Workshop 2023

Workshop Social Identity and Religious Studies Scholars in Dialogue takes place at the Faculty of Theology, Helsinki, on 10-12 May 2023.

Please register by the 2nd of May via this link.

You can find program and abstracts below.



Jonas Kunst, University of Oslo

Unraveling Islamophobia: A Social Psychological Exploration of its Origins, Impacts, and Mitigation Strategies

Abstract: In this presentation, I will provide insights from a set of social-psychological studies on the phenomenon of Islamophobia. The key questions I aim to explore include: How can we comprehend and define Islamophobia through a psychological lens? What psychological factors undergird Islamophobic attitudes and conspiracy beliefs? How does Islamophobia impact the social identities, acculturation, and well-being of Muslims? And, how can we diminish religious prejudice by promoting interfaith solidarity? To illuminate these questions, I will share findings from a range of cross-cultural investigations we have conducted among Muslim and non-Muslim populations across various regions, such as the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Bio: Jonas R. Kunst is a professor of cultural and community psychology at the University of Oslo. He completed his PhD in social psychology in 2016. Dr. Kunst has been a Fulbright scholar at Harvard University and a post-doctoral fellow at Yale. His research focuses primarily on acculturation, intercultural and intergroup relations, and extremism.


Paula Fredriksen, Hebrew University / Boston University

Paul the Judaizer: Ethnicity, Identity, and the Redemption of the Nations

Abstract: The Protestant Paul—enemy of ritual, champion of faith over works, ethnic inclusivist, critic of Jewish law—was born in the Reformation. He has continued to dominate New Testament Studies to this day. This Paul is comfortably familiar, the principles of his religious identity collapsing the distance between the mid-first century and our own. What happens if we defamiliarize this Paul by repatriating him to his ancient Mediterranean context? We will see how relations between gods and humans in antiquity were configured precisely along ethnic lines. We will see how “Jewish law” was for Paul not a category of Christian theology but an element of ancient kinship construction, “ancestral custom.” We will see how “law,” far from being the opposite of “gospel,” in fact provided much of its content. We will see how Paul’s fervent mission to bring the nations to the God of Israel through his son, the Davidic messiah, was precisely a form of Judaizing. And in conclusion, we will consider how anachronistic constructions of the past serve to validate religious identity in the present. When it comes to religious identity, the past is too important to be allowed to exist.

Bio: Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University, since 2009 has been Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she also holds two honorary doctorates in theology and religious studies. She has published widely on the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity, and on pagan-Jewish-Christian relations in the Roman Empire. Author of Augustine on Romans (1982) and From Jesus to Christ (1988; 2000), her Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, won a 1999 National Jewish Book Award. More recently, she has explored the development of Christian anti-Judaism, and Augustine’s singular response to it, in Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (2010); and has investigated the shifting conceptions of God and of humanity in Sin: The Early History of an Idea (2012). Her latest study, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (2017), places Paul’s Jewish messianic message to gentiles within the wider world of ancient Mediterranean culture.


Petri Luomanen, University of Helsinki

Prototypes and Exemplars in Biblical Applications of the Social Identity Approach

Abstract: The social identity approach has been applied in biblical studies for almost three decades. Yet there is still some confusion among scholars how to apply its basic concepts of prototype/prototypicality and exemplar in the study of ancient texts. In the talk, I first map the use of these key concepts in T&T Clark Social Identity Commentary of the New Testament (ed. by J. Brian Tucker and Aaron Kuecker; 2018), offering also a critical discussion of the definitions provided in the first pathbreaking biblical applications of the social identity approach. I argue that a proper application of these concepts in the interpretation of ancient texts needs to be aware of the cognitive formation and function of prototypes and exemplars in online social categorizations as well as the ways how culture and its transmission affects these processes. In conclusion, I suggest some terminological distinctions in order to clarify the interaction of cognition and culture in the application of the social identity approach to early Christian texts.

