Honorary doctors

Honorary doctors, Faculty of Theology conferment ceremony at the University of Helsinki, 9 June 2023

The title of honorary doctor (doctor honoris causa) is the highest academic honour. The Faculty may confer the title of honorary doctor on anyone it considers sufficiently distinguished, regardless of their educational background. The honorary doctors to be conferred in the 2023 ceremony have been selected on the basis of both social and humanitarian merits. 


Riho Altnurme is Professor of Church History at the University of Tartu. He is the leading expert in Estonian church history and has produced a wide range of scholarly publications on issues such as Soviet religious policy in Estonia and the history of theological education in the country. He has collaborated with Finnish church historians for over 25 years.


Annabel Brett is Professor of Political Thought and History at the University of Cambridge. Her extensive publications focus on mediaeval and early modern moral and political thought, with an emphasis on the natural law tradition, Aristotelianism and scholastic philosophy, as well as, in recent years, the history of international law. Professor Brett was a member (2008–2013) of the scientific advisory board of the Centre of Excellence in Philosophical Psychology, Morality, and Politics (PMP) funded by the Academy of Finland and headed by Simo Knuuttila.


Grace Davie is Professor Emerita at the University of Exeter. She has served as a visiting professor at, for example, the University of Helsinki’s Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and Uppsala University. Authoring a number of works on the sociology of religion that have become classics, Davie has created new concepts in the field. In her career, she has significantly strengthened the theme of religion in the social sciences as well as the approaches of the social sciences and political studies in theological research.


Philip Esler, Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Gloucestershire, is a pioneer in the social-scientific study of the Bible. He has opened up a number of new approaches to the study of early Jewish and Christian texts through sociological, anthropological and socio-psychological perspectives. He has also explored New Testament theology and the Bible’s relationship to visual arts. Esler has collaborated closely with scholars from the University of Helsinki in joint researcher networks and as a member of support groups for research projects.


Maria Immonen has had a long career in international aid in countries including Finland, Tanzania and Switzerland. She is currently Director of the Department for World Service at the Communion Office of the Lutheran World Federation, the first woman to hold the role. She leads the federation’s extensive humanitarian and development work, focused on the most vulnerable and on global responsibility. Immonen is an alum of the University of Helsinki Faculty of Arts.


Mia Lövheim is Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Uppsala University. She specialises in religious, media and social change, particularly from the perspective of gender and youth issues. She is a founding member of the Nordic Network on Religion, Media and Populism and the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture as well as the honorary chair of the latter. She has collaborated actively for years with University of Helsinki researchers involved in the study of religion and media and communication studies. During the 2023 autumn term, she will work at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.


Greta Thunberg is a Swedish opinion-maker and activist. The School Strike for Climate she staged outside the Swedish parliament building in autumn 2018 soon expanded into the global Fridays for Future movement, in which schoolchildren urge decision-makers to take climate action based on scientific evidence. The value of her uncompromising and consistent work for the future of our planet has been recognised with several major awards and prizes. Her actions have obliged all of us with the task, as members of communities and societies, but above all as human beings, of making changes to our everyday lives.  


Munib Younan has for decades been the public voice of Middle Eastern and especially Palestinian Christians. In his work as President of the Lutheran World Federation, he has played a globally significant role as a Christian leader and theological policymaker. His approach emphasises the positive role of religion as a factor encouraging public engagement. Younan completed his master’s degree at the University of Helsinki and throughout his career has fostered close relationships with Finnish partners.