Migrating Knowledge

Migrating Knowledge

The approach of the Migrating Knowledge research group is grounded in the belief that communication, translation, cross-cultural encounters, and diffusion play a vital role in the construction of knowledge. Moreover, it presupposes that ideas are not ‘bodiless’ and do not exist in abstract space. Ideas are embedded in texts, objects, diagrams, instruments, and various kinds of equations and images. This point of view also presumes that, of their very nature, ideas are connected to people – producers, carriers, transmitters, audiences – who in turn belong to a particular discipline, profession, intellectual current, social class, religion, or nationality.

Reflection about knowledge from the perspective of its ‘migrant’ nature brings to the fore many questions: What is it that is transferred in the course of migration? (Problems, ideas, objects, discourses, techniques, models, institutions, technologies or contexts?) How do individual or group identities shape the migration of knowledge and how are they themselves shaped by the migration of the knowledge that accompanies them? How does the migration of knowledge modify the boundaries of disciplines or fields of knowledge, or – taking a broader view – of the globus intellectualis? And how is authoritative knowledge formed in the process of migration from one context to another?

On a different level, the examination of knowledge in motion raises new questions concerning the nature and meaning of the process of migration: Does migration signify a reproduction, an appropriation, a localization, or a naturalization? Are there any features common to migration in time and space that can form a basis for conceptualizing knowledge in different disciplines? What are the limits of the transformation that takes place by way of migration: at what point does the transformation end and something new or different emerge?

The Migrating Knowledge project seeks to unravel the epistemological implications of this migration and to chart the political, social, and religious implications of the movement of knowledge. As a starting point for our discussion, the group focuses on an array of case-studies drawn from the history of the early modern era in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia (China and Japan). Through a critical-historical examination, the group strives to reexamine the intellectual heritage of the early modern era as a product of the migration of scholars, ideas, manuscripts, instruments, and linguistic expertise. The group’s work focuses on the forging of historical narratives about science, nationalism, and liberal thought, as well as about processes of secularization.

The project comprises several distinct research groups:

A research group on Migrating knowledge in the eastern Mediterranean basin during the late medieval and early modern periods, led by Professor Tzvi Langermann. The group focuses on the transmission and transformation of scientific and other types of knowledge along the axis running from Venice to Constantinople, mostly during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. This chapter in the migration of knowledge is of particular interest given that both parties, seated on opposite sides of the Muslim-Christian divide, were eager to learn about the developments taking place on the opposite side, and because forced migrations of highly educated populations – Greek refugees moving to Italy in the wake of the Ottoman conquests, and Jewish and Muslim deportees forced to move from the Iberian peninsula to Italy and the Ottoman realms – fostered far-reaching exchanges of knowledge.

A research group on Renaissance Humanism, led by Dr. Hanan Yoran. In many respects, the Humanism of the Renaissance can be regarded as a rampaging of the existing cultural order. Intellectually, the Humanists rejected the metaphysical assumptions of medieval philosophy, developing original historical, political, and ethical languages as well as new practices of spirituality and new techniques for shaping the self. Socially, humanist professional identity was not bound to a single institution or occupation (like the medieval university, for instance) and most Humanists were geographically and professionally mobile in their search for patrons. The purpose of this research group is to examine the links between the innovative aspects of the Humanist discourse on the one hand and the fragile social identity of the Humanists on the other. From this perspective special attention is given to examining the ways in which the Humanists reinterpreted the classical literary heritage and incorporated it into their own discourse.

A research group on the transfers of knowledge and generation of new ideas in Galileo’s physics, led by Dr. Ido Yavetz. The group studies the manner in which Galileo confronted two different traditions – the Aristotelian dynamics, on the one hand, and the Archemedean statics on the other – to form, from and against them, his physics of motion. The group also examines the responses of Jesuit scientists to Galileo’s work and his own attitudes toward the research of his contemporaries, casting light on the vibrant exchanges of knowledge that occurred in the field of science between different conceptions (some opposite, some complimentary) – all this in the short span of a few decades in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A research group on the migration of knowledge into and within East Asia (i.e. China and Japan) during the second Millennium AD, led by Dr. Asaf Goldschmidt. The group focuses on a number of separate though parallel instances of transmission of scientific and medical knowledge from the Western world into East Asia, and of the transmission of such knowledge among East Asian cultures, primarily between China and Japan. The timeframe of the analysis spans from the period of the Song Dynasty (960-1276) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The group also examines temporal transmission of knowledge within the Chinese and the Japanese context, which resembles to some extent the transmission of ancient Greek knowledge back to Europe via the Muslim world. This aspect of the group’s work centers on the reevaluation and reintegration of ancient knowledge that was newly presented, and of its integration or rejection as a result of this renewed presentation. The analysis of the migration of knowledge focuses on the social-cultural context in which agents of transmission from both sides – the transmitting side, and the receiving one – operated.

