09 December 2009

Laestadian-ism: Political theology and civil religion in secularizing Finland

The Academy of Finland's Research Council for Culture and Society has decided to fund a research project on political Laestadianism, "Laestadian-ism: Political Theology and Civil Religion in Secularizing Finland", led by Mika Luoma-aho (Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Lapland), to the tune of 375,000 Euro over the period 1 January 2010 through 31 December 2012.

Project description: "Laestadianism is the largest revivalist movement within the Finnish Lutheran Church. Our project aims to provide current, empirically oriented and theoretically innovative analysis of the political aspects of laestadianism. Laestadianism is a form of 'fundamentalism' that poses no challenge to other Christian denominations or religions, just as it does not in any way aim to subvert the establishment. Quite the contrary: Laestadians have long practiced their religion within the confines of the national Lutheran Church; they have traditionally taken an active role in civil society; and they continue to organize themselves politically through the Finnish parliamentary system. What we see in laestadianism is Finland's Christian Right: it embodies and represents much of what goes under Christian reaction in this country.

"Laestadianism is not a political movement in the conventional sense of the term: it does not have its own party or a political platform. Our project will make the political aspects of laestadianism discernible by approaching it from two conceptual angles. We will (I) politicize the history of Laestadian theology and (II) make explicit the politics of practicing the Laestadian religion today. This we will do (i) by approaching laestadianism as a tradition of political theology; and (ii) by framing laestadianism as a form of civil religion. Our hypothesis is that among the varieties and intensities of civil religion we may identify in Finnish politics today, laestadianism embodies its purest theological expression and most explicit political articulation.

"Laestadianism is important, because there are regions in this country, parties in its political system, where the role of the movement is noteworthy. It is also an interesting movement in itself, because while secular political life sees religion often in personal terms, there is a politically active and outspoken movement in this secular age that believes otherwise. The Laestadians believe that the state has a very specific theological meaning: it is government established by God and in its proper functioning his rule and reign are in stake [sic]. There is a sharp contrast between the world-views of laestadianism and that of the secular majority of 'Finns'.

"There is a desperate need for political research on the Laestadian movement. Our project will provide up-to-date information on its political history, religiously structured view of social life, and political significance in Finland today. This information is needed to overcome prejudice in society. Furthermore: we will use this information ourselves in contributing to current debates on the relationship between organized religion and the institution of the secular, national state."

The project already has a blog, "Laestadian-ism":


According to it, Laestadianism is "based on the heritage of a Sami botanist and preacher Lars Levi Laestadius" (1800-1861). "In our research we combine current theoretical literatures on political theology and civil religion with an empirically oriented approach to the movement in Finnish society. This weblog will be updated with current information on project events and public relations, commentary and analysis on issues touching the laestadian movement in Finland and elsewhere, as well as debates on political theology and civil religion in general".

Project contact: mika@luoma-aho.fi

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