What are your research topics?
I study the interaction between religion and society, particularly the changing role of religion as a result of secularisation. At the moment, I am examining the relationship between religion and politics in the Finnish Parliament, or how politics is justified by religion – which is rare in Finland – as well as how the privileged status of certain religious groups is upheld politically and, at the same time, how other religious groups are labelled as politically problematic.
Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?
While secularisation is an indisputable phenomenon in contemporary society, religion has simultaneously once again become a bone of contention in the drawing of societal boundaries. For related debate, my research produces information on, for example, religious diversity and its effect on society and culture.
However, researchers must above all provide people with tools for understanding such complex phenomena as religion. For me, the key has been to draw attention to how in society our ways of thinking and acting are agreed upon mutually. These ways can be stated aloud or based on traditions, but it is important to understand that your thinking or action can always differ from such agreements.
What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?
The sociology of religion and the study of religion in a broader sense are a vibrant field that is evolving with the transformation of society and culture. Today, scholars of religion investigate a lot more than what are known as the traditional world religions. For example, irreligion and new spirituality are intriguing phenomena in whose exploration Finnish study of religion is world-class.
Religious studies is also a multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary field of research. This means that I am constantly learning new things, and I don’t have to be afraid of becoming set in my ways.
Titus Hjelm is Professor in the Study of Religions at the Faculty of Arts.