva Center for the Humanities

December 30, 2008

Following a competition among the major centers of higher education in Israel, Tel Aviv University's Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas has been selected to establish the newest Minerva Center for the Humanities.

The highly sought-after award from the Minerva Foundation, a subsidiary of the acclaimed Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science in Germany, provides a grant, with a matching challenge, of 4 million euros (approximately $6 million) for five years, extendable for an additional five.

The new Minerva Center will create a home for three ambitious research programs that seek to transcend the borders of the academic world -- the embodiment of the Cohn Institute's intellectual credo throughout its distinguished 25-year history.

Ideas Have Power

Research at the Center will be guided by the idea that each of today's cultures has grown out of cross-fertilization and dialogue with other cultures. Teams will explore how knowledge is transmitted across cultures, and how it can be transplanted to create the atmosphere and intellectual tools to break through boundaries and overcome negative images and mutual ignorance.

"This is a worthy and exciting challenge for our top thinkers and scholars," says Bertram J. Cohn, the New York businessman, portfolio manager, and philanthropist who, with his wife, Barbara, endowed the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science in 1983.

"Ideas have the power to influence and shape history. This interdisciplinary research could, with luck and tenacity, set in motion a serious cross-cultural dialogue between Israeli and Arab intellectuals -- with the potential for historic change. The work could influence peace efforts in the region."

The Cohn Institute, directed by Prof. Leo Corry, established and continues to edit Science in Context, an international academic journal devoted to the study of the sciences from historical, philosophical and sociological viewpoints. Published by Cambridge University Press, it is widely acknowledged as one of the leading publications in its field.

A Three-pronged Exploration

The new Minerva Center's efforts to understand and activate knowledge will be driven by three teams. Prof. Rivkah Feldhay, a former director of the Cohn Institute who led its participation in the Minerva Foundation competition, will direct a research group on migration of knowledge. Her team will examine the intellectual legacy of early modernity in Europe and the Middle East as the product of movements of large groups of scholars carrying their manuscripts, books, linguistic expertise and bodies of knowledge along different trajectories of migration.

The Cohn Institute's Prof. Adi Ophir will continue and expand the work of an existing research group that studies key concepts in political thought in the framework of "Encyclopedia in the Making." Guided by the old philosophical question "What is X?" (e.g., what is a state, power, violence, family, class), the group will write original essays on key traditional and novel, even "bastard," concepts.

Dr. Raef Zreik, of the Faculty of Law at Haifa University, will lead comparative research on forms of political communities inspired by Moslem and Jewish traditions, as well as contemporary critical philosophy. By broadening the perspectives of recent debates between liberalism and its contemporary Western critics, this team will enrich the repertoire of available options for living together within a political community.

A Competition with a Unique International Connection

Named for a towering intellect of 20th century Germany, the Max Planck Society comprises nearly 80 research institutes and facilities, primarily on German soil. An independent, non-profit organization, its Institutes conduct original research to high scientific standards in both the sciences and the arts and humanities. Through international networks, these Institutes cooperate with leading research establishments and universities in Western Europe, Israel, the USA, Japan and China.

The Minerva Foundation, based at the Max Planck House in Munich, is dedicated to building bridges between Israel and Germany to facilitate the exchange of research and foster deeper cooperation in innovative and promising research areas. In addition to grants for fellowships and research programs, it has awarded funding for 39 Minerva Centers -- "centers of excellence" -- since 1977.

Tel Aviv University has been awarded four Minerva Centers previously -- the Minerva Institute for German History and Wiener Library, the Dead Sea Minerva Center, the Minerva Center on Cholesterol Gallstones and Lipid Metabolism in the Liver, and the Hermann Minkowski Minerva Center for Geometry. It is also a partner in three Minerva Centers housed at other Israeli universities.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University ( supports Israel's leading and most comprehensive center of higher learning. In independent rankings, TAU's innovations and discoveries are cited more often by the global scientific community than all but 20 other universities worldwide.

Internationally recognized for the scope and groundbreaking nature of its research programs, Tel Aviv University consistently produces work with profound implications for the future.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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