Israel, a Pentecostal Blind Eye

There is a sweet spot in a Pentecostal-Evangelical emotional regime for Israel and things related to the topic. The site of biblical events, religious sentiments and future hopes are often linked with the current state of Israel. News, opinions and speculations concerning Israel and Palestine trigger emotional reactions and fierce responses by many. In 2016 two statements specifically caused uproar in Pentecostal-Evangelical world. First, the UNESCO decision on the governance of and policies on haram-al-sharif stirred their universe. Second, the United Nations security council (UNSC) resolution on Israel and its settlements increased the fury.

The UNSC resolution was deemed in CharismaNews as “fundamentally flawed and historically inaccurate”. The resolution called for two-state solution and mutual negotiations for drawing borders, condemning one-sided actions to divide the land. However, critics said it restricted Israel solely to pre-1967-borders, and dismissed terrorist threat and Palestine government’s refusal to negotiations. The UNESCO decision was understood as delegitimizing Jewish history, not the least since it applied the name used by Muslims. Instead of accepting the Arabic name as merely one of the historical names applied to the hill, Pentecostal-Evangelical Israel supporters saw it as another example of rewriting history and erasing truth.

The two resolutions in 2016 caused an emotional Pentecostal-Evangelical uproar throughout the world. On the level of religious institutions, public official statements are usually a polite version of these sentiments, and in some cases the issue is dealt only when confronted by members of congregation. However, the official responses are surpassed by rhetorics of numerous ordinary people. Social media has been filled with concern, and even hate, towards the resolutions and the parties who have accepted them. Not all Pentecostals are vocal or even willing to discuss the topic. However, the loud voices are evident, and demonstrate the blind spot Israel has for Pentecostals.

In USA these sentiments were in part combined with criticism for president Obama. Some saw his administrations actions as a prove that Obama is a Muslim. More moderate opponents settled for judging the government actions as anti-semitic or at least pro-Palestine. Although the idea is not new, there is a growing trend in Pentecostal-Evangelical discourses that view all actions criticizing the state of Israel as anti-semitic. This includes the constant tale that there are much more passed resolutions on Israel/Palestine than Syria, for example, dismissing facts that many resolutions condemn also Palestinian violence, and that the ease of passing resolution is telling of the long enduring problem in one hand and the complexity of world politics in the other hand. Israeli supporters, however, concentrate usually on one side, and many don’t even bother to read the whole text. Following, support for Israel in all levels is strong.

An interesting aspect of this topic is the “I’m with Bibi” phenomenon, which has got also some Pentecostals excited. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanjahu, has created and invited a strong propaganda movement on his side. Currently (January-February 2017) he is being investigated on corruption charges, dealing also with the propaganda done on his behalf. Besides Israeli media, Facebook groups have been launched to praise his leadership and politics. Moreover, the same Pentecostals who admire “Bibi”, also share “IDF, I’m standing with you”, or simply “Israel, I’m standing with you”, Facebook and blog posts and images. These “likes” and “shares” portrait an interesting and sometimes disturbing picture of the worldview some Pentecostals are presenting of themselves. People who love peace, forgiveness and mercy, share pictures of war-machines and soldiers, without considering messages they are sending or further connections of the things they “like”, sometimes randomly by an instinct.

In this blog post I concentrate on Pentecostals, whom I have studied in my research, although many of the same could be said also from non-Pentecostal Evangelicals (apart from the charismatic aspects). Israel presents a special blind eye for many Christians, obstructing many to view the world objectively, and as they would describe a Christian would. In the following I have listed four major factors influencing the very subjective approach, and the consequences of this blind corner in the Pentecostal eyesight, These four factors include millenarian-apocalyptical worldview, nostalgia over biblical tales, an urge to “bless Israel”, and personal pilgrimages or hope of it to biblical land.

An important characteristic of Pentecostalism is the belief that the end is near. For them a charismatic Church is one of the signs that this is true. Another sign for the end-times for them is the recreation of the state of Israel. According to this belief, the current state of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecies (e.g. Daniel, chapters 8&12; Joel chapter 3). The millenarian-apocalyptical importance of the existence of the state of Israel is huge in this worldview. It is not an indispensable part of millenarian worldview, but has grown into one crucial chapter of Pentecostal discourse of end-times. Three chapters in this discourse are above others: charismatic Church, evangelization of the whole world, and Israel. When these three are included, the coming of the Christ is thought to be possible, and moreover imminent.

