“..study did not emerge from a void. The Swedish speaking university in Turku, The Åbo Akademi University, had paved the way for the History of Religions in Finland by founding the personal professorship in 1959 (see prof. Nils G. Holm’s article on the history of the discipline at the Åbo Akademi University). I shall hereby touch briefly upon the issues that lead into the founding of comparative…”

Comparative Religion at the University of Turku and the University of Helsinki: A Brief Survey

Veikko Anttonen
Professor of Comparative Religion
University of Turku

1. Inventory of scholarly traditions

Comparative religion (also History of Religions, Religious Studies or the Study of Religion; Finnish Uskontotiede) was established as an autonomous academic discipline in Turku University in 1963. The decision to establish a new academic field of study did not emerge from a void. The Swedish speaking university in Turku, The Åbo Akademi University, had paved the way for the History of Religions in Finland by founding the personal professorship in 1959 (see prof. Nils G. Holm’s article on the history of the discipline at the Åbo Akademi University). I shall hereby touch briefly upon the issues that lead into the founding of comparative religion (in Finnish vertaileva uskontotiede) at the University of Turku.

Underlying the appearance of a new academic discipline there are always practical social reasons and/or scholarly interests with a more theoretical legitimation. The practical social reasons include such interests as the training of experts on cultural and religious affairs both for the academic institutions and for the various arenas of social life, for instance for the educational professions, for the mass media and for supervising multicultural programs in communities, ecclesiastical and religious organizations. Among the more theoretical issues is the emergence of new discoveries of areas of knowledge and a growing agreement concerning their importance as distinctive objects of scientific scrutiny. The task of comparative religion in modern university was to obtain empirical and systematic knowledge on religious traditions of the world, both Western and non-Western, and to highlight the significance and the role played by these traditions both in the lives of individual persons and in the matrix of social, economic and juridical institutions of society.

Although comparative religion became an autonomous academic discipline relatively late in Finland – compared to many other countries in Europe – it has roots that, however, go farther back in late 19th century. The discipline was first introduced within the Finnish academic community in the latter part of the nineteenth century as an ethnological and folkloristic field of study. The particular concern of the new discipline was not with the history of the major world religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or the Mesopotamian religions, but with the general evolution of forms of belief and practice among the Finns and other Finno-Ugric peoples, as well as among the various ethnic groups of North Africa, New Guinea and South America. Comparative religion was established in its pre-institutionalized stage at the University of Helsinki in the 1880’s, when a special interest had arisen in the study of the “origin and development” of the ethnic traditions of peoples belonging to the Finno-Ugric language family. Comparative religion became part of a scholarly program whose aim was to highlight the linguistic and cultural evolution of peoples speaking languages related to Finnish.

The ideological charge that comparative religion was to take on during the 19th century national revival era was closely linked to the reception and cultural significance associated with the collection and study of the materials of the oral tradition. Since those early years a special tie has persisted in Finnish scholarship between the specialties of comparative religion and folkloristics, two disciplines, which are both concerned with the study of tradition, and which to a certain extent share the same subject matter, i.e. the folk culture and the folk life in general. The chair that was established at the University of Turku in 1963 for Lauri Honko was a twin professorship comprising both comparative religion and folkloristics.

The concept of tradition has played an important role in shaping the cultural awareness of the Finns. The substance for the notion of Finnishness is predominantly governed by the notion of tradition and history. Ever since the national epic, the Kalevala, was published by the physician Elias Lönnrot in 1835, the personal and cultural traits that characterize the Finns and the Finnish society, has been sought after from the historical and mythical contents ascribed to tradition. Language and tradition, along with the concept of history, have become important areas of scientific scrutiny for the very reason that they help to unravel the cultural make-up of the Finns and the nature of their social institutions. Linguistics, history and ethnography became to seen as the distinctive academic fields that play a dominant role in the making of the Finnish national consciousness. The ideological charge associated with the notions of ‘tradition’ and ‘history’ at the end of the nineteenth century brought the cultural legacy of Finland into the specialty concern of the science of religion. Systematizing knowledge on the mythologies of the world, the new field of study found its place among the afore-mentioned principal national disciplines. Lauri Honko, who in 1963 became the first Professor and holder of the Chair at the University of Turku, and who since the early sixties until his death in July 2002, was one of the major figures in the advancement of the field both in Finland and abroad, has surveyed the issue from the point of view of the general cultural climate prevailing in Finland during the twentieth century. Honko discerns the period of 1905-1915 as the first “golden age of comparative religion”, when opportunities to establish the field as a university discipline were at hand. The Zeitgeist of the period was favorable for the ethos of the discipline. According to Lauri Honko the general cultural climate in Finland was liberal, dynamic, and open to new ideas. World War I, and especially the Civil War of 1918 that followed the declaration of independence on December 6, 1917, closed not only territorial but also mental boundaries in Finland. According to Honko, the need for the kind of information that comparative religion was able to provide now ceased to exist. The field of study had lost its first ‘window of opportunity’.