Bio: Petri Luomanen is Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Culture and Literature, Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki. After completing his doctoral dissertation on the topic of salvation in the Gospel of Matthew (Entering the Kingdom of Heaven; Mohr Siebeck, 1998), he turned his attention to non-canonical sources, in particular on early Jewish Christianity on which he has published numerous articles summarizing some of the main results in Recovering Jewish-Christian Sects and Gospels (Brill, 2012). He has also been a keen developer of socio-cognitive approaches in biblical studies, which has resulted in several edited volumes (recently, Social and Cognitive Perspectives on the Sermon on the Mount, Equinox 2021) and research projects: Explaining Early Judaism and Christianity: Ritual, Memory and Identity 2007–2010; Socio-Cognitive Perspectives on Early Judaism and Early Christianity/NordForsk 2010–2014; The Spread of Early Christianity in Cultural Evolutionary Perspective 2015–2021. The recent project pioneers cultural evolutionary theorizing in biblical studies. He is also one of the series editors of the recently started T&T Clark Social Identity Commentaries on the New Testament, which will include volumes on all New Testament texts.


Karmela Liebkind, Prof. em. in Social Psychology, University of Helsinki

The relationship between group formation, the content of social identity and intergroup attitudes: potential repercussions for real-life inter-religious relations

Abstract: Mainly, but not exclusively, informed by Social Identity Theory and Social Categorization Theory, this presentation focuses on the social psychology of social identities and intergroup relations, particularly negative intergroup attitudes and their components and various forms. The importance of definitions for all interdisciplinary dialogue is emphasized, lest the interlocutors end up talking about different things, although using the same concepts. That is why two social identities crucial for that dialogue ‒ ethnic and cultural identity, as religious identity is part of the latter ‒ are defined.

However, it is emphasized that social identities and intergroup attitudes are socially constructed and changing both in time, with contexts and situations, and between individuals within the same groups. In addition, the importance of social norms is emphasized when, for example, formerly socially accepted and explicitly expressed prejudices become implicit/automatic. Especially, the decisive role of the emotional component of attitudes is highlighted, as well as the role of culture in transmitting intergroup attitudes through socialization. Researchers are encouraged to carefully monitor the extent to which any culturally achieved intergroup attitudes may influence their work; the academia has unfortunately been in the forefront also in generating racism. Finally, there is an attempt to apply SIT to the group formations that occurred when Christianity and Islam emerged from Judaism. Although completely theoretical and speculative, ignoring the time it took, it illustrates tenets of SIT which are assumed to be universal. Furthermore, the specific beliefs/stereotypes of Jews which emerged in the process are discussed. The presentation ends with a leap to our times, showing how historical beliefs and their emotional components embedded in culture shift- shape without losing core meanings and translate into action. Empirical research examples are scarce but chosen to highlight various ways in which the content/meaning of social identity has consequences for intergroup attitudes.

Bio: Karmela Liebkind is Professor Emerita in Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki. She has for decades studied and published widely on interethnic and intercultural relations from the perspective of both minority and majority groups, including, for example, ethnic and cultural identity, acculturation processes and various forms of racism, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination, as well as on the consequences of those for the victims. Her research has also focused on developing research-based interventions to improve intergroup relations in schools.

She has published the following handbook articles: Liebkind, K. (2001), Acculturation. In R. Brown & S. Gaertner, eds., Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Intergroup processes (Oxford: Blackwell), 386–406; Liebkind, K. (2004), Intergroup Relations and Culture. In C. D. Spielberger. ed., Encyclopedia of applied psychology, 2, F-Per (Oxford: Elsevier Academic Press), 335–348; Liebkind, K. (2006), Ethnic identity in acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry, eds., The Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 78–96; Liebkind, K. (2010), Social psychology. In J. Fishman & O. Garcia, eds., Handbook of language and ethnic identity: Disciplinary and regional perspectives (Volume I, 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press), 18–31; Liebkind, K., Mähönen, T. A., Varjonen, S., & Jasinskaja-Lahti, J. (2016), Acculturation and identity. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry, eds., Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology. 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 30–49.


