Post-Secular Culture and a Changing Religious Landscape in Finland

The erosion of religion - secularization - was long held to constitute an inevitable feature and consequence of modernity and condition of modernization. However, as argued by an increasing number of scholars today, religion has not, after all, lost its societal and cultural relevance as predicted. For instance, immigrant religions, charismatic movements, new religious movements, and alternative spiritualities exemplify the resilience of religion as a social and cultural force. In order to conceptualize this situation in contrast to traditional narratives of secularization, Western societies of today are often referred to in terms of a post-secular culture.

Åbo Akademi University centre of excellence in research 2010-2014 - PCCR - "Post-Secular Culture and a Changing Religious Landscape" is a research project devoted to qualitative and ethnographic investigations of the changing religious landscape in Finland.

Western societies of today are often referred to in terms of a post-secular culture. The erosion and diminishing social and cultural relevance of religion - a notion central to traditional narratives of secularisation - has become increasingly questioned within the study of religion today.

Questions regarding how to most appropriately understand the changing religious landscape of today remain both open and disputed. Given this situation, it becomes important to explore and give due attention to the distinctiveness of particular social and cultural contexts instead of relying solely on monolithic theories of secularisation. The principal aim of PCCR is to provide detailed analyses of how post-secular culture affects religious life in Finland, especially regarding identities, values, meanings, and agency. The Finnish context provides an area particularly well suited for studying these ongoing processes of change as it is characterised by its relatively late, but deep and rapid, opening to overarching influences on a macro level such as the global economy, transnational cultural flows, and international migration. The project will explicitly focus on cases of religious groups, actors, movements, practices, and related phenomena in Finland that are characteristic of post-secular society, i.e. phenomena that replace or complement institutionalised and traditional religion or otherwise contribute to changes in this field on both a broader societal and cultural as well as individual level.

In conjunction with an interdisciplinary approach rooted in sociological, anthropological, and psychological perspectives, the main objectives of the project are pursued through (a) the development of a methodological approach, compatible with the identification of how changes on a macro level affect the religious landscape on a micro level, (b) the conducting of ethnographic case-studies on different religious phenomena identified as characteristic of post-secular culture, and (c) the conducting of comparative analyses of how macro level changes affect the shaping of identities, values, meanings, and agency on a micro level. The project thus aims to develop and provide a new integrated matrix of theoretical perspectives and methodological tools to the study of the mosaic of religious change in a post-secular society; an endeavour that is vital for an understanding of the continuing cultural and societal impact of religion today.

The project has the status of centre of excellence for research at Åbo Akademi University during the period 2010-2014.