Theology in the ghetto

The Lutheran Church was in a difficult position in Soviet Latvia.

In his dissertation, Uģis Sildegs studies the development of Latvia’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church under communist Soviet rule. The research is based on the life, work and theological thinking of the Latvian Evangelical-Lutheran pastor Nikolajs Plãte (1915–1983).

Plãte was one of Latvia’s most well-known Evangelical-Lutheran theologians, and he worked in the church between 1944 and 1991.  

 “Under constant pressure from the Soviet regime after World War II, the work of the Lutheran Church in Soviet Latvia represented ‘otherness’, which the officials sought to marginalise and isolate into a separate corner of society. Membership in the Church went down, and the difficult conditions turned life into a daily struggle for survival,” Sildegs explains.

The Church became frozen in place and confined to a ghetto-like niche in society.

 “Nevertheless, Plãte tried to work as best he could under the pressure from the atheist religious officials in the parishes in which he served as pastor. He did regular spiritual work wherever it was possible,” the doctoral candidate states.

Plãte reacted to the challenge of working in an anti-religious environment by emphasising the widening chasm between Christianity and society. He wanted the church to retain its religious duties and to hold onto its biblical foundation.

 “Plãte thought that the totalitarian Soviet power could only be overthrown by trusting in the power of the word of God and in a reality that is outside human history. The concept of the supernatural power inherent in the word of God was the key to his dogmatic and theological thinking,” Sildegs states.

The study indicates that Plãte only began to see some stirrings of hope in the life of the Latvian Lutheran Church towards the end of his life in the early 1980s.


MTh Uģis Sildegs will defend his doctoral dissertation entitled “Theology in Ghetto. Nikolajs Plãte (1915–1983) - Pastor and Theologian of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Latvian SSR. Life, Work and Theology” on 20 May 2017 at 10.15 at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology.

The public defence will be held in Auditorium XII in the University’s Main Building, Unioninkatu 34.

The opponent will be Professor Emeritus Jouko Martikainen (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) and the custos, Professor Jouko Talonen from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology.

The dissertation abstract can be accessed through the e-thesis service.