Religions and beliefs are a living part of urban life infused with tension

17.8.2020
A range of religions and other beliefs live, influence and intersect in the diverse and dense environment of cities. Religions provide meaning and motivate, for example, volunteering, but beliefs and encounters between them are also associated with questions of power and tension. Professor of Urban Theology Henrietta Grönlund is interested in both challenges and opportunities related to the diversity of beliefs in the urban setting.

What are your research topics?

I investigate matters pertaining to religion, beliefs and values in urban environments, as well as the interaction between cities and religion. Urban environments affect the manifestations of religion, as the multitude of people and communities and the dynamic nature of cities result in, among other things, novel innovations, the spread of influences and increasing choice in the sphere of beliefs.

At the same time, religion has an impact in and on cities, as values and norms tied to people’s and communities’ beliefs shape life and activity in cities. Beliefs influence people’s everyday decisions and actions, while organisations with a religious background and motives associated with beliefs are of key importance in, for example, the field of volunteering and social work.

I am particularly interested in the role of religious organisations, beliefs and values in urban wellbeing and related challenges. Among other topics, I have studied the link between religion and volunteering and donating, as well as the activities of religious and value-based organisations on the margins of society. Currently I am investigating volunteering and civic activity related to the coronavirus crisis as well as the role of religion and religious communities in it.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Religions and beliefs are associated with both opportunities and challenges. Both engender meaning, positive inclusivity and important services. Then again, both are linked with a range of power issues and tensions, both within and in the sphere of influence of religious communities as well as between different beliefs. Research increases understanding that can be utilised in promoting, for example, equality related to beliefs and the positive role of beliefs in good urban life.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Right now I am inspired by the broad and innovative help and support activities related to the coronavirus situation seen among strangers in cities.

Social media – as well as the more traditional noticeboards in stairwells and other similar channels – engenders diverse forms of community and caring. Organisations and religious communities are also working actively and channelling help and support in various ways, while cities are flexibly collaborating with civil society operators. This is right at the core of my research themes.

Henrietta Grönlund is the professor of urban theology at the Faculty of Theology.

Watch Henrietta Grönlund's inaugural lecture as a new professor on the 9th of September on YouTube.

Read about the other newly appointed professors here.