In mapping its unwritten history, Lauri Honko rightly places comparative religion in Finland in an interdisciplinary frame of reference. The fields such as folkloristics, ethnography, philosophy, psychology and theology had become strong as centers of academic knowledge production in Finland since the 1880’s. Honko points out that theological circles both at the University of Helsinki and in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church failed to give any notable response to the development that had taken place in Continental Europe and which had led to the foundation of chairs at universities in Holland, Sweden and France. Due to their commitment to Lutheran spiritual traditions and to theological scholarship in Germany, Finnish theologians were unable to follow the research program of cultural anthropologists who had become interested in religious traditions from the perspective of cultural evolution prevalent at the end of the 19th century.

In Finland, the study of religion at the faculty of theology was to play a minor role in the development of the science of religion. The principal areas of academic knowledge that gave rise to comparative religion in Finland were two distinctive schools of ethnography: on the one hand there was the linguistic and ethnological study of Finno-Ugric (Uralic) peoples, on the other hand, early practitioners of sociology, social anthropology and moral philosophy.

Finno-Ugric studies had been closely linked with the goal of finding evidence for ethnogenetic postulates according to which the place of Finns on the evolutionary map of world’s population can be studied in comparison with the peoples of the Baltic Sea Region and with the ethnic minorities in Eastern Russia and Siberia who spoke language relative to Finnish. Since the early linguists who went to the field in order to trace dialects, write grammars and dictionaries on Finno-Ugric languages were also students of mythology, Finnish research on religious tradition of indigenous peoples benefited from this quest of finding the linguistic home of the Finns. Lauri Honko writes:

“The pioneers in Finno-Ugric studies “were doing excellent fieldwork at the time when the first functionalists of the French and English schools were still in their cradles. First-hand observation and the mass of notes and texts provided by them constituted the basis of scholarly work for many generations to come.”

It was just this pioneering scholarship, in which scholars from Hungary, Estonia, Russia and the Scandinavian countries have their own academic heritage to carry on, formed the matrix that gave rise to early traditions of comparative religion in Finland. As Honko notes, one of the towering figures was Uno Holmberg-Harva, who was the first to outline his theoretical framework according to the standards of inquiry prevalent in Anglo-Saxon anthropological scholarship. Honko raises Holmberg-Harva above all the other students of Finno-Ugric ethnography because of his productivity and also because he “considerably expanded the field of research with his religio-phenomenological monographs (e.g. Der Baum des Lebens in 1922 and Die Religiösen Vorstellungen der Altaischen Völker, in 1938)”.

But the work of Holmberg-Harva needs to be viewed against the accomplishments of his teacher, Edward Westermarck, who broadened the scope of anthropological research and placed its practice in Finland on an international basis. Westermarck imported British evolutionary anthropology, sociology and to a certain extent also social psychology into the Finnish academic world. Westermarck’s interest in comparative religion ranged from his ethnography of the tribes in Morocco (Ritual and Belief in Morocco 1926) and extended to the evolutionary study of the fundamental institutions of human beings, that of marriage and moral ideas (The History of Human Marriage 1891; The Origin and Development of Moral Ideas 1906-1908; Christianity and Morals 1939). Westermarck had been appointed as the Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki in 1906 as well as the Professor of Sociology at the University of London in 1907 where – as George W. Stocking has written – “fieldwork expeditions had become “a symbol of ethnographic enterprise”. Westermarck himself had carried out extensive fieldwork in Morocco since 1898. He had worked closely with such prominent figures in British social anthropology as Charles Seligman and Alfred Cort Haddon. Although Westermarck had spent most of his time after 1897 away from Finland, he considered it important that Finnish ethnography should benefit from the methodological advancement made in British research.

In the first decade of the 20th century Westermarck created conditions for young students at the University of Helsinki to embark upon the study of anthropology, both in literate Europe as well as in illiterate non-European cultures. In matters of religion, Westermarck opposed – having cemented his academic identity in comparativism – the narrow and provincial ideological positions, which characterized the academic work of both nationalist-minded Fennomans and Protestant theologians. Westermarck belonged to the Swedish-speaking liberal academics whose scholarly interests were motivated by the methodological attitude coined in the label ‘universalism’. In the field of ethnography, the universalist position represented the study-of-man type of research. Their interest in human cultural history was not connected with nationality as it was the case with the students of Finno-Ugric cultures. The most prominent disciples of Westermarck at the University of Helsinki were Rafael Karsten, Gunnar Landtman and Hilma Granqvist. Both Karsten and Landtman defended their doctoral dissertations in 1905. Karsten’s work was entitled as The Origin of Worship and Landtman’s The Origin of Priesthood. Rafael Karsten went to do several fieldwork journeys among the South American Indians. The collecting first-hand ethnographic data led into series of books and monographs on religious traditions in South America, a.o. The Civilation of the South American Indians (1926). Gunnar Landtman went to obtain his first-hand ethnographic data from Papua New Guinea. He explored in depth the Kiwai area. Time spent in the field amounted into publishing his major scholarly achievement The Kiwai Papuans of the British New Guinea (1927). Hilma Granqvist was one of the few female disciples of Westermarck and who succeeded in becoming a professional anthropologist. Her ethnographic field was the popular traditions in Palestine.

