Researching Religion

by YPU Admin on May 7, 2013. Tags: Religion and Research


My name is Francesca Frazer and I am currently studying for a PhD in Jewish-Christian relations. I’ve always found studying religion fascinating as it’s a way of looking at the world through the eyes of others and understanding what motivates people to believe what they believe and do what they do. I’m especially interested in the relationship between Christians and Jews. They have a shared heritage – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament – and yet they’ve fought for centuries. Jewish-Christian relations is a massive area that has become especially important since the events of the Holocaust. Repairing such a fractured relationship has been difficult, but one man, an American rabbi called Samuel Sandmel (1911-1979), was a pioneer in this area and I have chosen to spend three years of my life researching his impact on the world of Jewish-Christian relations.

In Depth

I came across Samuel Sandmel’s many books when I was studying for my first degree in Religions and Theology and then in my Masters degree in Biblical Studies, both at the University of Manchester. I was impressed by his tolerance and his respectful explanations of beliefs which were different to his own, especially so soon after the atrocities of the Holocaust, and at a time when Jews were still being persecuted. At that time, universities were mainly Christian institutions and very few Jews were allowed to teach at them. Sandmel was one of the first Jews to undertake a PhD in New Testament studies and, even more rare, to become a Professor in this field. He wrote not only textbooks about the history of the troubled relationship between Christians and Jews, but also popular books in common-sense language, which could be easily understood by ordinary people of both faiths. He explained about the misconceptions each religion had about the other and showed how through looking at the beliefs of another, they could understand and appreciate not just their differences but also their similarities.

In order to assess how much influence he had on Jewish-Christian relations, I have to know everything about Sandmel. Researching someone’s life means really investigating every detail about them, not just what books and articles they published, but finding out their thoughts and actions. So, last year I went to the USA to an archive where his wife had donated all his personal handwritten diaries and letters he’d written to her and his children. I’ve spoken to one of his children and students that he taught to find out more about him. So, researching involves a lot more than just reading books!

The more people understand about other religions, the more tolerant they become and hopefully we can act to make sure attitudes like those perpetuated in the Holocaust are never allowed to happen again.

Because of this I also spend part of my time working for the International Council of Christians and Jews and coordinating the International Abrahamic Forum, which promotes Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. These two organisations are made up of thousands of members from 38 different countries. My job is to organise conferences and events where students, academics and religious leaders can all come together to learn about people from other faiths. It’s incredibly rewarding.

I also teach at the University and give talks about the study of religions to local schools and colleges. I’m passionate about improving understanding and therefore tolerance between religions, so after my PhD I will pursue a career in either interfaith work or teaching.

Going Further

To find out more about the relationship between Christians and Jews, you can become a member of the Council of Christians and Jews. You can also join the International Council of Christians and Jews and the International Abrahamic Forum, which promotes Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations. 

To find out more about academic study of Jewish-Christian relations, there is a really good website, called, which is full of all sorts of articles, news stories, book reviews, statements and other interesting information. 

The Brightside Trust provides information about studying for a degree in Religious Studies

If you want to know more about studying religion at the University of Manchester (I can highly recommend it!), have a look at our Centre for Jewish Studies and our Religions and Theology department webpage.

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