Protestant “pilgrimage” during Erfurt IAHR Conference

In late August I participated in the International Association of History of Religions (IAHR) world conference in Erfurt, Germany, along with some 1400 other experts of religion. These large conferences are mostly a place for networking and advertising (your research and work), as well as socializing with old colleagues, which you usually see once a year at best. The vast multitude of panels and keynotes could get exhausting if you try to manage to be everywhere and benefit scientifically from the offered presentations and speeches. Instead, the best way to enjoy it is to see what is interesting and new, and engage in relaxed small-talk with new and discussion with old aqcuaintances – and have some free-time as well to enjoy local culture. Many times you visit only once in the city where the conference is held, so why not educate oneself more on the history and complexities of your surroundings.

image

Erfurt Krämerbrucke

image

Erfurt Cathedral

image

Luther statue

During the conference Wednesday was spared for conference tours and free time – unless you were an executive of the board or something like that. With four of my Finnish colleagues I embarked to a private car tour of Thuringia, visiting the cultural sights and nature of the area. Refreshed from the delight to roam the Autobahn, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting new, historical, places and experiencing their charm first-hand. Thuringia is the home of such historical figures as Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (although born in Frankfurt), and a historical scene for the birth of such things as Schmalkalden League and Weimar Republic.

The area is especially important for the history of Protestantism, since it is Thuringia, where Martin Luther was born, lived in monastery, and translated the New Testament, where Protestants formed their alliance against the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor, and first (Lutheran) Protestant doctrines were agreed. So in a sense, we performed a Protestant Pilgrimage – although with little religious zeal and much more scientific curiosity.

image

Augustine monastery in Erfurt

We left our accommodation apartment, next to the Augustine Monastery where Luther stayed, in the early morning to reach first the castle of Wartburg. Just outside Eisenach, the birth town of Bach, the castle stood high on the hill, surrounded by forest and other hills. The scene was perfect for a historical hideout. Warm sunny morning greeted us, and our senses took in the full experience. The narrow castle reminded of a small village, when you got inside it. Although we didn’t get any special spiritual kicks from visiting the place where Luther translated the Bible in 1521, it was interesting to put the visual landscape and scenery, face, to the story so familiar from history and many books. I could easily imagine myself visiting there for a retreat, although very much in different terms than what Luther had to. We also managed to escape the crowds, since we met the official conference tour climbing up as we left.

image

image

image

image

After eating lunch in Eisenach and visiting Bach statue, we headed to Schmalkalden. It was there that the Schmalkalden League was founded (1531). The league first fought basically to protect and promote Protestant ideas and expand their freedom in the Empire, but later they fought to supersede the Emperor and/or replace the Empire with their own political entity. The league was finally defeated (1548), as part of fights and schisms that lasted over hudred years and ended (sort of) in Westphalia in 1648. The league was an important part of guaranteeing Lutheranism official status in the Empire and the right for princes to choose the religion of their domains, in the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. Furthermore, the small town was the cite of a meeting where the Schmalkald Articles were originally meant to publicize. Although they didn’t become the key articles of Protestant concords or confessions, they were important in forming a united doctrinal base for Lutheran Protestants, and are still used and included in the Lutheran Book of Concord. Luther summarized his doctrine in the Articles. The old town of Schmalkalden is an idyllic place in itself, and worth of visiting with or without these historical facts. Also, the Thuringian forest surrounding it is a wonderful green sight, which we witnessed as we drove through it to Weimar.

image

image

Weimar, the cultural place in the turn of 18th and 19th centuries in Germany, was hot – at least that day when temperature rose high, beautiful in any day. The Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach Karl August ruled as duke from the age of nine months (1758), and later rose to become a kind of cultural patron of his era, inviting Goethe, Schiller, and other figures in his home town Weimar. His era was not all fun and play, for example due to a character named Napoleon, but despite of all other historical events, he managed to construct a cultural cradle of his days. The deaths of Karl August (1828) and Goethe (1832) marked a decline of one era, but the city witnessed later another historical deal, that of the founding of Weimar Republic, state of German Reich in 1919. The constitutional assembly reconstructed Germany after the First World War. Weimar as a city is different in architecture than the other Thuringia places we visited, namely due to its economical peak later. The old center houses are styled late 18th and 19th century architecture, with some earlier (16th c.) and more modern buildings in the midst. All in all, a place worth of visiting as well.

image

image

image

image

Depending on if you like religious or philosophical history and late medieval or classical premodern era and architecture, you can choose the western (Eisenach and Schmalkalden) or eastern (Weimar) sights to concentrate on in your journey to Thuringia. Erfurt, in turn, offers both, as well as the GDR, East-Germany, kick and historical ruins (abandoned houses, named streets etc.). In the midst of academic hard work (sure), the cultural experiences of Thuringia left us satisfied. Our intellectual, aesthetic, and cultural desires were met fully during the week in the IAHR conference.

