First Bar-Ilan graduation, 1959
Wengerovsky Center at Bar-Ilan University
Bar-Ilan Faculty of engineering
Psychology building in Bar-Ilan University
Bar-Ilan Faculty of Medicine
Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University
Centre for the study of philosophy ethics and Jewish thought
Bar-Ilan University has Jewish-American roots: It was conceived in Atlanta in a meeting of the American Mizrahi organization in 1950, and was founded by Professor Pinkhos Churgin, an American Orthodox rabbi and educator. When it was opened in 1955, it was described by The New York Times "as Cultural Link Between the [Israeli] Republic and America". The university was named for Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (originally Meir Berlin), a Religious Zionist leader who served as the inspiration for its establishment. Although he was trained in Orthodox seminaries in Berlin, he believed there was a need for an institution providing a dual curriculum of secular academic studies and religious Torah studies.
The founders of the university hoped to produce alumni committed to Jewish religious tradition, Zionist ideology, and science. In 1965, the professors and lecturers were all religious Jews, as were the majority of students. Yosef Burg, one of the prominent leaders of the religious Zionist movement, warned that admission of too many non-religious into the university could undermine its character: "If you spill too much water into a wine bottle, you will have no wine." Today, the student population includes secular and non-Jewish students, including Arabs. Seven courses in Jewish studies are required for graduation. In hiring senior academic staff, the university used to give preference to religious Jews, although this is no longer true, and the faculty includes many secular Jewish members, and also Arab faculty, such as Dr. Totry - Jubran Manal at the law faculty.
Bar-Ilan operates a kollel for men and a midrasha for women. The kollel offers traditional yeshiva studies with an emphasis on Talmud, while the midrasha offers courses in Torah and Jewish philosophy. These programs are open to all students free of charge.
Yitzhak Rabin's convicted assassin, Yigal Amir, was a student of law and computer science at Bar-Ilan, prompting charges that the university had become a hotbed of political extremism. One of the steps taken by the university following the assassination was to encourage dialogue between left-wing and right-wing students.
Under previous university president Moshe Kaveh, Bar-Ilan underwent a major expansion, with new buildings added on the northern side of the campus. New science programs have been introduced, including an multidisciplinary brain research center  and a center for nanotechnology. The university has placed archaeology as one of its priorities, and this includes excavations such as the Tell es-Safi/Gath archaeological excavations and the recently opened Bar-Ilan University/Weizmann Institute of Science joint program in Archaeological Sciences.
Bar-Ilan's Faculty of Law made headlines in 2008 by achieving the highest average Israeli Bar Exam grade of 81.9 by its graduates.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the university allowed 30 of Dr. Uri Weiss’ business to switch out of his course after they accused him of being an extreme leftist and said they didn’t want to study with him.
In 2016, the university became the center of controversy over women's rights. The university announced it would allow women to read passages of text and play musical instruments at its Holocaust Remembrance Day, but would bar women from singing in order not to offend Orthodox Jewish males. Other organizations, such as Ne'emanei Torah V'Avodah, protested that it is an Israeli custom to sing at national ceremonies, and that "extreme" Jewish religious law should not be imposed on the general public.