Alex Mesoudi, University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus

Migration, acculturation and cross-cultural diversity: A cultural evolution perspective

Abstract: I will present two strands of research relating to the question of how migration and acculturation shape cross-cultural diversity in psychological characteristics. Since the seminal paper by Henrich, Heine & Norenzayan (2010) criticising psychology for almost entirely focusing on people from “WEIRD” (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) societies, there has been increased focus on cross-cultural variation in social psychological processes such as social identity, self-construal and social attribution. Yet there has been little research on how this cross-cultural variation is maintained, especially in the face of constant migration. Crucial to this is the process of “acculturation”, i.e. changes in psychological characteristics as a result of migration. I will first present an empirical study of acculturation in multiple generations of British Bangladeshis living in East London, showing substantial but incomplete acculturation in 2nd generation British Bangladeshis towards local “WEIRD” psychological characteristics (Mesoudi, Magid & Hussain 2016). Second, I will present theoretical models inspired by population genetics exploring how acculturation and migration jointly shape cross-cultural variation, with acculturation assumed to constitute conformity to the majority (Mesoudi 2018). These models suggest that only a modest amount of acculturation in each generation is sufficient to maintain realistic levels of between-group cultural variation. However, the models highlight several outstanding questions, such as whether acculturation resembles conformity and who immigrants actually learn from. Finally, I will highlight how all of this research benefits from a cultural evolution framework, which views cultural change as an evolutionary process and consequently borrows tools, methods and concepts from evolutionary biology to study cultural change and diversity.

Bio: Alex Mesoudi is Professor of Cultural Evolution in the Human Behaviour and Cultural Evolution Group at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus, UK. He conducts research into human cultural evolution. His 2011 book Cultural Evolution gives an easy-to-read overview of this inter-disciplinary field, which links many traditional social science disciplines (anthropology, archaeology, economics, linguistics, psychology etc.) within an evolutionary framework. He runs lab experiments and constructs theoretical models investigating human social learning biases: who learns what, from whom, when and why. These social learning biases can then be used to explain large-scale patterns of cultural change and diversity.

He is the author of numerous articles and the following books: Acerbi A, Mesoudi A, Smolla M (2022). Individual-Based Models of Cultural Evolution, a Step-by-Step Guide Using R; (2017); Adams, John, Patrick Barmby, Alex Mesoudi, eds., The Nature and Development of Mathematics: Cross Disciplinary Perspectives on Cognition, Learning and Culture; Mesoudi A, Aoki K, eds. (2015). Learning Strategies and Cultural Evolution during the Palaeolithic; Mesoudi A (2011). Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences, University of Chicago Press.

Workshop papers

Teemu Pauha, Study of Religions / Islamic Theology, University of Helsinki

Hermans meets Tajfel and Turner: Bringing social identity and dialogical self theories together 

Abstract: According to social identity theory (SIT), the human self-concept can be divided into two parts that are differently salient in different situations. When the personal identity is salient, a person perceives both themselves and others first and foremost as distinct individuals. In turn, when the social identity is salient, sense of individuality diminishes and group membership becomes primary.

SIT has demonstrated its worth in outlining the antecedents and consequences of identification with a group. However, the focus of the theory has been on the dynamics of interpersonal interaction, while the intrapsychic identity dynamics have attracted less attention. In particular, the mutual interaction between different social identities (“intersectionality”) and the psychological development of the self-concept are topics that are little discussed in the context of SIT.

My paper seeks to elaborate on the aforementioned topics by discussing SIT together with the dialogical self theory (DST). DST conceptualizes the psychological self as an ongoing dialogue among a diversity of ‘I-positions’. DST distinguishes between internal positions (e.g., ‘I-as-an-atheist’) that are perceived as parts of one’s own person, external positions (e.g., ‘my father’) that are attributed to other people, and collective positions (e.g., ‘we-psychologists’) that represent the common view of some group.

In my paper, I argue that the various parts of the self-concept outlined in SIT can be conceptualized in DST terms as I-positions (and vice versa). In particular, the internal I-positions of DST can be perceived as parts of the personal identity, whereas social identities bear a strong resemblance to the collective positions of DST. I suggest that such a reconceptualization benefits both theories: SIT can shed light on the contextual factors that activate different I-positions in the dialogical self. In turn, DST has potential to unpack the dynamics of mutual interaction between the various identities that an individual has.


Sini Mikkola, University of Eastern Finland / Church history

In Search for Meaning in Life: Narrating Religious Identity in the Reformation Era

Abstract: Previous research has shown that during the Reformation, religious identities, especially among the laity, could be very ambiguous. This ambiguity has been explained through, among other things, individual interpretations of the Reformers’ texts and speeches, the simultaneous influence of many preachers, and varying positions of the persons themselves at different times, in different situations and as part of different social groups. This paper will further develop the theme of religious identity building among the first generation laity of the Reformation era by exploiting modern theorizations on narrativity and meaning in life.