Bringing the strands of these threads together we end up in the work of Uno Holmberg-Harva and the rise of comparative religion in Finland. Uno Harva (until 1927 Holmberg) was one of the few scholars in Finno-Ugric ethnography – along with ethnologist Albert Hämäläinen – who pursued anthropological studies under the tutelage of Edward Westermarck. The institutional prerequisites were there for Harva already at the University of Helsinki during the years between 1915 and 1926 when he acted as a docent in comparative religion and taught students of Folkloristics and Finnish language. However, after frustratingly unsuccessful efforts to obtain a professorship at the University of Helsinki, Harva made a decision to leave Helsinki and accept the invitation to become a professor of sociology at the University of Turku in 1926. The new Finnish-speaking University had been founded in 1920. After Finland had declared independence from Russia in December 1917, Holmberg-Harva himself was one of the active volunteers who assisted to raise money for the foundation of the new university. Among other things, Harva traveled extensively among the Finnish emigrants to the United States of America.

Coming to Turku was one the major reasons why Uno Harva finnocized his Swedish name Holmberg to Harva in 1927. Although language strife between Finnish and Swedish-speaking population in Finland were sometimes heavy, Harva can be described rather as a builder of bridges than a person to set the camps apart. Being a bilingual (Harva’s mother was from Åland and spoke Swedish), and becoming the professor of sociology in the same city in which Westermarck himself had been appointed Chancellor of Åbo Akademi in 1918, it is no surprise that Harva found his closest academic companions among the sociologists and ethnologists at the neighboring university, i.e. ethnosociologist K. Rob. V. Wikman and ethnologist Gabriel Nikander.

In his doctoral thesis Harva had dealt with beliefs pertaining to the element of water among the Finno-Ugric peoples (Die Wassergottheiten der Finno-Ugrischen Völker, 1913). In 1911, 1913 and 1917 Harva made three fieldwork trips among the Udmurt and the Meadow-Mari in Russia and one among the peoples of the Evenk and the Ket (Yenisey Ostjaks) in Siberia. Harva had studied Finnish and Finno-Ugric religious traditions under the tutelage of Kaarle Krohn, the Professor of Finnish and Comparative Folklore. He had started his scholarly career as a Wundtian folk-psychologist, a Westermarckian evolutionist and a geographico-historicalist of the Finnish school of folkloristics. In the 1920’s Harva adopted a rationalist strain of thought in the manner of the Swedish scholar Carl Wilhelm von Sydow. He also became a Ratzelian diffusionist and an adherent of the Kulturkreise approach in European ethnology. Harva was a nationalistically minded scholar, whose pursuit of knowledge was in part politically motivated. His main concern was, through the comparative analysis of popular culture, to learn “the origin and development” of indigenous elements of Finnish religion and society; in other words, those cultural traits that Finns share with their eastern ‘kinfolk’. Harva held that the religious past of the Finns could still be observed, not only among the Finnic peoples in the Baltic area, but also among the Volga Finns and the Ugrians living on the River Ob in Siberia. As an ethnographer, Harva was one of the earliest scholars in the field of religion, to give a comprehensive account on shamanism and mythic traditions among the peoples of the North. As a comparative religionist Harva pioneered the line of inquiry for which Mircea Eliade later became famous. In his works Der Baum des Lebens (1922), Finno-Ugric and Siberian Mythology (in Mythology of All Races, 1927) and Die Religiösen Vorstellungen der Altaischen Völker (1938) Harva revealed the mythic structure in the cosmology of the peoples of ancient North-Eurasia and Central Asia. He showed morphologically related themes in the mythic narratives of shamanistic hunters, cattle-breeding agriculturalists and nomadic pastoralists. These included the concepts of the shaman’s tree and his ascent to the heavens, the center of the world and the symbolism of the tree of life and the world pillar (axis mundi). It is no wonder that Eliade refered frequently to the work of Uno Harva.