Class and hierarchy, few notes

Finnish newspaper Helsingin sanomat wrote (21.7.2015, 2) “experts describe the terrorist organization ISIS as extremely hierarchical, even  class society.” What caught my attention was not the nature of ISIS, but the vague assertion that “class society” was said to be the extremest form of extreme hierarchy. Even though hierarchy is a common part of class structure, it is not the most definitive attribute, nor has the hierarchy have to be extreme. Categorization and group identification are much more essential parts in how a class society is constructed, than hierarchy. Naturally, there is in most cases one group or class with most power in their hands, but the power can also be distributed between class fractions. One interesting and overlooked experiment of the fascist Italy of Mussolini was that the parliamentary power was shared between different classes. This was meant to include all class groups in the governmental decision-making. The fascist government had other hierarchical aspects, but the class structure wasn’t the most extreme form of hierarchy. Class society is a bad word for many, and many consider it the example of the evil in the society – solely based on intuition and past labeling. The class structure in itself is not bad or good, but a result of natural social processes. If the distance between social groups grow, the possibility of discrimination, exploitation etc. grow. But that is not inevitable. Therefore class society is not a synonym for extreme hierarchy, only a way to describe and analyze society, its formation and social processes.

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.

Almost glossolalia

When I drove home at Christmas night from my sister’s home, I listened to radio. Soon I got bored (or annoyed) with the ADHD-Christmas-songs, and searched for a new station. I settled for a station that I had never listened before, since the program sounded very interesting. The station was called “Patmos”. I knew that it was a Christian station from the name. The group that made the program was called “Young Christians” (“Nuoret Uskovat” in Finnish). The program was not interesting because they would have something new and different that I wasn’t familiar with. On the contrary, the program was interesting exactly because it was a perfect example of the use of religious language, in this case Christian Evangelical language.

For an outsider a religious language may sound peculiar, something familiar but still very much odd. The group that one has not grown with or become customed with their habits with, may use same words and symbols, but with very different goals and functions in mind. For example when a question was asked from a girl in the proram “who is Jesus for you”, she answered something like: “He is my redeemer, my King, my stronghold”. With these words she referred primarily not to the literal meaning of some theologians, but the experiences which she has lived and is living with reciting these words. This may be hard to understand by an outsider, if s/he approaches the subject from an analytical hermeneutical angle. The words may give an impression of a person living in a fairytale-land, believing in an utopia of some sort, and incapable of any rational behavior. The reality is less dramatic and more complex.

This kind of Christian language reminds me very much of the mostly Pentecostal religious practice of glossolalia, speaking with words/language unknown to a speaker. In it a person utters words with a familiar sentence structure and order, but the words are uncomprehensible. Of course this differs noticeably from the Cristian language I was listening, since it used words and concepts that can be understood by learning the culture and symbol world. Nevertheless, they have a similar function for a believer. The main focus is not in what the words and imagined letters state, but what is done by reciting these words or utterances. The function is to live one’s religion with the experiences. In other words, a speaker is not so much describing her/his faith, but living it and in course of doing so describing the emotions and experiences, although known in total only by her/himself, the one experiencing. In this case a question “what do you mean by saying Jesus is my King” is irrelevant. It refers to a different aspect of a religion, to a theological and philosophical analyse of the ontology, of the world. For many believers, the words recited in religious language do not describe her/his faith. Foremost they describe the experience of religion, of world and life. They perform a ritual to themselves, to their god, and to people around them, usually expecting that those would also understand their practices. In many cases they don’t.

Those lovely evangelical apocalypse movies…

To my surprise and slight dismay I noticed a new movie starring Nicholas Cage. Since I have found some of his movies entertaining (not all though), I had a closer look of the newest one. This is when the surprise-dismay settled in. The movie was called “Left behind”, and one of the writers was Tim LaHaye.

LaHaye is famous in his own circles with his many books. The most popular ones were the series “Left behind”, with 12 titles (1995-2007) and many spin-offs. Just the books of this series have sold over 65 million copies, making LaHaye a wealthy man. The book series was turned into a movie-series of three parts (2000, 2002, 2005). For some reason the movie series has now been rebooted with this current movie.