Countdown for the coming of the Christ is one interesting theme in apocalyptic speculations. Although not practiced by all, over the years some have counted 25, 40, or 70 years either from the founding of Israel (1948) or capturing the old city of Jerusalem (1967). Needless to say, some predictions failed.

There are numerous speculations on what will happen in the future. One of the thousands is a vision that the end-times will begin when two-state solution is realized, and final seven years before the coming of the Christ will start when Palestine is declared an independent country; allegedly preparations for the new Jewish temple are on the way, and the temple would be built within three years of the solution. However, also popular is the view that there will be only one state, Israel, which in some scenarios would stretch its borders beyond current ones (e.g including Damascus etc.).

One key enforcer of the millenarian beliefs is the criticism for Israel. In apocalyptic prophecies and speculations, an important belief is that in the end-days the whole world turns against Israel. Therefore any criticism can be explained, if needed, as a proof that we now live the final days before the coming of the Christ. This approach also pre-accepts that things won’t get better in the Middle East. If looked from this wider perspective, smaller details might go unnoticed or are surpassed as a mere glitches in the important narrative.

The Pentecostal-Evangelical religiosity emphasizes the role and use of the Bible. In Pentecostal religiosity the tales of biblical figures circulate from the childhood and are used in sermons, Sunday school tales, daily devotions and so on. These shared stories become part of cultural capital of a Pentecostal, immerse them into a world with superhero-like realm, and connects to a believer on emotional level. Stories and details of landscape make the Middle-Eastern land feel almost like a homeland, emotionally close, connected with their identity and personal history. Although Pentecostals reject the idea of worshiping holy places and saints, the nostalgia they attach to the biblical lands and events there constructs a world where these are honored and appreciated, in other words sanctified and separated as a holy realm. This realm is not necessarily concretely linked to empirical reality. Rather, it is an imagined realm, shared with an imagined community, as a part of imaginary play (see e.g.: Tanya M. Luhrmann 2012 When God Talks Back) which enforces and attributes to the actuality and reality of God they believe in. Because Pentecostals believe in divine inspiration of the Bible and in the guidance of God in these stories, the sanctifier of these stories, and the land, is God, making the realm worth of defending for.

Since Pentecostals believe in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the words written there have strong influence over their actions. In here important is the exhortation to “bless Israel” (Numbers 4: 23-26; Ps 115:12), and the idea of a covenant that a remnant of the ancient Israel will return in the last days (Jer 31:31-33; Rom 11:24-27). According to this logic, Christians are supposed to bless “Israel”, since they will once again be saved and brought home. Following this widely spread and accepted view (although debated what is the “Israel” in question), it can be hazardous for a Pentecostal to condemn the nation of Israel, as this could be seen as defying God itself. Therefore the action to bless Israel can be understood as a Christian duty, an obligation to follow God’s word and commandments. There is, however, an ongoing debate whether it is an ethnic or “spiritual” Israel that these teachings and Bible verses refer to, and technically it does not refer to the current nation. Even though some prefer to understand that Christianity has replaced the ethnic Israel, Jewish people, as “God’s nation/people”, there is a strong opinion that ethnic Jews and the contemporary state of Israel both play active roles in this puzzle. Moreover, the confusion of the whole picture may just strengthen the urge to bless Israel (meaning the current state), since not doing so would be a bad gamble. Therefore, there is an inherent bias to think or hope for the best for Israel and Israeli actions, through a survival strategy of risk management.

The previous three factors (millenarianism, nostalgic biblical stories, Christian duty to bless) are not new nor are they surprising to many. However, the fourth factor has not always gained such attention as the previous ones. Tourism and travelling to Israel (and Palestine in a limited way) has increased noticeably since the 1970’s and does not show any signs to decrease. Religious group trips have been organized for example from Finland by Toiviomatkat travel agency since 1976; they claim to have organized trips for 170 000 travelers to Israel since.