My starting point is that by means of narration, people build their identity, position themselves in relation with others, and aim at constructing as meaningful and coherent a picture as possible of their person and life course. In the sixteenth century, Christianity provided a vast cultural storehouse of stories from which people could find references and models for their own stories.

Thereby, the role of Scripture and of prototypical biblical figures was vital in the meaning-making processes of one’s Christian identity. Christian faith, the question of God’s will and of one’s salvation, and, as a whole, one’s position coram Deo and coram mundo, were indeed central issues in writings of theologically oriented laity. Hence, their autobiographical writings, especially letters, are used in order to discuss the religious identity construction processes and the narrated identities of sixteenth-century lay people. As case studies, I will use three lay women from Germany: Katharina Schütz Zell, Argula von Grumbach, and Elisabeth von Braunschweig-Lüneburg. I will zoom into their narrations of their religious identities via four categories of meaning in life: coherence, purpose, significance, and belonging.


Fulbrook, Mary & Rublack, Ulinka (2010). In Relation: The ‘Social Self’ and Ego-Documents. – German History 28:3. 263–272.
Hanson, Michele Zelinsky (2009). Religious identity in an early Reformation community: Augsburg, 1517 to 1555. Leiden, Boston: Brill.
Lund, Pekka & Meriläinen, Juha (2013). Tarinat historiantutkimuksessa. – Kristinuskon historian tutkimusalat ja metodit. Toim. Jaakko Olavi Antila, Esko M. Laine & Juha Meriläinen. Helsinki: SKHS. 110–122.
Martela, Frank & Michael F. Steger (2016). The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance. – The Journal of Positive Psychology 11:5, 531-545. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1137623
Schnell, Tatjana (2021). The psychology of meaning in life. Abingdon: Routledge.


Nina Nikki (University of Helsinki) and Vojtěch Kaše (University of West Bohemia)

120 years of Pauline scholarship under a digital “macroscope”: A distributional semantic analysis of 25,000 academic articles

Abstract: Scholars of humanities, and biblical scholars, customarily approach their primary sources by various close readings. Reviews of scholarship are often based on a similar procedure of picking some representatives for serious treatment and using them to create a narrative about the state-of-the-art of scholarship. In this paper our aim is to look at the latest Pauline scholarship from a bird’s-eye-view. In order to achieve this distant reading perspective (F. Moretti) to modern Pauline scholarship, we apply computational methods to analyze textual content of 25,000 academic articles on apostle Paul from the year 1900 until today extracted from the JSTOR and Portico databases.

First, we will apply word co-occurrence methods and vector semantics to discover how Paul is characterized in modern scholarship and compare this to our previous findings on ancient authors who wrote about Paul (Nikki, Kaše, Špiclová 2022). We hypothesize that the differences will be small, calling into question the traditional division between ancient authors and modern researchers.

Secondly, we will look at how the question of Paul’s relationship to Judaism and the Mosaic Law has changed in the last century. We anticipate increased and changed treatment of the topic particularly after WWII. In the 21st century, Paul’s Jewish identity and his views on the salvation of gentiles and Jews have increasingly become a tool for scholarly group identification. We aim to find out whether, and how, these developments are visible from a higher plane of abstraction.

Finally, we will discuss how the results gained from distant reading may challenge Pauline scholars to reappraise their role in the wider scholarly field.


Marja Lönnroth-Olin, University of Helsinki, Social Psychology

Discursive analysis of intersectional moral exclusions in online discussions on women to be repatriated from the camp Al-Hol to Finland