In the intermediate years between the First and the Second World War, the progress of the discipline of comparative religion was incorporated in the work of Holmberg-Harva and Rafael Karsten. The two, often in tension with each other, could not, however, create conditions for establishing the discipline as an autonomous field of study. The concurrent developments in political and intellectual life also hindered such attempts. As Lauri Honko has described, the general interest of the public had become dormant; liberal thinking and expanding research came to an end, and much scholarly research was stagnating. Honko writes that comparative religion had “dissolved into the leisurely hobby of a great variety of disciplines”.

However, the seeds that Harva had sown by his enthusiastic teaching as Associate Professor of Finno-Ugric Religious Studies in the auditoriums of the University of Helsinki had fallen on fertile soil. Martti Haavio had listened to Harva’s lectures and had been enormously impressed. Haavio’s main interest was in folklore studies, but comparative religion became an inseparable adjunct to his work on folk culture. Haavio developed his theoretical framework most notably in the forties and early fifties, but the germ of his formulations had come from Harva’s teaching in the early twenties. Haavio’s orientation can be described as a phenomenologically inclined approach to myth and ritual. Haavio’s method was based on the historical study of motifs; he usually started from Finnish folk narratives and went on to trace their themes, concepts, motifs and mythologemes in various textual contexts in the world in order to isolate and identify their meanings. Haavio was a man of bold juxtapositions. His major works have unfortunately suffered from poor translations; he can be read in English in Väinämöinen, Eternal Sage (1952), and in German in Heilige Heine in Ingermanland (1963).

One of the early landmarks of comparative religion in Finland in its earliest stage, Karjalan jumalat (The Gods of Karelia, 1959) can be read, however, only in Finnish. The president of Finland, Juho Kusti Paasikivi appointed Martti Haavio as the member of the (old) Academy of Finland in 1954. Martti Haavio can be considered to be the only offspring of the academic tradition represented by Uno Harva. We could characterize Harva as a loner, who did not gather students around him. Martti Haavio, on the other hand, instructed various disciples who later achieved distinguished position in the field of comparative religion in particular and in the field of Humanities in general. The achievements of the scholars Haavio had trained led finally to the establishment of comparative religion as a university subject. Haavio was mentor to a new generation of scholars, whose work became linked more firmly with developments taking place both in continental European and in Anglo-American scholarship. Haavio’s guiding hand extends from the 1948 to 1968. Doctoral dissertations from that period have the distinctive Haavio touch. They all deal with Finnish tradition phenomena, but open up into a wider geographical frame, at the level both of data and of theory. This, however, was due not only to Haavio’s teaching, but to a general paradigmatic change in social theory in Finnish academic life. The rapid economic growth in postwar Finland brought with it a need to modernize sociology, social psychology and cultural anthropology so as to correspond more closely to social reality. Functionalism took over in Finnish tradition research. There was no actual scientific revolution in a Kuhnian sense, but there was a new focus on methodology, and a cultural atmosphere that gave legitimacy to the study of pre-industrial ethnography.

Of the many possible strands of development the most prominent role in the making of the autonomous discipline was played by two principal scholarly traditions: those of folkloristics and of Finno-Ugric studies. The generation of scholars – the present writer included – who received their training in the 1960’s and 1970’s grew up in an atmosphere in which the so-called ‘national sciences’ and the universalistic social sciences were combined in order to bring comparative religion, ethnology and folklore studies into closer connection with each other in order establish cultural anthropology as an independent academic field in Finnish universities.

In sum: the scholarly traditions of the study of religion in the Universities of Helsinki and Turku can be categorized into four distinct areas of research. The first research tradition is folkloristic: the earliest exponents of the study of religion can be seen in scholars who studied folk beliefs, or folk religion on the basis of oral material. This orally transmitted material of popular culture had been recorded and deposited in the Archives of the Finnish Literature Society since it was founded in 1831. The second research tradition is Finno-Ugric or – to use a wider category – Uralic. Explorers, who were mainly linguists, geographers and ethnologists, carried out extensive field trips in Russia, Siberia and Lapland and also paid attention to beliefs and ritual practices. The third research tradition is that of social anthropology and Oriental Literature, with Edward Westermarck and Knut Tallqvist respectively as their founding fathers. The legacy of Tallqvist and that of another major pioneer in Oriental Studies in Finland, G. J. Ramstedt, has been cherished at the Department of Asian and African Languages and Cultures at the University of Helsinki and which forms the center of Islamic studies in Finland. The fourth research tradition can be traced from the theological faculty of the University of Helsinki. Already in the late 1800’s there emerged a need to provide instruction in the history of the major world religions. Teaching was organized under the title ‘theological prenotions (central concepts of theology).