For a Pentecostal traveller, the journey is basically always a pilgrimage, a journey to land of the Bible and to the sites where Christianity had its origins. The personal connection to the land makes the experience a part of an embodied Christian and Pentecostal identity and habitus. The most devoted pilgrims commemorate their steps in a “land where Jesus walked”. All good Pentecostal travellers appreciate their personal link, even not that enthusiastically, not the least since it connects them in a larger social narrative, and therefore the “community of believers”.

However, the common pilgrim only receives a partial view of the land. They are rushed from one holy site to another, mind filled with thoughts linked to the prescripted narrative and religious aspects of the trip. And of those who have worked there, only few have lived with Palestinians, limiting their view on the complex situation. Those who have worked on both sides, do report another perspective, and perhaps a pessimistic one.

Also, the past kibbutz experience of some, especially in the 1970s and 1980’s might distort the picture, due to the limited access to the society while in a kibbutz, and since the world has changed substantially since those days, even in Israel/Palestine. There are also active kibbutz visiting programs, but their appeal has since been narrowed to certain groups mainly in the North America, and single individuals, although there are currently more people living in kibbutz than ever before. Other forms of volunteering are nowadays more popular for Christians interested in Israel. Some of these programs can distort the view from the beginning, since they guide people to work for institutions under ministries of a country that is relatively rich and competitive in GDP. This kind of program exposes the volunteer not only to a subjective tie but also to biased news and discourses. Other volunteering positions include most of all religiously motivated jobs, including humanitarian work.

I have named this blog post as “a blind eye”, with which I refer to the (usually) unintended consequences of supporting and idealizing Israel for many Pentecostals. When they support Israel, it obstructs their view and reaction on many issues relevant. Above I have stated few major reasons causing this blind eye view. These factors cause them to concentrate an ideal Israel, not necessarily the Israel/Palestine where actual people are living, in the globalized and intertwined world.

For one, the millenarian-emotional approach to Israel produces a blind eye to world politics realities. It is sometimes astonishing how easily some talk about stretching borders, which would affect lives of millions of people. For example, Christians in Damascus might be of different mind when it comes if the city should be part of Israel. However, these are not the things a strong believer in millenarian dreams is pondering about. Especially if the apocalyptic interpretation and narrative is steadfast and meticulously followed, a strong believer understands the world from this alternative millenarian view. Following, s/he accommodates actions and events to the narrative, possibly without even considering that interpretations and the whole approach would be wrong. By simply opening their eyes to different Pentecostal millenarianisms and interpretations of the end-times, they could perhaps see something lurking in the blind spot.

A prime example of this is how meticulously some Pentecostals follow the narrative of greater Israel beyond its current borders, which in turn favors one-state solution and Jewish state. However, basically all signs show that this would be a disaster, not the least to the Palestinians. When US secretary of state John Kerry said that there can be either Jewish state or democratic state of Israel, not both, it draw criticism from Pentecostal-Evangelical Israel supporters. Most of them interpreted this statement accusing Israel being non-democratic state. Although Israel follows many democratic practices and principles, declaring the state only Jewish would be a fatal blow to democracy. Already arabic Israeli citizens are blocked from certain positions. Many Pentecostals have not thought that in a Jewish state also Christians would be second-class citizens. Moreover, the one-state solution would mean that in coming years non-Jewish citizens would form the majority, which still might be suppressed.

Partly related to the previous, supporting Israel produces a blind eye to undemocratic practices in Israel. The supporters emphasize the right of Israel to defend itself and its citizens from violence and terrorism. Doing so, they sometimes fall for victims of Israeli propaganda, and don’t see the failed politics of terrorism prevention. A democratic state should defend peace with actions in accord with democracy and human rights, not by building fences and checkposts that block farmers to move freely to their fields. The blockade of Gaza and cattle-like herding of Palestinians in checkpoints have caused more harm than positive results. It is fair to say that at the moment the violent Israeli settlers pose a serious threat to Palestinians in the West Bank, but nobody seems to notice Israeli terrorists, only Palestinians. One reason for this is the acceptance of the story that Palestinians only want the destruction of Israel, without exeptions. And since this story has been learned, it is easily linked with the larger narrative of end-times where everybody will turn against Israel.

