People
Helsinki Research Hub on Religion, Media and Social Change is an international hub conducting, coordinating and promoting interdisciplinary research on religion, media and social change.

Here you will find information on the people who make up our hub.
About us

Heremes is a joint unit of the Faculty of Theology, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Arts.

Heremes' international team studies religion, belief systems, world views, ideologies, media, and social change from interdisciplinary perspectives.

Katja Valaskivi

Director of Heremes, Associate Professor Katja Valaskivi is also one of the three research programme directors at Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities (HSSH). Her research focuses on the circulation of belief systems, worldviews and ideologies from the perspectives of media research and sociology of religion. She is currently the PI in research projects on mediatized religious populism, politics of conspiracy theories as well as the circulation of extremism in the dark web and beyond. Her recent co-authored articles deal with the circulation of hate speech in 4chan after terror attacks (First Monday 2021), the news desk as an attention apparatus in terrorism news coverage (Journalism Practice 2020), the epistemic modes of terrorism news reporting (Journalism 2021) and the countermedia as an integral part of the hybrid media environment (New Media and Society, 2021).

Katja Valaskivi’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Johanna Sumiala

Johanna Sumiala is Associate Professor at Media and Communication Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. In recent years her work has focused on theoretical and empirical analyses of mediations of religion and death in the contemporary hybrid media environment. Her research on media and communications is inspired by social theory and anthropology, especially ritual studies. She is also interested in learning more about digital methods.

Sumiala has directed and co-directed several interdisciplinary research projects funded by Academy of Finland, Kone Foundation and Helsingin Sanomat Foundation. She is currently senior visiting Fellow at LSE (2020-2022). She is author of several journal articles and books. Her most recent books include: Mediated Death (Polity, 2021),  Hybrid Media Events: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks and Global Circulation of Terrorist Violence (2018, Emerald, co-authored with K. Valaskivi, M. Tikka & J. Huhtamäki), and Media and Ritual. Death, Community and Everyday Life (2013, Routledge).

Johanna Sumiala’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Titus Hjelm

Titus Hjelm is Professor in the Study of Religion at the University of Helsinki. Previously he was Reader in Sociology at University College London. His research interests include religion and social change, religion and politics, social theory, and methodology of the social sciences. He is currently the PI of the Academy of Finland funded project The Re­li­gious Le­git­im­a­tion of Polit­ics and the Polit­ical Le­git­im­a­tion of Re­li­gion in Fin­land (Le­git­Rel) (2020–2024) and PI of the forthcoming Kone Foundation funded project Religious Literacy in Action (RELIACT) (2023–2026). Hjelm has published multiple books, including the forthcoming Peter L. Berger on Religion: The Social Reality of Religion (Routledge, 2022), and many articles in the field of sociology religion, in journals such as The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Religion, Critical Sociology, and Media, Culture & Society. He is the founding chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Sociology of Religion Group and current President of the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion.

Titus Hjelm’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Anton Berg

Anton Berg is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences under the University of Helsinki. He is also part of the Mediatized Religious Populism project (MERELPO), funded by the Academy of Finland, and the interdisciplinary Helsinki Social Computing Group.
Berg examines the connections between religion and datafication — especially phenomena such as religious populism on hybrid media platforms. His background is in religious studies, digital humanities and cognitive science. Berg has previously worked in the University of Helsinki's Image Media project (2020-2021), which utilizes machine learning, image recognition and computational analysis, and in 2019-2021 as part of the Moralities of Intelligent Machines research group which studies with the moral psychology of robotics and artificial intelligence by using experimental social psychology and cognitive science.

Anton Berg’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Pasqualina (Paky) Eckerström

Pasqualina (Paky) Eckerström is a doctoral researcher in Religious Studies at the University of Helsinki. She focuses on dynamics of transgression in religious authoritarian countries. Her dissertation investigates how extreme metal musicians in Iran and Saudi Arabia use and produce music to express their subversive identities and promote their right to self-actualisation. She has also researched how various waves of moral panic have impacted the metal communities in the Middle East. The results of this research will be published in Defiant Sounds: Heavy Metal Music in the Global South (2022), Lexington Books. Eckerström has presented her work at numerous conferences, such as ARTHRIC-2021: Art and Human Rights International Conference; SIEF2021 15th Congress: Theme: Breaking the rules? Power, participation, transgression; Modern Heavy Metal Conference - Special theme: Cultural; Inferno Music Conference: The International Metal Music Networking Conference; The Annual Sociological Conference of the Westermarck Society and Heavy Metal and Global Premodernity, Brandeis University.

