There has been much talk about the ‘return of religion’ in politics in recent decades.

While Finnish politics has been insulated from some of the global debates, issues such as migration, human rights and equality legislation, and the legal status of minority religious communities has brought religion back on the agenda of parliamentary politics. However, existing research—both domestic and international—tends to concentrate on laws and constitutions themselves, or their impact. The role of religion in the legislative process—‘government by speaking’—remains an understudied area.

The project ‘The Religious Legitimation of Politics and the Political Legitimation of Religion in Finland’ (LegitRel) seeks to remedy this lacuna in the field by focusing on how religion is constructed in party and parliamentary discourses, and how the legislative process reflects—or does not reflect—voter ideas about the legitimate role of religion in politics. It does so by asking two related questions: (1) How is religion used to legitimate political views? (2) How is politics used to legitimate (and de-legitimate) particular types of religion? It traces the process where religion is considered in party programmes and legislative initiatives, through parliamentary debates, and finally, via voter attitudes back to party programmes.

Empirically, the analysis employs a triangulation of qualitative (political texts) and quantitative (voter survey) data and
appropriate methods (content analysis, discourse analysis, statistical methods). Using these approaches, LegitRel provides an unprecedented analysis of the role of religion in Finnish politics and challenges the notion that increased visibility equals increased vitality of religion.

The project is led by Professor Titus Hjelm from the University of Helsinki, Study of Religion, and it runs from 1 September 2020 to 31 August 2024.