The first famous evangelical apocalyptic movie was the “A thief in the night” (1972). This classic (in christian culture) movie has been seen by over 200 million people, and it had three sequels itself (1978, 1981, 1983). Already criticized in the 1970’s, it has gained much more criticism since. Furthermore it has been a cause for nightmares and fear for many children growing up.

All these movies depict a scene of end-times, particularly “the rapture” and fear of being left behind in “the times of tribulations”, after all good people, christians, had disappeared. This scene stems right from dispensational theology and thinking, with much more interpretations and books and revenues around it. It has become obvious that people are interested in “end times”, apocalyptic events and speculations of the future. Therefore these books and movies find their market easily, making their current stars (authors and preachers) rich.

Nicholas Cage is an interesting choice for the leading role of this new “Left behind” -movie. Mostly it is interesting since he shouldn’t have a problem of choosing movies he doesn’t like, just to have a salary of some sort. Furthermore it is interesting since the script and everything else in this movie is poor, to say it modest. The movie has received crushing reviews, from christians and non-christians alike. The movie is an obvious religious statement and a tool for religious missions to convert people. Therefore I found myself asking, why, indeed, has Nicholas Cage accepted the leading role in this movie. He has been categorically silent about religion in his interviews with previous movies, and seems to follow this rule. So it might be that we won’t get any answers for this matter, and we are left wondering.

Apart from the choice for leading role, the whole genre is an interesting one. For many it is almost an angry topic, since they feel this fascination with end-times has ruined their childhood, and left them live in fear. For others it is a source for mocking and ridiculing evangelicals – especially since the movies are at best b-quality. In this category (B movies) these evangelical dispensational movies settle in their right place, an entertainment for a limited audience. Moreover, the genre in total underlines the fact that scandals and speculations sell, and they sell very well.

On different seasons in academic life

Academic life is full of seasons. Not only boring winter-spring-summer-fall -seasons, but many others follow one another, making life and work hectic and busy. Lately I experienced two of these ‘extra-seasons’, namely conference- and application-seasons. Yes, there are conferences to visit and funding applications to fulfill all year round, but many of them have concentrated into groups within limited period of time. Some scholars take these both very seriously and run from one place to another – or basically fly. I managed to participate only two conferences in August-September, one of them in Turku, my hometown. In both conferences – in Nordic Conference for Sociology of Religion in Copenhagen and Christianity and Limits of Materiality in Turku – I presented my current research project on ex-Pentecostals. Discussion was good and contacts made wonderful. These were good start for the fall season of writing and doing research.

Simultaneously an application-season was pressing on. Even when the current research project is still in first half-time, it is already time to apply and plead for funding for new research. First decisions will be announced already in next month, so the excitement continues and holds on tight. Nevertheless, I will be busy writing, interviewing, researching, and pushing my previous articles for publishing. May the fall be with you strongly, and bring success to us all, and to all good life.

An anthropologist, I am

Summer is time for reading books that I haven’t had the time to read before. It has become a tradition of some sort for me to read a Grisham novel every summer. No time during the winter? Right, sure. Be what it may, summer is my reading-time for books that don’t necessary have anything to do with my daily work. Nonetheless, I do read also books that could be considered professional reading material. This week I had one of those, namely a book by Clifford Geertz, “After the Fact”.

In his book Geertz shares his thoughts on his research, work, history, and anthropology. All of the abovementioned were interesting to read, not the least because it is nice to notice that there has always been challenges of this sort, of how to deal with change, limits of possibilities for researcher and for research, university politics, and a vague description of one’s discipline.

The thing that I was left most pondering afterwards, was the description and identity of an anthropologist. So far I haven’t yet experienced the most pitiful state of an anthropologist, a one without humans (those beings that one should be studying all along). This notion should not be considered lightly. Wether one is an anthropologist, sociologist, folklorist, or other researcher of human life, a contact with reality – how people live and think in everyday life – should remain. Theories and theorists of human life are important to read, but their insight should always be evaluated by empricial evidence. The best way to do this is to conduct original research, live amongst the people.

It was good to note that such an experienced researcher like Geertz would not be hasty to pinpoint some “real” description or “essence” of what anthropology and an anthropologist is. A discipline that is perhaps better described as a research desire than a method, clear theory or theoretical framework, is an honest description of scientific approach to culture, human and human life. An anthropologist is a researcher that wants to add human knowledge about culture and humans. Vague? Perhaps. But nevertheless true. This is what I am, also, I could add.