This leads us to another aspect of the blind eye view, namely a failure to distinct fantasy fiction of future from other possible, and perhaps more plausible, futures. In the most serious case this could lead into blurred grasp of reality. Although, at the same time one has to notice the wide variety of Pentecostal approaches, of which some are more grounded in empirical reality. However, when speaking of the extreme cases where end-times are almost (or really) an obsession, this blurring border between fiction and reality can be a serious problem and even a threat to mental health. Even the more usual interpretation play with apocalypse, where an interested person entertains him/herself with fictional cases, can still cause a blind eye when discussing the conteporary Middle East.

Naturally, the scene is complex and there are varieties in scope and approaches. For example, some Pentecostals do try to make a difference between the state of Israel and Jewish people, and known present and unknown apocalypse. In many cases these stay silent, and are not keen to actively defend any parties of the problem. However, there are leak-overs, spills to contemporary politics, since they have an emotional connection to the biblical side of the story, and therefore some kind of Israel, or Jewish/Christian Palestine, even though imagined. Therefore it is challenging for a Pentecostal to be objective to issues relating to the topic. Emotions tend to be subjective and difficult to mend, even when they try to reason otherwise.

Some Pentecostals try to excuse their actions by stating that they “do not accept everything Israel does”, but usually this does not lead into actions when they notice these wrongdoings. They, fairly so, criticize the violence of Palestinians, and the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to accept offered peace solutions or sometimes even peace talks. However, they forget to mention that Israeli leaders have consistently resisted some Palestinian demands in these peace talks (such as return of the Palestinian refugees). Many of them also don’t seem to comprehend the damage what building settlements does for any future peace negotiations. The violence of Israeli soldiers is downplayed as self-defense (and sometimes it is), and the violence of the settlers is usually absent from the discussion. Moreover, by legitimizing their support for Israel with an argument that “it is the only democratic country in the Middle East”, the defense can forget that this means that more is expected from Israel than Palestine, especially since Israel basically has a monopoly of power.

By defending actions of the state of Israel, Pentecostal Israel supporters are foremost defending their belief of the millenarian future and their own emotional realm of being a Pentecostal, in the end their identity. Even though their defense has actual consequences in contemporary politics and human rights issues, those are not the reasons for their defense. The actual reality and complexity of the situation, the knowledge about it, can easily stay in the blind spot of view for Pentecostal Christians. By opening their eyes, or turning their heads to see what is in the blind spot, they might actually challenge their emotional connection to the “land of Jesus”, an imagined reality over empirical reality. Moreover, they might start to realize that instead of propagating for the state of Israel, a more suitable position for a Christian could actually be to defend any human and their rights as humans, regardless of their background. After all, Jesus did not say “hate your enemies”, quite the contrary.

Pilgrimages in odd places

This summer (2016) I observed two (or actually three) very different pilgrimages in two very different locations and surroundings. Of those the first one was on a holiday, the second was a planned research fieldwork. I have long known that I can’t detach the anthropologist curiosity from me after I finish “working”. Since my work includes thinking, and learning more about cultures and human life, the work follows me wherever I go and whatever I do. Luckily it is also something I like doing, whatever I do for “work”.

For my summer holiday destination, I chose Rome, a city where I feel at home. Furthermore, it allows me to occupy my mind with other things than what I usually work with. A week of vacationing, eating, visiting interesting places, sitting on piazzas and narrow streets, and experiencing the history and culture. However, an anthropologist is never fully on holiday, since observing people and learning new things is rooted in the backbone of the human type that is a researcher. You always learn new things just by watching, and your mind does the rest as it is programmed to do.

Last year (2015) pope Francis (Francesco/Franciscus/Frank….) declared a special year of mercy. The epicenter of this jubileum was, and still at the moment of writing is, Rome in Italy and Vatican City State. The event is expected to bring millions of people in the city, where special audiences, religious services, and pilgrim routes were organized. All over the city, in the streets, signs guided pilgrims with different paths, to churches, catacombs, and other religious places. You couldn’t help but to notice the pilgrimage that was happening all around you. These traditions are centuries-old, thus incorporating people in a long story and devotion to get closer to the god they believe in.