2. The origins of interests in ethnic/pre-Christian religious heritage among the Finns

The founder of Finnish scholarship in comparative religion can be considered to be the Lutheran reformer, Bishop Mikael Agricola. In the preface to his Finnish translation of the Book of Psalms in 1551, he gives a list of ‘gods’ (Agricola was first to employ the notion of ‘god’ as a technical term, although using the Christin notions as a prototype) worshipped by the rural population in Häme (Tavastland) in the west and in Karjala (Karelia) in the east of Finland. Agricola enumerates eleven deities in Häme and twelve in Karelia, and adds a brief account of their individual spheres of activity. Another bishop, Isak Rothovius, inaugurating the Academy of Turku (the oldest Finnish university) in 1640, adds some new information concerning the traditional Finnish mythology: “It is said that having killed a bear, they hold a feast and drink from the skull of the bear and make a sound resembling its growling, in this way wishing to secure themselves success in hunting and rich quarries for the future”.

In the centuries to come, the evidence multiplied. Folk poetry and folklore in general became the focus for ‘Finnish studies’. Henrik Gabriel Porthan, Professor of Rhetoric at the Turku Academy, founded ‘a school of Finnish mythology’. Under his guidance, two important works were published: Christian Erik Lencqvist’s thesis De superstitione veterum Fennorum theoretica et practica (1782) and Christfrid Ganander’s Mythologia Fennica (1789). These monuments of the Enlightenment era were to give direction to the Herderian Romantics of the early nineteenth century, who aspired to rewrite Finnish history from a national point of view.

The nationalists rendered a sacred character to Finnish folk cultural elements. The collecting of folk poetry was carried out by enthusiastic young scholars, the most notable of them being Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot made eleven journeys to various parts of Karelia and edited a book based on the songs he had tracked down. The first edition of the Kalevala came out in 1835 and had a tremendous influence on the cultural development of Finnish society. It was given canonized status as evidence of the ancient heroic past of the Finns. The Kalevala became a sacred symbol, setting the Finnish-speaking population apart from the neigbouring nationalities, the Swedes and the Russians. In addition to its influence on national politics, its publication led to major changes in the field of ethnography. Lönnrot’s work paved the way for the comparative analysis of ethnic cultures belonging to the Finno-Ugric or Uralic language group.

A contemporary of Lönnrot, Mathias Alexander Castrén, travelled further east, to the dwellings of the Ob-Ugrians and the Samoyeds in Siberia. He brought back materials, which shed new light on the ancient religious life (especially shamanism) common not only to all Finno-Ugrians, but also to other peoples in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions. Castrén is a pioneering figure in Finnish ethnography. He learned the indigenous Samoyedic languages and carried out extensive fieldwork among the Nganasan, the Nenets, the Enets and the Selkup peoples. Castrén died young, at the age of 39, but his influence was nevertheless immeasurable. Between the years 1852-1917 a host of Finnish scholars, sent out by the learned societies, followed Castrén to observe the life of the linguistic relatives of the Finns among both northern hunters and southern agriculturalists in Russia and Siberia. K.F. Karjalainen published a monograph (in Finnish 1918; a German edition, under the title of Die Religion der Jugra-völker, was published in three volumes between 1921-1927) based on his five-year stay (1898-1902) among the Ostyaks (Khanti). Kai Donner and Toivo Lehtisalo became experts on the Samoyeds. Lehtisalo’s material was printed in 1924 under the title Entwurf einer Mythologie der Jurak-Samojeden. The work of another Finnish linguist, Artturi Kannisto, Materialen zur Mythologie der Wogulen, was collected between the years 1901-1906 and was published posthumously in 1958.

3. The modern establishers of comparative religion at the Universities of Turku and Helsinki

Folklore and mythology school has formed a domestic element in the academic repertoire of comparative religion in Finland. One of the disciples of Martti Haavio was Matti Hako. He made an important contribution to the study of mythical thinking in folk life by his analysis on incantations involving weasels (Das Wiesel in der Europäischen Volksüberlieferung, 1956). Hako came up with an explanation of mythic patterns occurring in the structure of incantations. Hako compares the diagnostic and etiological strategies employed by the healer to those of psychoanalysis. The unarticulated origin of the disorder is brought to a conscious level by revealing the situation in illo tempore and at the center of the world where the birth of the weasel takes place. It is the myth, Hako argues, that gives cosmological significance to the work of the healer.

Another disciple of Haavio that came to lay a permanent mark on the history of comparative religion in Finland was Asko Vilkuna. He published his doctoral dissertation, Das Verhalten der Finnen in ‘Heiligen’ (PYHÄ) Situationen, in the same year as Matti Hako. Vilkuna analyzes the Finnish term for the sacred, pyhä, and its equivalents among the Ob-Ugrians and Samoyeds. He shows that in the vernacular pyhä is an attribute of things, times, places and objects which possess a special quality of supernatural power (Finnish väki). Anything that is rendered pyhä is to be avoided and controlled by behavioral norms. Vilkuna compares the meanings of pyhä in prehistoric Finland to the Polynesian concept of tapu (taboo).

