Identities and agency

Relations between religiosities, post-religious practices and medical as well as therapeutic care practices are becoming increasingly interesting and complex in contemporary society. This change reflects the rise of new epistemologies and the dissolution of the dichotomy between faith and knowledge that is characteristic to a post-secular culture. People are increasingly interested in blurring the boundaries between different sectors of knowledge and in juxtaposing scientific, religious, esoteric, and therapeutic discourses and practices. Contemporary Finnish society hosts multiple forms of religious or semi-secular self-help and therapeutic practices with their respective metaphysics. Moreover, many of the both traditional and new religions operating in Finland today focus on health, empowerment, and well-being.

How does this development change and shape identities, values, meanings, and agency? In several ways the example of religious and quasi-religious well-being practices points to the methodological relevance of interdisciplinary methods and intersecting themes. The present situation includes new values, beliefs, ideological positions and corresponding practices. On a general level, we may claim that within the diversity of religions and comparable meaning systems people are given unforeseen possibilities and means for constructing and reconstructing identities. Individuals in post-secular culture are given the moral responsibility of regulating their lives the best they can in order to become and stay healthy, efficient, moral and flexible agents both in their private lives and in the labor market. A common feature of many religiosities, spiritualities, practices and so forth is the invitation to work with oneself, more specifically with one’s mind, body and spirit, as well as with ones emotions, goals, values and relations.

All this has poignantly been called, ‘the subjective or expressive turn of culture’ (Heelas & Woodhead 2005). As a consequence, many people are today increasingly seeking for a non-dualistic or holistic understanding of life and the human being, an understanding that would bring mind and body, or nature and “spirit”, in unity. This has been conceptualized in terms of a “de-differentiation” of the person (Davie 2007) and as “self-realization” (Hervieu-Léger 2000).

The post-secular culture also raises many challenges for late modern subjects. The labor market is becoming more insecure and transitive; social life is fragmented and intimate relationships are increasingly fragile; identities are not given once and for all but need to be actively constructed and reinforced. Some analyses of the post-secular urban culture have depicted it in critical terms of, for instance, a disorienting character or disconnectedness, a lack of subjectivity or authenticity, a glorification of the superficial or as fragmentary, diffuse, and disassociated. This condition has been insightfully characterized as becoming ‘exhausted of being oneself’ (c.f. Giddens 1991; Lash 1995; Ehrenberg 1998). These questions will be approached ethnographically in several religious, spiritual and well-being contexts.

Central research areas
Neo-charismatic movements, meditation and alternative health care as well as other well-being practices
The question of gender
Issues of class, socio-economic status, ethnicity and age
"Angel practices"
Dr Terhi Utrianien, Senior lecturer, University of Helsinki
Dr Måns Broo, Senior Lecturer, Åbo Akademi University
Dr Tuija Hovi, Post-doctoral rersearcher, Åbo Akademi University
MA Peik Ingman, Research student, Åbo Akademi University