The main attraction, or attractions, were the holy doors in papal basilicas. A pilgrim could register him/herself at desk or internet-website as a pilgrim, get a special audience in a group, and walk through the holy door, and thus having his/her sins forgiven. The doors, sealed after every jubileum, were opened and welcomed all, pilgrims and tourists alike, to the Catholic Church. I walked through the holy door at the St. Peter’s basilica also – twice, to be sure. However, I was not registered pilgrim, nor am I Catholic, so it probably won’t count. Sensitive to religious pilgrims’ feelings I didn’t want to be a distraction, and I visited the church early in the morning, when there were only a handful of people, and took only a quick photo from far behind. Some might consider even this as inconsiderate thing to do, but I think that I did much better job than most of the tourists. Hopefully I will be spared from a papal bull.

The stage for this grandeous pilgrimage is huge. The stone walls, marble floors, tall columns and pillars that stretch to painted ceilings with images of heavenly visions, together give an enormous and spectacular space for pilgrims to enter and experience the pilgrimage. At the same time, at least in the Vatican, huge masses of people are guided and guarded like human hoards, mechanically and effectively. However, there are places for personal moments, even though you have to make an effort to get them. In a big city there are plenty of people already, and the traffic can be overwhelming. This is mass pilgrimage, and it shows. The church is in the centre of it all, controlling and providing, as well as uniting all the pilgrims that want to experience the mercy.

Six weeks later I travelled with my colleague to do research and document another types of pilgrimage, in totally different surroundings. There is basically no traffic and usually no people in sight in “Vaara-Karjala”, next to the Russian border in Finnish North Karelia. The stone and brick columns and pillars are replaced with trees, stone walls with logs, and marble floor with wooden floor. The ceilings have no paintings, but the sky is bright with stars – if it doesn’t rain. Gobbled stone roads give way to asphalt and dirt roads, and waterways. Birds’ singing sound better than car horns’ sound, that’s for sure.


For the last 35 years, “ristisaatto”, an Orthodox procession, pilgrimage and a walking religious service, has been organized from Saarivaara to Hoilola. These two small villages were left Finnish side of the border after the Second World War. The municipality of Korpiselkä, its centre and most of its villages, were incorporated into Soviet Union. The orthodox chapel (“tsasouna”) in Saarivaara was built in 1976, commemorating an already destroyed chapel, that was left on the other side of the border. Five years after the chapel was inaugurated, the pilgrimage was founded. These feasts and processions are very much a local thing of the village communities, although they draw visitors from elsewhere also. The atmosphere is relaxed, with minimal bureaucracy, although the liturgies and prayer songs are well orchestrated with a plan.

Orthodox pilgrimage has roots in the byzantine world, when people begun to commemorate saints and visit their resting places. Later Icons, Christian imagery, were introduced and brought in to centre of pilgrimages. They are carried behind the cross, which is the leading figure in ristisaatto (literally translated as “cross procession”) In Karelia before the Second World War, pilgrimage processions were common, together with chapel feasts (“praasniekka”). These traditions had partly to be reinvent, or to relocate, after the war. However, at the current state they are integral part of local communities and Orthodox church in Finland, inviting lay people to participate in religious services in action.

The ristisaatto from Saarivaara to Hoilola is a 10km long walk, and is combined with a ristisaatto with a boat to an old Orthodox cemetery, “kalmisto”, 6km away in Öllölä village’s Pörtsämö. Walking and rowing, working for your faith, is a common theme in many pilgrimages all over the world and religions. They combine physical effort with mind and meditation.

These feasts and pilgrimages are followed by a special pilgrimage and ristisaatto to old Korpiselkä centre and its cemetery, on the Russian side of the border, the next day. It is an unique annual tradition, which started in 1994. After the Soviet Union collapsed and borders to Russia became more open, Orthodox pilgrimages over the border were introduced. These pilgrimages combine religious service with nostalgia of returning to “home”. As the old Korpiselkä centre locates on border zone, permits for secular trips would be hard, or impossible, to get. Permission for religious procession and Orthodox commemoration of the dead is another thing.

Crucial part of these pilgrimages are “panihidas”, prayer services to the deceased, officiated at the burial grounds. In Finnish side the kalmisto of Pörtsämö is well preserved, almost too well for an old Orthodox cemetery. The old idea was that the grave mound and wooden cross would fade away as generations pass, and memories are forgotten or minimalized in the natural course of life. There are grave stones and otherwise modernized graves to be found in Pörtsämö kalmisto. This tells that the burial ground and rituals live and change in their surroundings, as cultures and the society changes. In the Russian side the Korpiselkä cemetery is barely noticeable. Main reason for this is Soviet policy to destroy all relics, take wooden and iron crosses and small grave stones for another usage. Only the biggest old grave stones are left, as well as few remains of cut iron crosses.

