Woolf Institute

The Woolf Institute at 25 – Toward an Inclusive, Diverse, Compassionate World

In 1998, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, President Clinton was heading for impeachment, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, and water was found on the moon. General Pinochet was indicted for human rights violations, Khmer-Rouge leaders finally apologized for the genocide of a million people in Cambodia and, in Qamishli, Syria, the last native speaker of Mlahso, Ibrahim Hanna, died, making the language effectively extinct.

Against this backdrop of change and turbulence, Ed Kessler MBE and Revd Prof Martin Forward founded an academic institute where people could tackle the questions of religious difference constructively and in a safe environment. The result was the Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, which later expanded to include the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations – the first and only centre in Europe dedicated to fostering a better understanding of relations between Muslim and Jews – and the Centre for Policy and Public Education. In 2010, these Centres were amalgamated and became the Woolf Institute, in honor of Harry, Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

The Woolf Institute today is a global leader in the academic study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims, recognized around the world for the excellence of its research, teaching, policy and public education programs. The Institute connects the multidisciplinary study of relations with broader practical and theoretical questions, including the importance of trust in everyday life, the role of religion in international diplomacy, and improving end of life care in local hospices. The resulting research and outreach demonstrate how greater understanding of commonality and difference can inform and enhance the wider public good.

Since 2013, the Woolf Institute, in collaboration with the Cambridge Commonwealth European and International Trust, has offered the Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship for MPhil and PhD scholars and contributed to teaching the MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies: Muslim-Jewish Relations at the University of Cambridge. The Woolf Institute also brings its expertise to a global audience by offering a range of online courses which address the relationship between religion and society. The very popular Summer School program has run since 2019 and attracts students from around the world.

Results of this profound work are communicated in teaching and public engagement programmes as well as policy recommendations, with a goal to always dispel false narratives and break down barriers between communities.

What’s next?  Until societies are truly inclusive, multicultural and multi-religious and cultural and religious diversity is not a source of division and conflict but of cohesion and solidarity, the Woolf Institute will continue to delve into these issues and broaden its reach to create a society of inclusion, forgiveness, and compassion. 

The Institute hosts programmes and series about their research and work across a myriad of platforms including a blog, podcasts, and videos.  Click here to learn more. 

Philanthropy is a crucial part of the support on which the Institute depends.  You can learn more about supporting the Institute here. If you pay taxes in the United States, you can make a gift here, or contact Cambridge in America at giving@cantab.org to discuss a gift or a legacy.