The Jesus Project® (TJP) is a research initiative of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, the eldest of the research divisions of the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York.
The non-confessional study of religion has been a core activity of CFI and CSER since 1983, when "the critical study of religion from a scientific viewpoint" was identified as part of the remit of CFI's mission. The first conference on biblical studies was held at the University of Southern California in 1983 under the chairmanship of Professor Gerald Larue, professor emeritus of biblical archaeology. The first conference specifically devoted to Christian origins--"Jesus in History and Myth"--was held at the University of Michigan in 1985.
Between 1985 and 2000, CSER expanded its work in the study of religion substantially to include inquiry into Quranic studies, now reflected in the Inarah Project, sociological approaches to religion, religion and violence, and investigations in cognitive science. In 2007, at a conference at the University of California at Davis ("Scripture and Skepticism"), the formation of a new project to review previous "quests" for the historical Jesus was announced: The Jesus Project®.
TJP is both old and new. As a beneficiary of its history, it builds on the work of prior inquiry and acknowledges important advances in the reconstruction of Christian origins in the last two centuries. It is "new" in advocating a faith-free approach to the sources and greater attention to method than previous inquiries. TJP scholars--among the finest on the world-stage--recognize the status and influence of the New Testament as a resource for Christian believers. It is particularly because of that status and influence that the New Testament invites the scrutiny of scholars who can illuminate its background, trace the origins of the movement that brought the documents into existence, and reconstruct the story of its leading figure.
The Project is also new in opening this investigation to a much wider range of "experts": its scholar associates represent not only professionals in New Testament Studies, but specialists in the social sciences, including archaeology, legal history, intertestamental Judaism, educational studies, Near Eastern studies, philosophy and classics. The Project expresses the growing importance of interdisciplinary studies and the "interdependence of knowledge" in contemporary research. For that reason, TJP emphasizes its character as a scholarly collaboration, a voluntary association of scholar-teachers who believe in the power of conversation and correction.
The Project will meet, on average, every nine months at academic venues throughout North America and Europe. Its meetings are open to the public, and in all sessions there is opportunity for free and open discussion. CSER, and the TJP, have traditionally maintained that scholarship is a public business--not simply a colloquy of the well-informed--and should be of public benefit. TJP will conduct its business accordingly. Prometheus Books will publish the essays and papers presented at its meetings on a regular basis.
You are encouraged to support the Project. Contribute to the blogs and discussions. Come to our meetings. Ask questions of our scholars. Beyond this, no Project of this sort is self-sustaining; if you are able, please also support us with a donation or bequest by writing to:
The Jesus Project®
Center for Inquiry
3965 Rensch Road
Amherst, NY 14228