Even though among the attending crowd of Saarivaara-Hoilola ristisaatto there are visiting pilgrims, who don’t have any family connection to the sites, the majority of attendees are tied to the location by their families and histories. In Korpiselkä ristisaatto basically all have family ties to the landscape. Therefore the religion and religious devotion is not the only one unifying aspect or trait in the pilgrimage. It is closely followed, and sometimes passed, by pilgrimage to imagined home of ancestors. Both traits join attendees to the shared memory and purpose, commemorating life and history, in which religion and imagined otherness are central.

These two different pilgrimage landscapes, urban and rural, with different traditions, present two very different events to experience. In Rome and Vatican City, institutionalized Church, organization and order, grandeous urban landscape and busy life surrounding the pilgrims are highlighted. In former Korpiselkä area, lay(wo)mens religion, relaxed familiar tradition, rugged vaulting forest landscape, and quiet easy life and nature around the pilgrims are highlighted. Both are there to experience for pilgrims, and both offer unique ways of sensing the otherness for them. In both locations pilgrims are able to join to the centuries-old memory and traditions, be they religiously or otherwise motivated. In a way, they offer different paths to experience the spectacle of life and shared community of people, who are joined together in, around and by these services and the churches that provide them.

EASR 2016 and panel on apostasy research

This year the EASR (European Association for the Study of Religion) held its annual conference in Helsinki. The four-day conference hosted a wide range of panels with different topics, included a panel on “defining apostasy and research on leaving religion” – arranged by myself and Daniel Enstedt from Gothenburg, Sweden. We were joined by Kati Tervo-Niemelä, who presented her longitudinal research on leaving church in Finland, as well as leaving church in few other countries.

The summer is time of conferences, and next one I will attend to is held in Helsinki in August (Nordic Conference for Sociology of Religion) – where we will continue with the same topic of apostasy research. Both conferences highlight one theme, of differences in leaving religion between different religions and religious groups. Hopefully we will succeed in developing our research and ideas into a book, dealing with how minority/majority positions of religious groups in society, and differences between leaving institution/tradition-centered religious cultures will affect on how and why people are alienated from religion and feel the need and motivation to resign or distance themselves from the community.

Nordic Lutheran churches are part of larger societal culture and national identity, whereas Pentecostal movements in Nordic Countries are groups to which people identify, in general, with more subjective emotions. Therefore shared experiences of societal cultural events and developments affect more leaving churches than minority religions, where individual experiences (which might deal the same issues, though) are the major denominator of why people are motivated to resign officially from religious community. However, at the same time there are similarities – both indicate that the religious community does not have a function, be it shared or individual, nor does it define their identity anymore (if it ever has).

Holy organizations

For the past twenty years or more, Finnish Pentecostals have argued over what is better, a registered religious community or a registered religious association. Few Pentecostal congregations have registered within Helluntaikirkko, Pentecostal Church, but others still refuse to go with the development. To understand this debate one has to know the history of the Pentecostal movement in Finland. At some level it shares the story of other old Pentecostal movements – of rejection from larger and already established religious communities and of rejection of all that sounds like institutionalized church. The supporters from both sides differ in many aspects – with their style preferences, religious background of family, social class, and so on. For many Pentecostals, still, this debate is not of interest for them, some could not care less what the name of the organization is.

For some, though, the issue is of high importance. Even so that the form of organization has become sacred value, given from above. This sacred form of organization is worth fighting for in secular court, like in Pori. One active member of the congregation, who calls himself pastor, has sued the leaders of his congregation, not once but twice, over the same matter of changing the organizational form of their congregation. The procedure by which the change has been made, or tried to make, has flaws and therefore the case has its base in court. However, more interesting than the case is the very thought that somebody would go to the lengths of suing his congregation over the matter of changing organizational form.