The most prominent of Haavio’s disciples was, however, Lauri Honko. In his dissertation Krankheitsprojektile (1959), Lauri Honko developed a typology for the analysis of ethnographic data in folk medicine. Honko placed the type of etiological explanation of illness characteristic of Finnish folk tradition in a global perspective, and analyzed the distinctive features of various folk models with respect to their geographical distribution. Lauri Honko’s seminal work Geisterglaube in Ingermanland (1962) is one of the most influential studies not only in Finnish folkloristics and comparative religion but in other Scandinavian countries as well. The book marked the boundary that set the old and the new science of religion apart. Honko created a new theoretical approach for the study of traditions of belief and practice at the level of the ‘folk’. Drawing new theoretical insights from social anthropology, phenomenology of religion, social psychology and sociology, Honko developed both a genre-analytic and a role-theory model for the interpretation of conceptions and modalities of the experience of guardian spirits in Ingrian peasant society. Honko showed that the ability to experience and transmit the belief tradition of guardian spirits is connected with membership in groups defined in terms of age, kinship and occupation, and with the specific social roles played by the bearers of tradition within the local community. With reference to the religio-phenomenological school of thought that he had adopted among others from Mircea Eliade and Gerardus van der Leeuw, Honko treated the tradition bearer as a homo religiosus, for whom any object can have a sacred dimension and thus become sacralized. Honko conceptualized the term ‘folk religion’ as a total worldview, in which there is a place for guardian spirits and dead beings as well as for the Devil, for Jesus or for the saints.

Lauri Honko did valuable work especially within the field of ritual studies and has created criteria according to which various forms of ritual actions can be classified (see Honko’s article, Theories concerning the ritual process: an orientation, in Lauri Honko (ed.), Science of Religion: Studies in Methodology (1979). He posits that rituals can be classified into three main categories: rites of passage, calendrical rites and crisis rites. Honko has emphasized the importance of analyzing rituals within their cultural context. With respect to analytic frames of cultural anthropology, the scholar needs to differentiate between small-scale and complex systems of belief and their respective forms of ritual activity. Small-scale systems of belief are generally loosely structured and concern such things as traditional ways of life, forms of subsistence and social institutions among local population groups in rural areas. Complex systems of belief have to do with the syncretism of cultural phenomena, in which territorially limited cultural models operate within models of cognition and behavior based on science, technology, ideology and/or religion. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Honko developed a specific research methodology for the comparison of popular traditions, which he has designated an ecology of tradition (see introductory chapters in Lauri Honko, The Great Bear: A Thematic Anthology of Oral Poetry in the Finno-Ugrian Languages (1993).

Juha Pentikäinen , a disciple of Martti Haavio and Lauri Honko, who became the first of professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Helsinki in 1970 (as a permanent basis in 1977), defended his dissertation at the University of Turku in May 1968 on a topic that Martti Haavio had dealt with in many of his articles: the category of the ‘anomalous dead’ in folk tradition. Pentikäinen’s work (Nordic Dead Child Tradition, 1968) had a circumpolar orientation. The earlier Finno-Ugric paradigm had been dropped and replaced with comparisons to Scandinavian and Arctic folk religions. In his study (The Oral Repertoire and Worldview, 1978) on a rune-singer and Greek-Orthodox tradition bearer, Marina Takalo, from the Viena Karelia (White Sea Karelia) around Archangel, Juha Pentikäinen offered a detailed micro-study of the components of the religious ecology of Russian Karelia, as internalized by a representative of the culture. Pentikäinen’s major analytic tool was genre analysis, as developed by Lauri Honko. The individual’s mental world was analyzed through narrative genres. Pentikäinen was able to show that the role of genres is instrumental: each genre has a code of its own, but it is the individual who selects the code appropriate to the genre from among the alternatives available. In his Takalo monograph, Pentikäinen gives what might be called an anatomy of the syncretistic elements from folk religion and from official religion (in the form of the Old Believer tradition) in the world-view of an individual.

In his doctoral thesis, The Religion of the Slaves. A Study of the Religious Tradition and Behaviour of Plantation Slaves in the United States 1830-1865, defended at the University of Turku in 1976, Olli Alho studied the form and content of the religious worldview of the slaves as it is expressed in its both Christian and ethnic aspects in various groups of source material: in autobiographies of black ministers and preachers, in journal, magazine and newspaper articles written by ex-slaves or some ‘ghost-writers’, in songs and interviews, in travellers’ accounts, plantation records, diaries of the whites. Alho’s methodology was based on the combination of ethnohistorical, folkloristic and anthropological frameworks. The question “what constitutes a religion”, was approached theoretically and focused upon both the Christian and Afro-American motifs and allusions in their narrative tradition and especially in their music (Negro-spirituals).

