The Siena Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies was founded in 1983, with an initial contribution from Charles and Thelma Buchman and their family. Rabbi Hayyim Kieval, then the Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel in Albany, was named as the Director.

When the Institute's bylaws were adopted in 1989, Peter Zaas, Ph.D. became the Institute Coordinator and budgetary officer. According to these bylaws, the Institute is located within the Department of Religious Studies of Siena College. After Rabbi Kieval's untimely death in 1991, Dr. Zaas became the Director and Rabbi Bernard Bloom, a longtime member of the Religious Studies department, became the Chair.

In October 1999 the Institute was renamed the Hayyim Kieval Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies. On the occasion of its 26th annual colloquium in 2010, soon after the death of Esther Kieval, the Institute acknowledged its debt to Mrs. Kieval by renaming itself the Hayyim and Esther Kieval Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies at Siena College. Upon Rabbi Bloom's retirement from Kieval Institute activities in 2011, Rabbi Rena Kieval became the Institute's third Chair.

An Advisory Board of Siena faculty, other area academics, clergy and community leaders advises the Institute on matters of policy and program.