Eckeström is an Ordinary Member of the Executive Board for The International Society for Metal Music Studies, and she is currently doing an internship at Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), where she concentrates on music as a tool for advocacy and the concept of women’s shelters in Islamic countries.

Eckerström hosts a metal music podcast called MetalBreak. Having had a long career as a music journalist, her work led to an incredible and brave generation of artists resisting censorship in Muslim authoritarian systems. Therefore, she decided to bring this topic to the academic realm.

Pasqualina (Paky) Eckerström’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Anna-Liisa Heino

Anna-Liisa Heino is a doctoral researcher in Media and Communications studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, and works in the Mediatized Religious Populism (MERELPO) project, funded by the Academy of Finland. Her background is in philosophy of religion and in social ethics wherein she has particularly focused on studies in religious language, ingroup violence in Christian communities, and formation of trust and co-operative relations in institutional environments. Her current research interests include mediatization of religious and political violence and conflicts, together with media and migration studies, and media geographies, particularly the mediation of borders and practices of everyday bordering in media space.

Anna-Liisa Heino’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Mikko Kurenlahti

Mikko Kurenlahti is a Doctoral researcher, a nonfiction writer and a journalist. As a scholar of religion, his interdisciplinary research has emphasized questions relating to secular belief systems – especially consumerism – in the context of both the on-going planetary sustainability crisis and the digital age. Kurenlahti has focused, for example, on issues relating to sustainable well-being and a meaningful life in the ever-digitalizing, media-saturated and datafied conditions of a world on a collision course with planetary boundaries. Outside the academia, Mikko is also an active participator in societal discussions, working, for example, as a lecturer, sustainability expert, and a radio journalist.  

Mikko Kurenlahti’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Heikki Pesonen

Heikki Pesonen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and University Lecturer at the Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki. Pesonen is also the editor-in-chief of the journal Uskonnontutkija (journal.fi/uskonnontutkija). Pesonen's research focuses on religion in an era of environmental crisis and the relationship between religion and popular culture, particularly Western popular cinema. His recent publications deal with religious environmental rituals, ecological apocalypse in popular film and discursive psychology in religious studies. Pesonen has co-edited several collections of articles and basic textbooks on religious studies.

Heikki Pesonen’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Niko Pyrhönen

Niko Pyrhönen works as a university researcher in the Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki. His areas of expertise include radical right mobilization (DSocSc, 2015), hybrid mediatization of conspiracy theories and nationalist news framing practices and transnational remediation of news items. He was the co-initiator of the research project Mobilizing the Disenfranchised in Finland, France and the United States (MobDis, 2017 – 2018) focusing on transnational trajectories of countermedia news production. He currently works in the research projects Extremist Networks, Narcotics and Criminality in Online Darknet Environments (ENNCODE, 2020 – 2022).

Niko Pyrhönen’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Teemu Taira

Teemu Taira is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion, University of Helsinki. His publications include Media Portrayals of Religion and the Secular Sacred (Ashgate 2013, co-authored with Kim Knott & Elizabeth Poole), Taking ‘Religion’ Seriously: Essays on the Discursive Study of Religion (Brill 2022) and more than 80 articles in journals and edited volumes. He is the editor of Atheism in Five Minutes (Equinox 2022), special issue on Religion in Nordic Newspapers (Temenos 2019) and The New Visibility of Atheism in Europe (Approaching Religion 2012). His media-related research has focused on religion and atheism in British and Finnish news media. His current project examines discourses on atheism and non-religion in news media and popular culture.

Teemu Taira’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Teemu Taira's publications

Teemu Taira on Twitter

Teemu Taira's blog (in Finnish)

Xenia Zeiler

Xenia Zeiler is Professor of South Asian Studies at the Department of Cultures, Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki. Her research and teaching are situated at the intersection of digital media, culture and society, specifically as related to India and the global Indian community. Her research foci are video games and gaming, digital religion (especially Hinduism), global Hinduism, and Tantric traditions. She also researches and teaches aspects of (Global) Digital Humanities and popular culture, especially as related to India.

Xenia Zeiler’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder

Tuomas Äystö

Tuomas Äystö is a postdoctoral researcher in Study of Religion at the University of Helsinki. He is currently working in the LEGITREL project, which analyses Finnish parliamentary politics and religion. His expertise concerns religion and societal questions.

Tuomas Äystö’s profile on the University of Helsinki people finder