Apostasy research and spring in Göteborg

This week we had a small workshop in Göteborg, a research meeting with also a purpose to outline possibilities for collaboration in the area of apostasy research. Apostasy, leaving and switching religion, is the topic of my current research project, as well as the topic of a project led by Daniel Enstedt and Göran Larsson in the University of Gothenburg, or of Göteborg. As a Finn I always speak of Göteborg, the English version just sounds so imported and strange for a Finn with weak Swedish language skills. In Göteborg the concentration is on Islam, and the project also deals with how do immigrants assimilate (or not) into Swedish society. My project concentrates on Pentecostalism.

The spring in Göteborg was few days further than in Turku. Since it was sunny, I made the conclusion that Göteborg is always such a nice and warm place. This interpretation was enforced by the reception I (and the student I brought with me) received. In the academic world good contacts are important and networking necessary. Therefore I was pleased to find out that we have found common ground and our interests and professional ambitions are lining towards common goals. Of major interest for our collaboration is to advance the research and understanding of apostasy, definitions and theoretical frameworks useful in this work. The second step in the collaboration is to have a panel in the IAHR world congress in Erfurt this August, with research presentations and discussion. In Erfurt we will probably present following steps of collaboration, which could be for example a future conference and publications.

What is apostasy and who is an apostate? The definitions have wider connotations than just objective categorization. There are definitions and self-categorizations of those who leave, reject, oppose, and switch certain religions and traditions. There are definitions and labels of those religious groups from which people leave. Also there are definitions and labels from observers within and outside religious traditions who don’t have official leadership and authority positions, but nevertheless have opinions and interpretations on the subject and people. Then there are scientific analytical categorizations, which should be based in empirical observations and evidences from research.

At the most political level, an apostate is a dissident and oppositional character for a group. Many strong categorizations reveal more about those who do the labeling, than about those who leave. Also apostates themselves first and formost characterize themselves and their subjective experiences, when they define their positions. In broad terms the category of an apostate contains oppositional characters, people who alienate or distance themselves from religious traditions to become an atheist, an agnostic or a religiously mobile individual, switchers of religious groups, leave-takers, and so on. These categories can furthermore be overlapping: a switcher can also be hostile and oppositional to a former group.

I have myself (at this point of my research and writing) positioned apostates with a scale with two axis, or variables. The first axis defines one’s religiosity (from a member to an atheist), and the second axis defines one’s attitude towards former religion/tradition (from acceptance to rejection). In the future publications I will elaborate this further, but I think it is important to realize that there are many different positions and histories, which characterize apostates – and apostasies. Furthermore it is important to understand that the process is not only a cognitive one, but much elaborated experience and personal history. In order to understand the process we have to tackle with the definitions, even they may always be syntethic and oversimplify the multitude of personal histories.

These are few of the questions and ideas that we hope to develope in the course of our collaborations in this field. Meanwhile we continue to do our own research and writings in Turku and Göteborg, wishing to gain new contacts in the field. Spring in Göteborg spoke of aspiring life, both in the nature and in the academic life and research. Future will reveal what the results will be.

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