3 May 1963 |
Edward Kessler MBE (born 3 May 1963) is the founding director of The Woolf Institute. He is a thinker in interfaith relations, primarily contemporary Judaism, Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim Relations, and is a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.
Born in 1963, Kessler was educated at City of London School and graduated with a First-Class Honours Degree in Hebrew and Religious Studies from the University of Leeds in 1985, an MTS degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1987, and an MBS degree from the University of Stirling in 1989. He went on to work in a family business, Kesslers International Group, for 7 years before returning to his academic studies, completing a PhD degree at the University of Cambridge in 1999.
Kessler, with Martin Forward, founded the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations (CJCR) in 1998. In 2006 The Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations (CMJR) and the Centre for Policy Public Education were established  and the name of the organisation was changed to The Woolf Institute in 2010, and its focus was extended to the study of relations among and between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In 2006, he was awarded the Sternberg Interfaith Award from philanthropist Sir Sigmund Sternberg "in recognition of outstanding services in furthering relations between faiths". In June 2007 The Times Higher Education newspaper described him as "probably the most prolific interfaith figure in British academia". In 2011 he was awarded an MBE awarded for services to interfaith relations  Kessler has published 11 books, most recently, Jews, Christians and Muslims was published in 2013 by SCM. He is currently working on a book about Jesus which will be published in 2016 by The History Press.
Kessler now serves as Vice-Chair for the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, a two-year initiative that examines the role of religion and belief in British public life and is due to publish its findings in the autumn of 2015. Kessler sits on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Advisory group on Freedom of Religion and Belief and regularly teaches FCO staff on how and why religion can fundamentally affect policy.
Much of his work has been examining scripture and exploring the significance for Jewish-Christian relations of sharing a sacred text. He has identified a common exegetical tradition, especially in the formative centuries. More recently his writings have focussed on the encounter with Islam and contemporary relations between the three Abrahamic faiths and implications for fostering a vibrant and open society. Kessler proposes approaches for managing difference, which he argues is vital in forming a positive identity as well as sustaining communities. In his discussion on covenantal theology, he argues for the creation of ‘theological space’ in which people of faith can affirm one another without losing their particularities of faith.
In a lecture at the Brookings Institution in 2014, he argued that diplomats and policymakers need to be better trained in religion and belief and described the contemporary religious landscape as a post-interfaith world.
Books and edited volumes
1989 - An English Jew: The Life and Writings of Claude Montefiore, London: Vallentine Mitchell, (2nd Edition, 2002)
2002 - Jews and Christians in Conversation: crossing cultures and generations, eds., E. Kessler, JT Pawlikowski & J Banki, Cambridge: Orchard Academic
2004 - A Reader of Liberal Judaism: Israel Abrahams, Claude Montefiore, Israel Mattuck and Lily Montagu, London: Vallentine Mitchell
2004 - Aspects of Liberal Judaism: Essays in Honour of John D Rayner on the occasion of his 80th Birthday, eds., E. Kessler and D.J.Goldberg, London: Vallentine Mitchell
2004 - Bound by the Bible: Jews, Christians and the Sacrifice of Isaac, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
2004 - Themes in Jewish-Christian Relations, eds., E. Kessler & M.J. Wright, Cambridge: Orchard Academic
2005 - A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations, eds., E, Kessler & N. Wenborn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
2006 - Challenges in Jewish-Christian Relations, eds., J. Aitken & E. Kessler, New York: Paulist Press
2006 - What do Jews Believe? London and New York: Granta Publications
2010 - Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
2013 - Jews, Christians and Muslims, London: SCM
Other media and public presence
Kessler has delivered a number of public lectures including:
The 1st Hugo Gryn Memorial lecture, London (1998); The 30th Cardinal Bea Memorial Lecture, London (2000); The Shapiro Lecture, Chicago (2003); The Martin Buber Lecture, East Anglia University (2004); The Bishop Grossteste Lecture, Lincoln Cathedral (2005); The Kennedy lecture, North Carolina (2008); Ely Cathedral Lectures: 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. Changing Landscapes: A lecture on Jews, Christians and Muslims in the UK Today, University of Derby (2012)); The Abrahamic Religions: the prospects for their inter-relations, University of Edinburgh (2013); Religion and International Relations: towards a post-interfaith society, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. (2014)
- "Weekend birthdays", The Guardian, p. 53, 3 May 2014
- BBC Religion & Ethics biographies
- History of the Woolf Institute PDF
- Times Higher Education article on the new centre
- News summary announcing prize
- Times Higher Education article
- Jewish Chronicle Queen's Birthday Honours
- Should Pope Pius XII be canonised?
- European Association for Jewish Studies profile
- Ely Cathedral 2011 Lectures,The Bible and other Faiths Ely (2011)
- Woolf Institute Home Page
- Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life
- BBC Religion & Ethics biographies including of Edward Kessler
- Times Higher Education article
- European Association for Jewish Studies profile of Edward Kessler
- Archived articles by Edward Kessler in The Tablet
- Woolf Institute in the Press, including various articles by Edward Kessler
- Recent example of BBC Radio 4 broadcast, on the subject of the Pope and Holocaust denial