Research and Policy Day: “Religion in Politics”

Kirjoittaja Hildur Boldt Hildur Boldt

Religion is a sensitive and personal issue, but also a powerful social force, which has gained importance in many countries and also in world politics in recent years. How do religion and politics interact in different contexts and countries today?

The traditional Research and Policy day focused on the interaction of religion and politics. We explored the Arab Spring and its aftermath, the comeback of religion in secular Europe and the keys to coexistence, how religion affects the US presidential elections and foreign policy, and finally, the place of religion in Finnish politics.

The event was organized on 13 November 2012 in Helsinki by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies with the support of the Kalevi Sorsa Foundation.


9.00–9.30      Opening
Maarit Feldt-Ranta, Kalevi Sorsa Foundation
David Kitching, Foundation for European Progressive Studies

9.30–11.00    Religious Politics in the aftermath of the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was a great democratic revolution in which also Muslim movements played an essential part. But a year and a half later, the direction of democratic development is uncertain. Why have Islamist parties been successful at the ballot box and what are the implications for the future? What role is religion likely to play as a consequence?

Introductions by
Sally Toma, Activist of the Egyptian Revolution Video
Hannu Juusola, professor of Semitic Languages and Culture at the University of Helsinki

11.00–12.30 Religious Pluralism in secular Europe

Europe has been accustomed to secular liberal democracy, but multiculturalism has generated a widespread debate on the role of religion in social and political life. The Muslim population has grown in the West and Christian values been strengthened in the East – how does this effect politics and policy? What is the key to a peaceful co-existence of different religions?

Introductions by
Péter Losonczi, European Director of the International Research Network on Religion and Democracy Video
Usama Hasan, Senior Researcher at Quilliam Foundation Video

12.30–13.30 Lunch

13.30–15.00 The united states, religion and the world order

The impact of religion, not least the Christian right, has in recent years strengthened in US politics. How does it affect the presidential elections currently polarizing the nation? Or the role of the US in international politics, where religion also serves as a tool for mobilization?

Introductions by
Benjamin Zeller, Researcher of religion in America and a Fulbright Scholar at Åbo Academi University Video
Charly Salonius-Pasternak, Global security researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs Video
Markku Ruotsila, Docent of History of the United States and Great Britain and of North-American Church History Video

15.00–15.30 Coffee

15.30–17.00 Panel Debate: Religion in Finnish Politics

The Finnish consensus has been that religious beliefs belong to the personal sphere and not in politics. Although, the principle has at times been forgotten in the heat of election campaigns, also many moral issues raise religious questions. And Finland can’t avoid the challenges of multiculturalism on this front either, or can it?

Video (in Finnish)

Jouko Jääskeläinen, Member of Parliament, (Christian Demoracts)
Ilkka Kantola, Member of Parliament, (Social Demoracts),  fmr Bishop
Jyri Komulainen, Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland
Jarkko Tontti, novelist and lawyer, president of Finnish PEN

17.00  Closing

Speakers’ profiles

Dr. Usama Hasan is Senior Researcher at Quilliam Foundation and was a founding advisor to the organisation in 2008. He took part in the ‘Jihad’ against Communist forces in Afghanistan briefly, but started soon campaigning against extremism and for religious reform within Muslim circles. Before joining Quilliam, Dr Hasan was a Senior Lecturer in Engineering at Middlesex University, 2003-2012. He holds a PhD, MSc & MA in Physics and Artificial Intelligence from the Universities of Cambridge & London and is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.  He aims to address key questions on gender rights, minority rights, personal freedoms, penal codes; seeking to harmonise tradition and reason, faith and science, and developing the Sharia in keeping with the original Prophetic spirit of mercy, and away from rigid ritualism.

Hannu Juusola is professor of Semitic Languages and Cultures at the University of Helsinki. His area of expertise is modern Middle Eastern societies and politics. His research and teaching also covers citizenship and ethnicity, identity, as well as the Israeli & Palestinian conflict.

Ilkka Kantola is a Member of the Finnish Parliament since 2007 and was Bishop of Turku from 1998-2005. He holds a PhD in theology and an MBA in social services and health care. Kantola is a member of the constitutional committee and the foreign relations committee in parliament.

Jyri Komulainen is Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. He is also docent of Dogmatic theology at the University of Helsinki. His research includes questions of religious encounters.

Péter Losonczi, PhD, is associate researcher at the Centre for Metaphysics and Philosophy of Culture at the Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven and the European Director of the International Research Network on Religion and Democracy (IRNRD). He has taught philosophy at various universities in Hungary and was an associate professor at the University of West Hungary and a research fellow at the Institute for Philosophical Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2005-2009). He was also a visiting scholar at the Centre Pieter Gillis, Antwerp University in 2010. His fields of interest are politics and religion, political theology, philosophy of religion, and history of modern philosophy.

Markku Ruotsila is Docent of History of the United States and Great Britain (Univ. Tampere) and of North-American Church History (Univ. Helsinki). His research is primarily on religion and politics in the US and secondly political ideologies. Relevant literature in English are The Origins of Christian Anti-Internationalism (Georgetown University Press 2008) and John Spargo and American Socialism (Palgrave Macmillan 2006).

Charly Salonius-Pasternak is Researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. His fields of expertise are  United States foreign and domestic policy, peace-keeping and crisis management. Salonius-Pasternak holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University and M.Soc.Sc from the University of Helsinki. He was visiting lecturer at Tufts University 2002-2003.

Dr Sally Toma is a prominent activist of the Egyptian revolution.  She is a psychiatrist specialized in the treatment of victims of rape and torture and director of the Education program of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, She was member of the executive board of the youth coalition of the Egyptian Revolution, which organised the 25th of January protests and the Tahrir square sit in till the toppling of Mubarak. Toma is a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic party as well as one of six activist who launched the street show and media campaign ‘Kazeboon’ (liars), exposing the violations of the military council and dangers of Islamic dominance in drafting the constitution.

Jarkko Tontti is a Finnish poet, novelist and lawyer. He is currently president of the Finnish PEN. Before his literary career he worked in the Ministry of Justice, in the Parliament of Finland and at the University of Helsinki. Tontti is also known as a human rights activist and columnist.

Benjamin E. Zeller researches religion in America, focusing on religious currents that are new or alternative, including new religions, the religious engagement with science, and the quasi-religious relationship people have with food.  He is author of Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America (NYU Press, 2010), and co-editor of forthcoming volumes on new religious movements and religion and food. Zeller is currently a Fulbright Scholar at Åbo Akademi University, in Turku, Finland. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina and a M.T.S. from Harvard University. He is Assistant Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College, in the Chicago metro area (USA).