A research group on Therapy in Translation: Knowledge, Culture and Politics, led by Professor Jose Brunner and Dr. Galia Plotkin Amrami. This group explores a variety of ways in which therapeutic discourses originating and developing in the Western private world of the clinical are appropriated to interpret and conceptualize collective processes and events taking place in the public arena of Western and non-Western cultures. In order to inquire into the manifold forms of translation by which concepts are transposed from the realm of the clinical to the broader social sphere, we focus on the transformational processes in which professional therapeutic models and categories are given a new life, as well as on the purposes they serve in other contexts. We consider such processes, which we put under the general metaphorical heading of “translation”, to be interpretive, interactive and creative, for rather than reproducing pre-existing patterns in a new cultural environment, such translations generate new meanings and re-shape socio-cultural hierarchies.

The Future of the Humanities research group, led by Prof. Rivka Feldhay, Gal Hertz and Nave Frumer, deals with a reflection on the content and methodologies of the humanities, and to a large extent the social sciences, in their broad sense as “the sciences of man” or “the sciences of critique.” The group examines the academic institutionalization of these fields, as well as their position vis-à-vis the political, economic, and cultural spheres in various periods. Looking to the past, the group conducts a genealogical study of the formation of the disciplinary structure of the modern university, and the various problematics that characterized the humanities both within and outside it. In the present dimension, it examines the humanities in light of the neoliberal climate that tends to narrow the cultural position and critical significance of these fields. Finally, it offers a future perspective of examining ideas for modifying the institutional structures of humanistic knowledge in particular and academic knowledge more generally. The project also operates as a research group under the auspice of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and in collaboration with colleagues from Goethe University Frankfurt.

The “Metamorphoses: Experience, Representation and Performance between Renaissance, Baroque and Enlightened Europe” research group, led by Prof. Rivka Feldhay, aims to provide a conceptual and historical framework in which to investigate Baroque sciences and arts in association with each other within their proper context: namely, the emergence of sovereignty and subjectivity that challenged accepted scientific and artistic norms but were instrumental in the attempt to cope with the socio-political crisis of the Baroque. In the long run, such investigation of Baroque may lead to a re-reading of the grand narrative of the origins of modernity in terms of a series of “metamorphoses” from the Renaissance of the 16th century, through the crisis of the 17th century, and up to the Enlightenment. Such “metamorphoses” represent the peculiar historical avenues through which knowledge in the sciences and in the arts migrated in early modern Europe, modifying the identities of its carriers and giving birth to new cultural forms.

A research group on Modernity and its Critics in the Middle East: Reception of and Resistance to Enlightenment under Colonialism, led by Prof. Israel Gershoni. The group of Middle Eastern scholars examines the modes and ways by which European enlightenment and its norms and values were transferred into and received/resisted by Arab Middle Eastern societies and cultures. The group focuses on the processes of cultural translations and domestications of ideas and practices of enlightenment and modernity to local Arab environments. This will be analyzed in the context of colonial and post-colonial conditions.

The “Tradition: Canon, Transmission and Critique” research group, led by Dr. Vered Sakal and Dr. Lina Barouch, will be devoted to exploring the idea of tradition – from a general theoretical perspective and via its concrete implementation in the examination of, for example, religious, artistic or scientific traditions. Participants in the group will be drawn from a wide range of disciplines. The group will convene for joint reading and learning sessions, it will hold two colloquia, and grant participants the possibility of contributing towards an essay collection concluding the project.

Academic Director:
Prof. Rivka Feldhay