Angela Merkel, Sauli Niinistö and Irja Askola to receive honorary doctorates from the University of Helsinki

The University of Helsinki will arrange three conferment ceremonies during spring 2017 to celebrate the centenary of Finland’s independence as well as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The conferment ceremony for doctoral degrees from the Faculty of Theology and the Faculty of Law as well as the conferment ceremony for Master’s and doctoral degrees from the Faculty of Philosophy will all be held within one month. More than 20 distinguished figures with merits in science, culture and social activities will be conferred as honorary doctors in this spring’s conferment ceremonies. All honorary doctorates will be announced at an event jointly organised by the faculties holding conferment ceremonies this spring.

Honorary doctors of the Faculty of Philosophy

The Faculty of Philosophy will confer honorary doctorates on 13 distinguished persons from culture and society from around the world, representing the different disciplines of the Faculty. The Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki includes the Faculties of Arts, Science, Biological and Environmental Sciences, Educational Sciences, and Pharmacy.

The joint honorary doctorates from the Faculty of Philosophy will be conferred on Touko Siltala, CEO of Siltala Publishing Ltd and a University of Helsinki alumnus, as well as on Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will accept the honorary doctorate in absentia.

Honorary doctorates in the arts will be conferred on Peggy Levitt, professor of sociology at Wellesley College and Harvard University and a top researcher of transnational migration; Jens E. Olesen, professor of Scandinavian and Finnish history at the University of Greifswald; and Professor Emerita Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, pioneer in interactional linguistics.

Honorary doctorates in science will be conferred on Fields Medallist Stanislav Smirnov, professor of mathematics at the University of Geneva; geoscientist Tom H. Andersen, pioneer of isotope geochemical analysis and professor of geochemistry at the University of Oslo; and Peter H. McMurry, University of Minnesota professor of mechanical engineering and behind-the-scenes supporter of Finnish aerosol research.

Honorary doctorates in behavioural sciences will be conferred on endocrinologist Jonathan R. Seckl, professor of molecular medicine at the University of Edinburgh and promoter of multidisciplinary fetus research, as well as Barbara Schneider, professor of education at Michigan State University, a scholar of improving the quality of teaching and learning in the natural sciences.

Honorary doctorates in the biological and environmental sciences will be conferred on theoretical ecology pioneer Robert D. Holt, professor of ecology at the University of Florida; Helen Saibil, professor of structural biology at Birkbeck College, University of London; and Barry J. Hoffer, professor of neuropharmacology at Case Western Reserve University, who has studied the significance of the brain’s dopamine system to the neurobiology of addiction and Parkinson’s disease.

Read more about the honorary doctors of the Faculty of Philosophy:

Watch a video of honorary doctor Barbara Schneider.

Honorary doctorates at the Faculty of Law

The tradition of doctoral conferment ceremonies at the Faculty of Law began in 1660 when the Royal Academy of Turku conferred doctorates on two scholars. As the conferment tradition has not continued uninterrupted, the Faculty of Law is now organising its tenth solemn doctoral conferment ceremony.

The Faculty of Law will confer honorary doctorates on Anne Orford, professor of international law; Justice of the Supreme Court Gustaf Möller; Hans-W. Micklitz, professor of European private and consumer law; President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö; Director General Tiina Astola from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Justice & Consumers; and Ulf Bernitz, professor of European law.

Read more about the honorary doctors of the Faculty of Law:

Watch a video of honorary doctor Tiina Astola.

Honorary doctors of the Faculty of Theology

At the conferment ceremony, the Faculty of Theology will confer honorary doctorates on seven distinguished people from various theological research areas, fields of culture and society from all over the world.

The new honorary doctors include Bishop of Helsinki Irja Askola, a fearless social force; Christine Helmer, an internationally recognised Luther scholar and professor of religious studies at Northwestern University; Kim Knott, an esteemed methodologist in religious studies and professor of religious studies at Lancaster University; Professor Hartmut Lehmann, an award-winning historian and church historian; Professor Christoph Levin, who studies the creation of Old Testament texts; Monsignore Vello Salo, Estonian WWII veteran who fought in Finland and professor emeritus of Old Testament studies and Estonian literature; and Friedrich Schweitzer, professor of religious education at the University of Tübingen, who studies religious education in a multicultural world.

Read more about the honorary doctors of the Faculty of Theology:

Watch a video of hononary doctor Irja Askola.

Conferment history

Conferment ceremonies have been organised in Finland since 1643, when the first conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy was held at the Royal Academy of Turku. The tradition has continued in Finnish universities unbroken to this very day. Traditionally, honorary doctorates are granted in conjunction with the conferment of degrees, as the highest recognition the University can offer. Through the honorary doctorates, faculties wish to recognise professors and significant social and cultural figures with exceptional merits in their field on an international scale. The honorary doctors have made significant contributions in their fields towards national and international development, and have often been involved in long-term cooperation with the University of Helsinki. In the past, the University of Helsinki has conferred honorary doctorates on presidents Urho Kekkonen, Mauno Koivisto, Martti Ahtisaari and Tarja Halonen as well as several significant Finnish artists, including Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Jean Sibelius and Soile Isokoski.

Of all Finnish academic festivities, the conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy has the longest tradition. The Faculty’s 97th Master’s and doctoral conferment ceremony will take place on 25–27 May 2017. The conferrer in this spring’s ceremonies will be Professor Patrik Scheinin from the Faculty of Educational Sciences, the master of ceremonies will be Professor Jouko Rikkinen from the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, the head marshal will be University Lecturer Outi Salminen from the Faculty of Pharmacy, and the gratista and chair of the Conferment Committee will be Mari Lehtoruusu, MA.

At the Faculty of Law, the conferment tradition was rekindled in the late 1940s. The Faculty’s doctoral conferment ceremony will be held on 18–20 May 2017. For the Faculty of Theology, the conferrer will be Professor Olli Mäenpää, the master of ceremonies will be Professor Päivi Korpisaari, and the head marshal will be Assistant Professor Sakari Melander.

The Faculty of Theology is continuing the tradition that started at the Royal Academy of Turku in 1648, when the first Finnish doctorate in theology was conferred. Before then, Finns had had to go abroad to be conferred a doctorate in theology. The Faculty’s doctoral conferment ceremony will be held on 8–10 June 2017. This year’s conferrer will be Professor Aila Lauha, the master of ceremonies will be Docent Outi Lehtipuu, and the head marshal Docent Heikki Pesonen.


More information:

Faculty of Philosophy, Conferment Secretary Helen Metsä, tel. +358 2941 23210,

Faculty of Law, Conferment Secretary Karoliina Lauriala, tel. +358 2941 23774,

Faculty of Theology, Conferment Secretary Maarit Elo-Valente, tel. +358 2941 22123,