Introduction

The CIERL is at the forefront of the research in humanities and social sciences in Belgium because of its level of expertise, to which the label given by the “National Fund for Scientific Research” (FNRS) attests, and because of the number and of the quality of its researchers and professors.
Having 80 high-level researchers (among whom 23 professors and contract researchers) at its disposal, the CIERL regularly organizes conferences and international congresses and publishes an internationally renowned periodical (« Problèmes d’Histoire des Religions »), as well as the « Spiritualités et Pensées Libres » series edited by the University of Brussels. The CIERL brings together researchers of the Université Libre de Bruxelles who are interested in religions and free thought. The interdisciplinary approach enables philologists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, art historians, ethnologists … to work together. Being a place for basic and applied science, for expertise and thinking, the CIERL is intended to be close to social decision-makers. It acts – partly thanks to the abundant documentation collected for more than twenty years - as an “observatory” watching the contemporary religious fact and the relations between State and Religions.

The aim is the scientific study of the religious phenomenon and of secularism in all their dimensions, - ideological, conceptual, historical, social, political. It covers in a broad way all manifestations of religious phenomenon’s and of spiritual movements, were they contemporary or traditional, intellectual or popular. As a federating and interdisciplinary unit, the CIERL makes the link between different methodologies, varied perspectives and numerous horizons, thus encouraging comparative studies and applying its curiosity to most varied historical territories, cultural areas and linguistic domains. It aims at promoting researches that make traditional disciplines cross. The research activities of the CIERL benefit from the experience of researchers and professors who are amongst the most competent at the religious field in Belgium and also from the infrastructures and the expertise of the largest Belgian research centre which is internationally renowned (for being, among others, the coordinator of a European network of excellence) in the field of the study of religions and secularism. The CIERL at last is acknowledged by the FNRS as being one of the ten French-Speaking laboratories of excellence for humanities in Belgium.

The CIERL is closely linked as a convention to two institutions which have the Faculty of Theology status : the “Institut d’Etudes du Judaïsme” situated in the same building and the “Faculté de Théologie protestante”. Part of their course programmes is integrated into the CIERL programme.
As an observatory watching the relations between State and Religions in Belgium, the CIERL has been carrying on with researches on this subject for more than twenty years, doing it in the European context, as is testified by the numerous publications of Hervé Hasquin and of his collaborators concerning this subject. At the present time, the CIERL has two research projects in progress on the financing of cults and the teaching of non confessional moral at public schools. Its course programme and its researches integrate laicism – in the philosophical and the political sense – as subject of studies. At last the CIERL has been favouring researches on Islam for several years. It has notably issued, at the request of the public powers, an official report on the training of teachers of Islamic religion and has been endowed with an important financing for a vast research project called The religion of the other. Reading and interpreting the religious difference in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, from Late Antiquity to our days.

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