“When we mine church history, we learn what is important in life”

Professor Tuomas Heikkilä, a specialist in medieval history, believes that the humanities have a great opportunity to increase understanding of our past and future.

What are your research topics?

I study the sacred and the profane, the foundations of humanity, with modern multidisciplinary methods. Church history is focused on beliefs, worldviews and the cultural heritage stemming from them. My specialisation is medieval history in Finland and Europe. That was the time when the foundations of the modern world were laid. In other words, I study the old and discover new things.

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

For a long time, I have been fascinated by the oldest unsolved murder in Finland: did the peasant Lalli kill Bishop Henry, and if he did, why? Fake or real news, the murder on Lake Köyliönjärvi is part of Finland's Christianisation, linking up with Europe and 'literarisation' in the Middle Ages – the birth of Finland. Our thousand-year history explains our contemporary identity, politics, culture and values.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Ones and zeroes! The digitisation of Finnish medieval sources is at an unmatched level, making research opportunities almost limitless. By mining the sources of church history, we get to know what is most important in life, where we come from and where we are heading. The biggest challenge and opportunity for us in the humanities community is to offer this understanding to the discussion ongoing in society and among humankind. I am rolling up my sleeves.

 

Tuomas Heikkilä is a professor of church history at the Faculty of Theology.