Theology and religious studies take on societal challenges

The inaugural Research Conference in Theology and Religion will be held in Helsinki on 10 and 11 September 2020, with more than 200 scholarly presentations in a programme that offers a cross-section of the key questions in the fields. The conference is organised by the Finnish academic associations in theology and religious studies.

The conference, rescheduled from March to September due to the coronavirus situation, offers a unique overview of the current research in the fields. Societally topical questions in religion will be examined from a wide range of perspectives, employing different research methods and contents. Some changes have been made to the programme.

“The programme is truly inspiring. There will be something thought-provoking for everyone," says Professor Kati Tervo-Niemelä, chair of the organising committee from the University of Eastern Finland.

The conference will be held in the middle of exceptional circumstances. In addition to the physical location at the House of Sciences and Letters, the programme is also available in virtual form: all keynote speeches, work groups and discussions are streamed live via the Zoom remote meeting platform, through which all registered participants can attend the conference regardless of their location. These arrangements pose certain challenges, but remote connections also bring with them new tools and opportunities, and the time for testing and using them is now.

Visiting international top scholars

On Thursday, 10 September at 9.00, the programme of the Research Conference in Theology and Religion kicks off with a panel discussion on the good life in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed challenges to the everyday lives of people, their wellbeing, religiousness and morals, as well as religious operators in a range of ways. Through the prism of recent research, the discussion examines the effects and manifestations of the pandemic in people’s lives, everyday activities and religiousness. Topics discussed include mental wellbeing, communion practices adopted by churches during the crisis, changes brought about by telecommuting in everyday life and the related potential of compassion, as well as ethical questions highlighted by periods of change.

The international keynote speakers of the conference are Professor Elaine Graham (University of Chester, UK) and Professor Robert Orsi (Northwestern University, US).

Professor Graham’s research has focused on the public and political dimension of religions and religiousness. Among other things, she is interested in how religious commitment makes a difference in today’s world. Professor Orsi’s research focus is American Catholicism. He is also widely respected and distinguished for his work on the theory and methods of the study of religion.

Topics include both current issues and fundamental questions of religious studies

Over two days, more than 200 academic presentations will be given in the conference, including current topics that have elicited lively public discussion, such as religious communities and immigrants, Finnish Muslims, trends and themes of current Jewish studies, Catholicism, religion and gender issues, as well as worldview education and teacher training in a changing society. From among challenging topics, sexual abuse in religious communities will be discussed.

Specific fields of theology and religious studies are touched upon in presentations whose topics include church music, the theology of pastoral care, pastoral care in hospitals and pastoral theology, folk religions and contemporary spirituality, diaconal work and the social and economic challenges of society, Arctic Christianity, socio-cognitive and ritual studies approaches to religious studies, Islam and its interpretive tradition, religious conviction, as well as changing, joining and abandoning religions.

Additionally, overviews on the meanings of religion, theology and religious studies in relation to contemporary popular culture, the environmental crisis, emotions, ethics, artificial intelligence, humour, sports, as well as good and evil are on offer, not forgetting the relationship of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland with the Soviet Union and Russia, as well as the status of the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology in the middle of the upheavals of the 20th century.

Further information on the programme, schedule and registration (by 31 August at the latest) is available on the Research Conference in Theology and Religion website.

Follow the discussion on Twitter: #tutp2020


The Research Conference in Theology and Religion is organised by the Finnish Theological Literature Society, the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion, the Finnish Journal of Theology, the Luther-Agricola Society, the Finnish Exegetical Society, the Finnish Society of Church History, the Finnish Association for Research on Diaconia, the Finnish Patristic Society, the International Society for Orthodox Church Music, the Finnish Society for Hymnology and Liturgy and the Karelian Theological Society.


Programme drawn up by the academic associations of theology and religious studies

Professor Kati Tervo-Niemelä, chair of the organising committee for the Research Conference in Theology and Religion, is happy with the final event programme. She believes the content aptly demonstrates the topicality and importance of the research currently being conducted in the fields of theology and religious studies.

To anyone interested, the conference provides a good opportunity to network and meet other researchers.

“Our hope is that the two days will also break down traditional boundaries between disciplines and encourage scholars to conduct even more cross-disciplinary collaboration. I expect pleasant moments spent with colleagues and new insights in research. Amid the hectic pace of everyday life, you have much too little time to read articles not connected to your own specific niche. I’m hoping that the conference programme will go some way to fixing this omission.”

As for the organising, Tervo-Niemelä finds the experience a success.

“All of the contributors have had an unreservedly positive attitude to the effort. It’s been great to have the academic associations cooperate for the sake of a shared matter important to all of us.

“The only problem is what to attend, as there are so many interesting sessions on offer that I’d love to see. I believe many guests will have the same problem,” Tervo-Niemelä chuckles.


The Research Conference in Theology and Religion will be held in Helsinki on 10 and 1 September 2020. We hope to see you there! Please register here by 31 August.