Alumni of the Month, June 2023

The June 2023 edition of the HCAS Alumni Gallery features Christine Helmer and Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen
Christine Helmer

I am the current holder of the Peter B. Ritzma Chair of Humanities at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois (USA), where I am Professor of German and Religious Studies. My relationship with the Helsinki Collegium began in 2012 when I was awarded the Marie Curie EURIAS (European Institutes of Advanced Study) fellowship for the academic year. Since then, I have had the privilege of serving on the Academic Advisory Board of Collegium. In 2017, I was awarded an honorary doctorate in theology from the Theology Faculty of the University of Helsinki.

My area of research and teaching is the theology of Christianity, primarily Protestant theology from the late fifteenth century to today. Theology, as I have come to understand it, is a practice of thinking with others about the fundamental questions humans ask about life on this planet. Histories in which persons think through these questions, communities that engage them, and even personal quests for transcendence are the subjects of theological inquiry. Theology thus moves between conceptual rigor and empirical plurality, navigating these differences to make sense of the reciprocal and dynamic relations between self, world, and God. At the Collegium I worked out a conceptual model that is central to a distinct Christian position funding a polarized view of Christianity. My book, Theology and the End of Doctrine (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), also proposed a way forward by offering some constructive theological claims about language, truth, and reality.

“Once a fellow, always a fellow.” This should be the Collegium’s motto, particularly in providing space and resources for fellows to generate interdisciplinary conversations. While at the Collegium I organized a seminar, “Beyond Deconstruction”, that focused on religion at the intersections of religious studies, theology, philosophy, and anthropology. Later, the Collegium generously hosted another international collaboration that I organized with colleagues in Finland on “Luther and Sex”. My time in Helsinki was also important for my son, Anthony, who spent a memorable year cultivating lifelong friendships and learning two new languages (German and Finnish) in grade 2 at the Helsinki German School.

Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen

I am Professor of Sociology at Tampere University, Finland.

I have been fortunate enough to work at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies twice. The first period, in 2005–2009, made it possible for me to lay the groundwork upon which to build an academic career. In principle, my project at HCAS was about insurance technologies and the history of welfare in Nordic countries. In practice, while I did work on that topic as well, the more important outcome was a book (in Finnish) on social science and materiality, Aineellinen yhteisö (Tutkijaliitto, 2008). Even more importantly, this period in my life was marked by the birth of our twins, five days before my period at HCAS began; consequently, while I profited intellectually from the best workplace of my life, I also profited from the flexibility this workplace afforded for a father of two very young children.

During my second period at HCAS, in 2012–2014, my main topic was again insurance and the financialization of welfare. This time, while I truly worked on what I had promised to, I again profited from an extra possibility that HCAS offers: studying inspiring texts with brilliant colleagues in loosely organised reading groups. I also served as the Deputy Director of HCAS in 2013–2014.

My present work draws on the intellectual foundations laid at HCAS. It centres on two different topic areas, one of which is insurance and the management of uncertainty, and the other the role of waste in the contemporary way of life. In addition, I have written extensively on social theory.