The Professor of Folklore at the University of Helsinki, Anna-Leena Siikala, has followed Haavio’s line of research by combining conceptual frameworks developed in comparative religion, folklore studies, cultural anthropology and the study of mentalities. Her dissertation, The Rite Technique of the Siberian Shaman (1978) bears traces peculiar to the Finnish school of folklore and mythology. Siikala has widened her scope of vision significantly into neurophysiology and theories of altered states of consciousness in explaining the shaman’s basic psychic mechanism and the technique of ecstasy. Laying special emphasis on the shaman’s communicative function, Siikala developed further the role theory represented in Nordic tradition research by Hjalmar Sundén and Lauri Honko. In her latest work, she has given a comprehensive view on shamanism in Finland (Mythic Images and Shamanism, 2003) on the basis of Kalevala poetry.

4. Developments within the discipline in the last decades of the 20th century

Since 1968, a total of seventeen scholars have written their doctoral dissertations within departments of comparative religion in Finnish universities. Aili Nenola first wrote her Licentiate thesis on the topic of ritual lament (Rituaalisen itkennän dimensiot Inkerin häänäytelmässä: sosiaalisten suhteiden analyysi, 1974). In her doctoral dissertation, Studies in Ingrian Laments (1982) she examined the system and meaning of metaphorical substitute names in laments and connected the genre of laments to other women’s songs. In addition to Van Gennepian notion of rites of passage, the theoretical issues raised from the material focused on the ritual expression of role relationships and the meaning of ritual mourning. In her doctoral dissertation Saarna, saarnaaja, tilanne (Sermon, preacher, situation, 1978), Päivikki Suojanen, now Professor emerita of ethnology/folkloristics at the University of Jyväskylä, the production of spontaneous sermon among the Beseechers Movement of Western Finland. In her analysis, Suojanen focused on the lives and personalities of two lay preachers in terms of the internalization and individual use of tradition. Professor of comparative religion at the University of Helsinki, René Gothóni, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Modes of Life of Therevada Monks: a Case Study of Buddist Monasticism in Sri Lanka in 1982. In his work Gothoni’s examined the effects of social change on the lives of Therevada monks by the methods of ethnographic interview and observation in a monastery in Sri Lanka. In his subsequent scholarly activity, Gothóni has studied the monks in the Greek Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos and the pilgrimage to the Monastery Island. The late Seppo Syrjänen was a missiologist who defended his dissertation In Search of Meaning and Identity: Conversion to Christianity in Pakistani Muslim Culture in 1984. The study investigates the meaning of becoming a Christian in Muslim culture. Eila Helander, now Professor of Church and Social Relations at the University of Helsinki, published her dissertation To Change and to Preserve: A Study of Religiosity of Evangelical University Students and Graduates in Trinidad in 1986.

Helena Helve, now Associate Professor (Docent) at the University of Helsinki, examined the worldview of young people in a longitudinal study Nuorten maailmankuva (1987; published in English 1993) dealing with Finnish speaking youth living in a suburb of metropolitan Helsinki. Matti Kamppinen, now Associate Professor (Docent) of Cultural Anthropology and Lecturer in Comparative Religion at the University of Turku, defended his dissertation in 1989. The book was entitled Cognitive Systems and Cultural Models of Illness. The study addresses the social construction of illness in two mestizo villages in the Peruvian Amazon, and it deals with three problems: developing a framework for cognitive anthropology, applying the framework in interpreting the Amazonian illness stories and analyzing the embedded metaphors and pertinent metonymic rules. Eira Hernberg published her dissertation in 1989 on the Finnish author Tito Colliander and the impact of Greek Orthodox faith in his personal life and his literary work. The book is entitled Aitoa ihmistä etsimässä. Ihmisenä olemisen ongelma Tito Collianderin tuotannossa (In search of a genuine human being: the problem of being human in the work of Tito Colliander.