The foundation of sacralization of the old association-organization lies in the personal experiences, especially conversion experience. Moreover, the conversion experience has in many cases been related to the formation of a Pentecostal identity as an oppositional identity to institutionalized churches. New beginning and freedom of religion and own choice have been validated by the Pentecostal identity of separation from state and church. Fear of losing this part of identity reinforces the value that has been given to it. The conversion, and salvation, is understood by Pentecostals as given from God. If the organizational form is closely knit to this experience, the sacred salvation can contaminate the social structure. Therefore the organization is not a mere matter of changing forms, but a matter of changing identity that is given from above, and is held as sacred. This short introduction of an idea or thought might help to understand the strong urge to sue one’s own congregation over a matter that sounds so frivolous.

Kuoleman etäisyys ja universaalisuus

Maailmalla matkustaessa lisämakua antavat ne hetket, jolloin pääset kurkistamaan paikallisten elämään sellaisenaan kuin se keskeyttämättömänä virtana kulkee, kaukana turistien silmien edestä. Yhden mieleenpainuvimmista hetkistä koin ollessamme pari vuotta sitten Turkissa heinäkuussa. Vuokrasimme auton ja vierailimme hieman syrjäisemmillä seuduilla, pois turistirantojen vilskeestä. Ajaessamme yhden pienen harvaan asutun kylän läpi, tien yllättäen täytti kulkue mutkan takana. Pikainen silmäys kulkueeseen paikallisti kannetun arkun eturivissä. Peruutimme auton nopeasti tien sivuun kahden auton taakse, jotta kulkue pääsisi ohitsemme esteettä.

Ensikosketus turkkilaisiin hautajaisiin oli pysäyttävä sen kaikessa yksinkertaisuudessaan. Koko kylä ja suku oli kokoontunut saattamaan vainajan ruumista hautaan. Miehet kantoivat arkkua ja kävelivät koko tien leveydellä, hiljaa. Naiset kävelivät edellä hautausmaalle, moskeijassa suoritetut rukoukset oli juuri luettu. Kontrasti hääkulkueisiin oli selkeä, torventöräysten ja kimalluksen sijaan kulkue oli karu, hiljainen, vakava, pysähdyttävä. Ei huutoa, ei itkua, toisin kuin joidenkin ihmisten stereotyyppinen käsitys voisi asian kuvitella. Marttyyrien hautajaiset ovat poikkeus, mutta tavallisissa hautajaisissa ylimääräiset tunteenilmaukset sotisivat myös islamilaista uskoa vastaan – kuolema tulee perinteen mukaan hyväksyä. Kulkueen karuutta ja kuoleman vakavuutta korostivat ramadan-ajan paasto ja paahtava helle. Tavanomaiset ruokatervehdykset ja vierailut vainajan perheen luona siirtyisivät auringonlaskun jälkeen.

Vaikka hautajaisrituaalit ja perinteet eroavat eri kulttuurien välillä, etäinen kuolema tulee satunnaista kohtaajaa lähelle sen universaalin ulottuvuuden kautta. Meidän ruumiitamme ei ehkä saateta hautaan samalla tavalla, mutta kaikki me kuolemme. Siten kuolema on myös asia, johon ihmiset voivat samaistua, hautajaisperinteiden erilaisuudesta huolimatta. Suomalaisesta historiasta tutut itkijäperinteet ovat yksi keino käsitellä edesmenneen jättämää aukkoa, mutta samaten hiljainen kuoleman hyväksyntä on keino käsitellä tätä aukkoa sosiaalisessa piirissä. Epätoivottuna vieraanakin se on luonnollinen osa elämän virtaa ja yhdistää meitä kaikkia. Tämä siirtymä yhteisössä on asia, johon voimme kaikki samaistua, ulkoisista eroista huolimatta.

Istuimme autossa hiljaa ja seurasimme kulkuetta. Molemminpuolinen ymmärrys tilanteen vakavuudesta ja tärkeydestä yhdisti niin osallistujia kuin seuraajia. Nyt ei ollut kiire tutkimaan luonnon ihmeitä ja menneitä raunioita, elämä pysäytti kuoleman kautta.

