FIU partners with Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on 3-year collaborative research project

Florida International University and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute (VLJI) in Israel have launched a joint project to determine the impact that Jews engaged in "New Age" spiritual practices has on mainstream Jewish religious life in North America and Israel.

Prof. Nathan Katz of FIU and Prof. Boaz Huss of Ben Gurion University of the Negev will co-direct the research and publication project titled, “Contemporary Spiritualities and the New Faces of Judaism in Israel and North America,” to involve five Israeli and five North American scholars.

A preliminary planning session by American, Canadian and Israeli scholars was held June 24-25 at Van Leer’s Jerusalem headquarters. The outcome was so successful that Van Leer director Dr. Gabriel Motzkin immediately approved the development of the proposed project. Van Leer’s support is on a matching basis, with additional funds to come from American sources.

The North American team will convene in early 2015 at FIU, while the Israeli team will meet later at Van Leer. Both teams will share the outcomes of those meetings and continue their collaborative efforts through electronic communication. The result of the interdisciplinary project will be a large-scale public program in Jerusalem the summer of 2017, bringing together the entire research team. Another outcome will be an academic book detailing the team’s research.

The American team includes Katz, Yakov Ariel of UNC-Chapel Hill, Shaul Magid of Indian Univ., Celia Rothenberg of Macmaster, and Alan Brill of Seton Hall U. The Israeli team includes Huss, Adam Klim-Oron of Zefat Academic College, Rachel Werczberger of BenGurion Univ., and two others.

“In the context of the recent Pew report on American Jewish life,” Katz said, “the so-called ‘JuBu’ and ‘HinJew’ phenomena of Jews engaged in the practices of contemporary spiritualities, while still affirming their Jewish identity, is crucial for understanding the diversity that makes up Jewish life today. At the same time, the burgeoning popularity of yoga, alternate healing modalities, and mindfulness in Israel also demand our attention.”

A significant source of these movements in Israel is the experience of the young Israelis, thousands of whom have spent a year after military service travelling in India where they become familiar with Eastern spiritual techniques. Returning home, many continue these practices, either independently or integrated into Jewish religious life.

To date, there has been scant scholarly attention as to how the burgeoning popularity of New Age spirituality, practiced by Jews across the religious movement spectrum, has impacted contemporary Jewish life. Katz says the team’s research – to assess how Israeli society and the American Jewish community response to these “alternative” practices and their integration into mainstream Jewish worship – may yield important results, from how the Israeli and North American Jewish community respond to these movements, to whether these merged practices will continue or boundaries will be imposed, to how Israeli religious institutions (governmental or otherwise) adapt to these new "facts on the ground."

The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute is a leading intellectual center for the interdisciplinary study and discussion of issues related to philosophy, society, culture and education. It is one of the leading think-tanks in Israel.

FIU is the public research university in Miami, currently enrolling more than 53,000 students in a wide range of baccalaureate, masters and doctoral programs.

For more information about the project, contact Prof. Nathan Katz at