Abstract: The Finnish public debate on Islam is often problem focused and Islam is routinely constructed as incompatible with Finnish culture. The portrayal of Muslimness in the media is often focusing on themes such as poor integration, incompatible cultures or threat of violent radicalization, in which Muslims are constructed as the national Other. This study analyses online discussions about the repatriation of Finnish women and children from the Al-Hol camp in Syria. In spring 2019, the planned repatriation raised a heated debate about safety, threat of terrorism, child welfare and the state´s responsibility to help its citizens. The discussions were very polarized and affect-laden, as well as clearly gendered. The aim of this study is to look at how nationhood and its boundaries are negotiated in these discussions. By utilising a Critical Discursive Psychological approach, combined with intersectional theory it explores how the intersections of gender, ethnicity, religion, and age are mobilised in online commenting on the news about the planned repatriation, and how they are utilised in the construction of the nation and its moral outsiders. The analysis identified three interpretative repertoires; repertoire of foreign threat, repertoire of neglected maternal obligations and repertoire of irrationality and five subject positions; the deceitful villain, the bad mother and brainwashed fools for the mothers and innocent children and future threats for the children. The analysis shows the dialectical nature of positionings through which Otherness of the women is constructed in interplay with positions given for other actors such as Muslim men, children, and Finns. Moreover, it shows how the negotiation of proper Finnish womanhood, motherhood and citizenship is informed by intersecting categorisations such as gender, ethnicity, religion and age.


Jenni Urponen, FT, KM, MuM

Uskonnollinen musiikki perusopetuskontekstissa Abrahamin uskontojen oman uskonnon opetuksessa

Abstract: Uskonnolliseen musiikkiin liittyy läheisesti kysymys uskonnollisen yhteisön identiteetistä. Uskonnollista musiikkia ovat tarkastelleet identiteetin näkökulmasta muun muassa Taru Leppänen (2002; 2010), Teemu Taira (2019) ja Hannu Vapaavuori (1997), Saksassa puolestaan Hermann Kurzke (2003; 2010) ja Ruotsissa Sven-Åke Selander (2011). Suomalaisessa kontekstissa tarkastelun keskiössä on useimmiten ollut ensisijaisesti luterilaiseen perinteeseen liitetty musiikki. Sen sijaan muiden uskontojen uskonnollisen musiikin tutkiminen on jäänyt marginaaliin tai jopa kokonaan tutkimatta.

Kansainvälisesti uskonnollinen musiikki -teema on ollut viimeisen vuosikymmenen aikana hyvinkin ajankohtainen. Esimerkiksi Saksassa on koulujen musiikinopetusta varten laadittu eri uskontojen uskonnollista musiikkia käsitteleviä virike- ja opetusmateriaalia. Kiinnostus eri uskontojen musiikkia kohtaan on herännyt viimeisen viiden vuoden aikana vähitellen myös Suomessa. Esimerkiksi Helsingin seurakuntayhtymä yhdessä Helsingin kaupungin kulttuurikeskus Caisan kanssa on järjestänyt neljä kertaa (2018, 2019, 2020, 2022) Sacred Music Festival Helsinki – tapahtuman, joka on poliittisesti ja uskonnollisesti sitoutumaton. (Helsingin seurakunnat 2020; 2022.) Vuonna 2021 Kulttuuri- ja uskontofoorumi Fokus ry puolestaan julkaisi ”Moninaiset laulut! Laulukirja kouluille ja varhaiskasvatukseen” -oppimateriaalin. Julkaisu sisältää yksitoista eri uskontojen ja/tai kulttuuriperinteen laulua. (Moninaiset laulut 2021.) Eri uskontojen uskontoperinteen tutkiminen uskonnonpedagogiikan näkökulmasta on kuitenkin ollut vielä suhteellisen vähäistä.

Tässä esityksessä kuvaan ensi syksynä 2023 käynnistymässä olevan postdoc -tutkimukseni taustaa, lähtökohtia ja tutkimusasetelmaa. Tutkimukseni tehtävänä on tarkastella kahden Abrahamin uskonnon, juutalainen ja islam uskonto, uskonnollista musiikkia Suomessa. Tulen keskittymään erityisesti niiden omaan perinteeseen lukeutuvan uskonnollisen musiikin asemaan ja pedagogiseen käyttöön perusopetuskontekstissa, luokka-asteilla 1−6. Tätä aihepiiriä ei tiettävästi ole aiemmin tutkittu uskonnonpedagogisesta näkökulmasta. Tutkimukseni tulee lukeutumaan sekä uskonnonpedagogiikan että kirkkomusiikin alojen poikkitieteelliseksi tutkimukseksi. Sen näkökulmaa voidaan luonnehtia musiikkiorientoituneeksi uskonnonpedagogiikaksi (ks. myös Urponen 2020; 2021).