During the 1990’s (as of the autumn of 1998), eight dissertations have been published, along with many important monographs and collections of articles by both older and younger representatives of the discipline. Nora Ahlberg, now Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Trondheim in Norway, defended her Ph.D. thesis New Challenges, Old Strategies: Themes of Variation and Conflict among Pakistani Muslims in Norway at the University of Helsinki in 1990. The study deals with the adaptation of Muslims living in Norway. Ilkka Pyysiäinen, now Associate Professor (docent) of Comparative Religion at the Universities of Turku and Helsinki and Senior Research Fellow of the Academy of Finland (1998-2001), defended his doctorate in 1993, with Beyond Language and Reason: Mysticism in Indian Buddhism. The study addresses the meaning of mysticism through the concept of the ‘pure consciousness event’ (PCE), and can be labeled as a religio-phenomenological analysis in which the author relates the ideas expressed in Buddhist texts to ways of experiencing being-in-the-world. A prolific writer, Pyysiäinen has published several books since receiving his doctorate. In Belief and Beyond: The Religious Categorization of Reality (1996) Pyysiäinen approaches the notions of ‘religion’, ‘mysticism’ and ‘the sacred’ from the point of view of the cognitive study of religion and posits that as one of various conceptual systems by which reality is rendered intelligible, religious doctrinal systems involve a specific way of categorizing reality. Religion deals with distinctions such as inner/outer, subjective/objective, body/not-body, self/not-self. In religious doctrinal systems these distinctions and oppositions are given a metaphysical interpretation and turned into a fundamental distinction (with soteriological and thus also moral consequences) between ‘world’ and ‘not-world’. Religions relate the spiritual goals of human beings to this idea of ‘not-world’, which is characterized by divine attributes. In Jumalan selitys: ‘Jumala’ kognitiivisena kategoriana (1997; Explaining God: ‘God’ as a Cognitive Category), Pyysiäinen postulates that within the rationale of comparative religion God should not be comprehended as the (Ultimate; non-bodily) being, but as a designation of the conceptual boundary by which people cognize the distinction between world and not-world. Hannele Koivunen’s dissertation, The Woman who Understood Completely. A Semiotic Analysis of the Mary Magdalene Myth in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary (1994) traces the roots of the Christian polarization of femaleness to an asexual notion of Madonna represented by the Virgin Mary and a penitent whore represented by Mary Magdalene. Petra Pakkanen defended her thesis, Interpreting early Hellenistic Religion: A Study based on the Cult of Isis and the Mystery of Demeter in 1995; the book was published in 1996, in the series Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens, Vol. III. Pakkanen examines the cults of two mystery Goddesses, Isis and Demeter, during the third and the first centuries B.C., on the basis of published inscriptions primarily at Athens, Eleusis and Delos but also at other locations.

At the University of Turku Martti Junnonaho dealt in his doctoral dissertation Uudet uskonnot – vastakulttuuria ja vaihtoehtoja (1996, New Religions: Counterculture and Alternatives) with three religious movements of Indian origin: Transcendental Meditation, the Divine Light Mission and Hare Krishna. Taking the perspective of sociology of religion, Junnonaho treats the movements as counter-cultural phenomena and analyzes both their religio-historical background and the process and methods of conversion in Western societies.

The present author, Veikko Anttonen, took up the theme first scrutinized in Finland by Asko Vilkuna. Anttonen defended his study Ihmisen ja maan rajat: ‘Pyhä’ kulttuurisena kategoriana (1996; The Making of Corporeal and territorial boundaries) at the University of Helsinki in 1996. His work addresses the ‘sacred’ as a cultural category rather than as a theological concept. The analysis comprises both linguistic and ethnographic aspects of the term as it is used in vernacular. Anttonen’s aim was to explain why specific topographically exceptional places, especially along waterways or along paths out in the wilderness, such as springs, rapids, marshes, lakes and mountains, are designated as ‘sacred’. How can we explore the distribution of place-names on a world-wide scale in which the attribute appears as an appellative designation for a place, and moreover, why is it that these places are located in uninhabited regions out in the wilderness and find their location amid settlements only after the rise and spread of Christianity? What were the properties that made a rowan tree and its red berries ‘sacred’? Why was the bear held a sacred animal among Northern peoples? What are the ‘cognitive’ roots of the temporal systems, still valid, on the basis of which there are sacred days in opposition to non-sacred days? Why do the Mosaic laws assign the pig the status of a defiled (forbidden, tabooed, and thus sacred) animal, rules which Muslims too carefully observe? Why were women set apart during their menstruation period and in the late stage of pregnancy? Anttonen argues against essentialist notions of the sacred, in which the core-meaning of the category is sought from emotions. He set out to create a counter-argument against phenomenological interpretations in which an introspective understanding of emotions and numenal structures in subjective religious experience are emphasized. The representatives of the phenomenological school of thought have detached the sacred from the social matrix within which, however, all human experience, including religious experience, takes place. According to Anttonen, the academic scholar of religion, working in a modern, secular university, cannot take a theological view and address the issue of ‘sacrality’ on the basis of religious texts of any religious tradition, but must view its multiple representations on the basis of general scientific knowledge. In this enterprise, both sociocultural and cognitive factors need to be taken into consideration. From a cognitive perspective, Anttonen defines the sacred as a relational category of thought and action, which is actualized in specific value-laden situations in which a change in the contextually interpreted boundaries of temporal, territorial or corporeal categories takes place.

Both at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku, the number of scholars who are defending their doctoral dissertations in comparative religion is on the rise. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Tuula Sakaranaho, Hannu Kilpeläinen, Terhi Utriainen, and Kimmo Ketola, and Risto Pulkkinen at the University of Helsinki have received their doctorates and made valuable contribution to the rich academic tradition of the science of religion in Finland.