NCSR 2008 - Urban Diversity and Religious Traditions
13-15 August 2008, Åbo Akademi University

The elderly and religion in urban settings

Jenni Spännäri, University of Helsinki

On account of demographic changes, in many post-industrial countries the need has been acknowledged for investigating how the elderly can find a mutually meaningful role in the changing society.

This paper aims to show, how religion as collective memory can function for the elderly in urban settings as an essential element of self-narration, identity building and social connectedness. This paper also suggests that religion as maintained by the elderly can be significant for the rootedness and well-being of the urban society as a whole.

The examination is based on a qualitative analysis of short religious poems, prayers and aphorisms (N=943) written by Finnish elderly persons in the study groups of Pension Union, the biggest pensioners? organization in Finland, in year 1999. This paper compares the views of the elderly writers in urban and rural areas and analyzes the ways the urban elderly

In the texts the writers communicated their personal views and experiences by using religious language deeply rooted to their Finnish and Lutheran cultural heritage. In this process the elderly draw from the religious culture and collective memory, utilizing, adapting and renewing it. At the same time drawing from it, the elderly maintain, update, mediate and preserve the collective memory, which is an essential basis for the identity of the society and its individuals. Thus the elderly can play a significant, in its own way productive, role for the vitality of the collective identities and coherence of the society and thus help society to meet the challenges of urban phenomena, including pluralism.