Raimo Hakola, University of Helsinki

The Children of God and Cain, the Murderer: Social Identity, Self-Perceived Collective Victimhood and Collective Blame in 1 John

Abstract: In 1 John 3:10–17, the epistle writer alludes to the two opposite groups: the children of God who love one another and the children of the devil who hate their brothers and sisters and are therefore murderers. The latter group is likened to Cain who is portrayed as being from the evil one and as a murderer.  The passage is an example of the polarized view of the world evident in the Johannine Epistles. This worldview can be taken as an attempt to keep the symbolic boundaries of the community intact and its social identity secure.

In this paper, I examine how the writer uses the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 3) to present the intracommunal schism (1 John 2:18–27) as a conflict between innocent victims and murderous evildoers. This transfers the conflict from the realm of historical causes and effects to the realm of mythical and fixed view of the world. The behavior of the ingroup and outgroup members falls into general categories of love and hate that do not invite verification attempts and are relatively immune to falsification. I further apply the concepts of self-perceived collective victimhood and collective blame to show how such one-dimensional and extreme polarities as God vs. the Devil, good vs. evil, love vs. hatred, victim vs. murderer function as fundamental building blocks in the social identity constructed in the Johannine Epistles.

In the context of an internal conflict among Johannine Christians, the portrait of Abel “as essentially innocent of any wrongdoing” makes the opponents of the writer “to bear the full brunt of blame for community conflicts” (Thatcher 2010: 749).


R. L. Victoria Pöhls, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics/TU Darmstadt, Germany

Changing Stereotypical Images of ‘the Other’: How Character Portrayals Alter Readers’ Concepts of Outgroup’ Members in Real Life

Abstract: In The Literary Mind, Mark Turner argues that “Our sense of someone’s general character guides our expectations of which roles he will play in which stories” (1996: 133). But does our sense of a characters’ general character likewise change our impression of the role ‘people like that character’ can or do play in society?

In this talk I will explore (fictional) narratives in which ‘outgroup’ characters become narrators, thereby crafting their own identities and telling the story from their point of view – to an audience neither sharing their social nor cultural background. I ask whether these kind of stories relayed by minority/outgroup characters impact the reading audience, and might be able to change the (stereotypical) image they have of and the characteristics they expect from members of this group in real life.

When discussing the results of a reader response story conducted with 271 readers, aimed at answering this question, I will highlight the specific textual features and mechanisms which I presume to be at the core of the observed effects. I hypothesized that the character’s perceived degree of prototypicality or individuality shapes the readers’ emotional response (e.g. empathy, identification), and plays a key role in either fostering or impeding transfer processes to real human beings in the reader’s surrounding.

It will also be discussed whether the deictical point of view from which the stories are relayed increases psychological alignment with outgroup characters and in which way fictional model characters of one’s own social group can be of support in this process.


Katja Kujanpää, Postdoctoral researcher, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland

Authoritative Texts in the Hands of Second-Century Entrepreneurs of Identity

Abstract: In this paper, I will illuminate how second-century Christian writers use authoritative texts when seeking to define what characterizes true followers of Christ. I will first briefly discuss the various ways in which biblical scholars have described the usefulness of the social identity theory for the study of ancient texts. Second, I will explain how I am applying the theory to second-century writers whom I view as entrepreneurs of identity: they argue for their vision of who they and their audience “truly” are, what they should do to be true to who they are, and what they should become in future. Third, I will present two case studies.

In the early second-century writing known as the First Epistle of Clement, the writer addresses a crisis in Corinth where established leaders of the community have been replaced. I will show how the writing seeks to place humility, submission to divine order, and willingness to make sacrifices for the good of the community as core characteristics that define the social category of Christ-followers. When trying to achieve this, the writer constantly refers to the Jewish scriptures (later to be regarded as the “Old Testament”), and particularly to the prototypical figure of Moses. My second case consists of Justin Martyr’s writings from the mid-second century. I will illuminate Justin’s strategies for claiming a scriptural past for gentile Christians in a rhetorical context in which his scriptural interpretation is contested. The paper highlights how authoritative texts can function as a valuable resource for identity construction, yet simultaneously, the Jewish scriptures also contain passages that form a challenge for early Christian writers when they are confronted with competing reconstructions of the imagined scriptural past.