CfP EASR and Apostasy research

In the 2016 European Association for the Study of Religion Conference ‘Relocating Religion’ will be held in Helsinki in 28.6.-1.7.2016. In the conference I will chair a panel of Apostasy research with my Swedish colleagues. Link to the conference site here. Our panel description below:

Defining Apostasy and Research on Leaving Religion

Chairs: Teemu T. Mantsinen & Daniel Enstedt

People do not only join religions but also leave them. These exits are numerous in nature, and each environment has its own effects on people leaving their religion and tradition. Previous research on apostasy, leaving religion, has concentrated, for example, on students, new religious movements, and psychological processes. However, definitions and concepts on the subject vary, and new approaches could help us to locate, define, and explain apostasy better. In this session we will discuss how to define and study apostasy, deconversion processes, and people leaving religion. We will approach the subject from different directions and multidisciplinary perspectives and include researches on different religions and traditions. The session is part of our ongoing research projects on apostasy in Finland (University of Turku) and Sweden (University of Gothenburg).

We invite submissions to our session ‘Defining Apostasy and Research on Leaving Religion’ to be held at the 2016 EASR conference in Helsinki, to discuss the topic from different methodological perspectives and concerning different religions.

Apostasy and nationalism

I recently found out about Selim Deringli’s book Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (2012). In the book he lays out the complex history and geograhical and cultural diversity that was Ottoman Empire. This mosaic of ethnicities and identities was emphasized in the retreat of the Empire. Both internal forces (serbians, greeks, turkish, orthodox, muslims etc.) and external forces (like Russia and orthodox church) played parts in this crumbling puzzle.

What is interesting in my professional perspective, is the tie between nationalism and religions. According to Deringli, nationalism enforced religious identities, and leaving religion was very often seen as de-nationalization. By switching religious camps or accentuating one’s religion, individuals did not so much express their interest in religious dogmatics and creeds but shouted out their relation to certain identity. Although we can not dismiss conversion-apostasy as hypocricity and scape-coat, means to some different end – they were still religious in some sense after all -, cases of leaving religion and adopting a new one reveal that choices of religious identification and expression had much more complicated causes and wider consequences than just subjective inner change of mind.

This tie between nationalism and conversion-apostasy brought into my mind the religious-cultural field of Finland in the early 1900’s. Since the late 19th century, nationalism and national identity had risen in Finland. Nationalism was made stronger due actions from Russian government, which was accused of “russianization” of Finland. The government had a nation-wide policy of doing just that, but Finns interpreted that they had given a special status in the empire, and were at least partly correct. When the Russian Empire declined, after war with Japan and during and after the First World War, nationalism got stronger and led to founding of the republic of Finland in 1917. It was during these years of strong societal tensions when a new religion, or mode of christianity, Pentecostalism, started to spread in the country.

Finland, almost entirely Lutheran country (with substantial Orthodox minority), shaped finnish-ness, national identity was strongly shaped around Lutheran religion, culture and history. Although the largest political party, social democrats SDP, encouraged the separation between church and state, Finnish-ness included being at least culturally Lutheran with practices such as baptism of children. Foremost Lutheranism meant continuation of culture, tradition, and historical ethnic identity. In the 19th century a famous Finnish figure and writer, Zacharias Topelius, even created a myth how Finns were civilized with the spread of Lutheranism. This was naturally directed against paganism and Catholic church, but also separated Finns from Russians.

Pentecostals interfered with the Lutheran traditions and habits, foremost by rejecting the baptism of children. When a person converted to Pentecostalism, he was seen as an apostate of Lutheranism and in many cases also from Finnishness. Pentecostal revivalists clashed not only with Lutheran priests, but also with local communities. I have noted this cultural disruption previously in my research and publications. However, I haven’t thought this disruption as de-nationalization, until now. Even though we can argue that Pentecostals themselves did not see their conversion-apostasy as changing national identity, that was how it appeared for many Finns. In a time when national unity was called for to create a nation-state, deviant cultural practices and traditions were seen also in the light of breaking this imagined unity.

The relation between religious identification and creating new national identities is interesting. It seems to accentuate in times of nationalistic uprisings and revivals. The connection can work in many ways, for example to strenghten previous identies with ‘original’ religion and past, or distance oneself from unwanted upheavals with newly constructed religious identity. Assertions of what is ‘true’ and ‘original’ are often heard in these circumstances. With these stories people create belongings and new beginnings. Doctrinal purity is not the main concern for converts-apostates. Instead, they seek for a sense of acceptable identity and stability in his or her life, a place and status they feel comfortable and at home.