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The Woolf Institute was founded by Dr Edward Kessler and Revd Professor Martin Forward in 1998. Their aim was to provide an academic framework and space in which people could tackle issues of religious difference constructively.

Beginning as the Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, the Institute 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 under the designation "Woolf Institute", in honour of Lord Harry Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

The Woolf Institute is a global leader in the academic study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Institute is recognised around the world for the excellence of its research, teaching, policy and public education programmes. The aim of our work is to connect 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. We strive, in our research and outreach, to 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 Asian and Middle East Studies 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.