Ilkka Lindstedt, University of Helsinki

Did the pre-Islamic Arabs kill their infant daughters? Islam and the creation of a troubling past

Abstract:  Muslim scholars, starting in the eighth century CE, began to formulate and maintain a distinct Islamic identity, which was articulated in contrast to other religious communities (in particular, Jews, Christians, Manicheans, and Zoroastrians) but also in contrast to pre-Islamic Arabs who lived during the so-called jahiliyya, or “the age of ignorance.” Recent scholarship (by, e.g., Rina Drory, Patricia Crone, and Peter Webb) has called into question many of the narratives about, and aspects ascribed to, the pre-Islamic inhabitants of Arabia contained in the Islamic-era literature. Indeed, Arab identity itself (as a broader category) has been suggested to be an Islamic-era creation. Though many of the writers of these stories about “pre-Islam” (Webb’s term) identified as Arab, they had a conflicted relationship with this (imagined) Arab past: on one hand, the Arabs before Islam were noble warriors and great poets; on the other, the pre-Islamic Arabs were pagan polytheists, whose life was completely immoral. (However, as regards religious groups, recent research shows that many, if not the majority of, pre-Islamic Arabians were Jews or Christians.) It was, in a word, a troubling past, with many conflicting aspects.

In this paper, I take issue with one putative characteristic of pre-Islam: the notion that the Arabs would have frequently, and disturbingly, practiced female infanticide by burying their daughters alive. This is what the Islamic-era religious scholars inferred on the basis of two Quranic passages (16:58–59 and 81:8–9). However, I will argue that the Muslim scholars’ interpretation of these verses is highly tendentious. Comparing the crucial word al-maw’uda (81:8) with the word’s occurrences in early Arabic poetry, I conclude that the conventional understanding of it is mistaken.


Anoo Niskanen, Åbo Akademi University – Study of Religions

The Role of Identity Motives in Religious Identities

Abstract: I have used Identity Process Theory (Jaspal & Breakwell, 2014) and Motivated Identity Construction Theory (Vignoles, 2011, 2017) in analyzing identity processes among former and present Sweden Finnish Conservative Laestadians. Life story interviews have been done with 21 present and 8 former Conservative Laestadians living in Sweden. All except one of the persons interviewed had Finnish background. Some of them were first-generation migrants from Finland, and some were second and third generation migrants. One have lived in Sweden but now living in Finland. All participants have previous or present connections to a Conservative Laestadian congregation founded by Conservative Laestadian migrants from Finland in the 1970s. Of the life story interviews, 26 were analyzed together with Faith Q-sortings. Faith Q-sort is a new method for assessing religious subjectivities based on Q-methodology coined by David Wulff and further developed at Åbo Akademi University. According to Identity Process Theory and Motivated Identity Construction Theory, identity motives are crucial for identity processes. Some of these identity motives are continuity, distinctiveness, self-esteem and belonging. The interviews with both present and former Conservative Laestadians showed that several of the identity motives might guide identity processes concerning the role of religion in the identity structure of the participants.


Päivi Räisänen-Schröder, doc., Academy of Finland Research Fellow University of Helsinki/ Church History,

In the Footsteps of Christ and Paul: Identity-Building in the Writings of the Anabaptist Paul Glock (d. 1585)

Abstract: The Reformation period saw the emergence of a wide variety of rival interpretations of Christianity, which could gradually – and my no means coherently – develop into official religious/confessional identities through dynamic processes of inclusion and exclusion, alongside intra-group negotiations about proper thoughts, beliefs, and practices. Emotionally, the feeling of belonging was essential for creating religious identities and group cohesion. Presenting first findings from my church-historical Academy of Finland project Emotion and Confession in Sixteenth-Century Germany, my paper explores processes of religious identity formation among sixteenth-century Anabaptists, who were vilified and persecuted as heretics by other Christian groups of the time. Anabaptists regarded themselves as the only true Christians, who were living in a historical continuum with Christ and his disciples. My paper asks what and how sacred texts and prototypical figures were used by Anabaptists to 1) draw boundaries to religious antagonists, and 2) to create, within the own community, a sense of belonging to the long tradition of true (and persecuted) Christians. As a case study, I analyze the writings of the shoemaker-turned-missionary Paul Glock (d. 1585), who – this is my hypothesis – was inspired both in his life and his writings by the Apostles, especially his namesake Paul. In Glock’s doctrinal/confessional texts, Paul emerges, next to Christ, as a central authority and prototypical figure. Glock’s letters, sent from captivity to his congregation, resemble New Testament epistles in both style and content. By modelling himself on Paul, Glock not only gave meaning to his own experiences and constructed his own identity, but also provided his fellow believers with building blocks for their religious identities. Although a layman, in his community Glock belonged to those with interpretive rights of sacred texts. His writings carried authority and were carefully read and preserved by his peers.


Emanuel Pfoh, CONICET & University of Helsinki

Shifting Alliances, Shifting Identities: Political Networks and Ethnic Identities in the Iron Age II Southern Levant

Abstract: What is the role of political alliances and networks of dependence in crafting different identities, not less, ethnic identities on concrete territories? Building on ethnographic and historical data and on anthropological insights on ethnicity, this paper assesses this issue considering the changing historical situation in the ninth and eighth centuries BCE in the Southern Levant, when Aramean and Assyrian political and military forces intervened in the territory of the kingdom of Israel and interacted, either actively or passively, with its population. Yet, this sentence begs some questions: Who is then an Aramean? And, who is an Israelite? Are the traditionally deployed linguistic criteria paramount definers to assign identity or rather secondary in the light of other features? Furthermore, which are the particular (political, military, inter-cultural, cultic) situations generating ethnic self-awareness and, most importantly, how can historians reconstruct these scenarios when data is usually fragmentary or lacking? Lastly, and in relation to socio-political ties, this paper addresses the question, mainly from epigraphic and archaeological evidence, of the inter-relationships between religious and cultic practices and constructions and maintenance (or, in sociological parlance, reproduction) of identity in the Iron Age Southern Levant.


Elina Lapinoja-Pitkänen

Prototypical characters of Greco-Roman private associations

Abstract: This paper examines how Greco-Roman private associations used prototypical figures or exemplars in expressing their distinctive identities. The topic is approached through two examples.

1) In association contexts the reinterpreted prototypical figures were most often past benefactors whose “greatness” was later reexplained to suit the needs of the association. For example, the internal benefactor of the association referred in inscriptions IG II² 1325, 1326, and IG II² 2948 and associated with building the temple of the Dionysiasts, is clearly portrayed as a prototypical figure. While he was alive, he was regarded as an exceptional member who donated time and money for the benefit of the group (IG II² 1325), and after his death, he was recognized as a hero and described as a perfect benefactor or exemplar benefactor who embodied the values and identity that are ascribed to the cognitive ingroup prototypical benefactor.

2) The by-laws and rule texts of private associations explain the do’s and dont’s of association life, however, they also portray an image of a prototypical ingroup member. These regulatory inscriptions embody the group norms and expectations of each particular association. Regulations convey to members how they should behave if they are to belong to the group and share its distinctive identity.


Heli Alamaunu, University of Helsinki

Healing heart: Reflective thinking in the Book of Proverbs

Abstract: The sacred texts may affect identity construction in several ways. For example, they may be used to instruct how an individual should think and which contents one should accept. This may have an influence on which contents are delivered further. The book of Proverbs contains a rich variety of sayings related to an individual’s thinking, communication, choices, deliberation, and actions. In their dual process theories, psychologists Jonathan St. B. T. Evans and Keith E. Stanovich distinguish between intuitive and reflective thinking, which they refer to as Type 1 and Type 2 processing. Type 1 delivers contents that one is not fully aware of, while Type 2 processing is based on more deliberate reasoning. Using metonymy analysis to examine selected verses in the Book of Proverbs (14:29-30, 15:28), I study in this paper how these verses and the connotations they create reflect features of Type 2 processing. This kind of analysis is needed for gaining a more thorough understanding of the different aspects of the thinking process as it is described in ancient Hebrew literature. I will argue that the Book of Proverbs, for one, helps us to form a better insight of how thinking processes are interwoven with the complex network of metaphorical and metonymic expressions related to selfhood and how the self gains knowledge and understanding.