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This paper explores the potential for a dialogue between religious traditions based on art, in order to complement the dominant channels that rely on conceptual meanings. Building on a theoretical framework of post-Jungian archetypal psychology – as developed by James Hillman and Henry Corbin – we propose that the utility of such a dialogue inheres in the notion of an imaginal realm, or mundus imaginalis. In the first part of the paper we highlight three key features of this notion: the distinction between the imaginal and the imaginary; the significance of a culturally differentiated collective unconscious; and a reflection of the imaginal in practice rather than conceptually. We emphasize the materiality of sacred symbols that emerge from the imaginal realm. In the second part, we illustrate the importance of two archetypal symbols: the fish and the chalice. The significance of these symbols in history and in the practices of communities of believers is discussed. Thirdly, we discuss specific features of the dialogue emerging from these ubiquitous archetypal symbols. Read article here

Solar Eclipse


This article explores how two seemingly contradictory global trends—scientific rationality and religious expressiveness—intersect and are negotiated in people’s lives in Nordic countries. We focus on Finland and Sweden, two countries with reputations of being highly secular and modernized welfare states. Building on new institutionalist World Society Theory, the article asks whether individuals perceive any conflict at the intersection of “science” and “religion,” and how they negotiate such a relationship while working or studying in universities and health clinics, prime sites of global secularism and scientific rationality. Our findings attest to people’s creative artistry while managing their religious identifications in a secular, Nordic, organizational culture in which religion is often constructed as old-fashioned or irrelevant. We identify and discuss three widespread modes of negotiation by which people discursively manage and account for the relationship between science and religion in their working space: segregation, estrangement, and incorporation. Read article here



This book is about the devotional subcultures created by women. The authors draw their evidence and inspiration from the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian traditions of Asia in particular. Here we find women as healers, goddesses, saints, gurus, nuns and heretics. One thing these remarkable women all share is their defiance of orthodoxy and fundamentalist interpretations which are oppressive to women. Instead they have created religious alternatives which appeal profoundly to huge numbers of women. Not that these alternatives, as the authors show, are accepted by the mainly male religious establishment. Indeed women's rejection of patriarchal interpretations of religion and their creative revising of religion in their daily spiritual practice can be a very dangerous activity.

In addition to fascinating glimpses of little known aspects of the feminine within the great religions, this book is also a reflection of the newly emerging spirituality of women in Asia as they experience and respond to the political and social injustices they confront. Read more



Why do people queue up and break the bank to watch fantasy movies? Why do some fictional characters and mythical creatures arrest our mind and senses? Why do some images and tales affect us so deeply, so much so that we see them all around and inside us? From heroic journeys to uncanny feelings to invincible goddesses, ‘Symbols and Myth-Making in Modernity’ investigates the metaphoric power of symbols in human imagination today and in the past. The book traces how ever-present cross-cultural symbols, residing in ancient rites, masterpieces of Renaissance, Sufi poetry, religion and myths, erupt in popular culture today, including in cinema, books, visual art, music and politics.

At each step the book unpacks how people relate to the world through symbols, how symbols play out in the modern world, and the work they do in transforming the self. At the same time, deep culture is helpful in pointing to ruptures — where modern myths stumble — thereby leading to new analyses of emerging societal crises and identifying new potential solutions.

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This paper employs and adapts Bourdieu's concept of doxa to describe the declaration of heresy against the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan in 1974. Most analyses of this event—from a statehood and authority/“Othering” perspective—tend to overlook why the Ahmadi were singled out for this unusual exclusion and why emphasis was placed on symbolic violence. The paper discursively analyzes the recently declassified transcript of parliamentary proceedings to reveal three interlinked theological and political elements of Ahmadi heterodoxy that challenged the sociopolitical order. The analysis also shows how orthodoxy emerged and was institutionalized in a dialectical relationship with that heterodoxy. By exploring how heterodoxy becomes heresy, this case highlights the utility of Bourdieu's schema and proposes some adjustments to it to better understand modern religious heresy and then export lessons into other analytical domains. Read more



Self-help and therapeutic ethos have become part of modern self and society. But what kind of therapeutics do we find in today's lived religion? Drawing on the long-term ethnographic fieldwork in one of the parishes in the Orthodox Church of Finland, this chapter argues that people’s experiences and narratives paint a picture of the therapeutic as a glocalized assemblage that merges various psychological, cultural, spiritual and transnational elements together. While age-old Orthodox cure of soul and body continues to serve as a constitutive frame of religious practices, patristic tradition of therapia has been revived to respond to the modern therapeutic turn. The chapter focuses on the experiences around the Divine Liturgy as a "synthesis of art" in the Orthodox Church of Finland, and stories of cure and healing. Read chapter here



This article focuses on the implications of Sunni persecution of Ahmadiyyat by analyzing texts by the movement’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Rather than situating the claims within an Arabist, juridico-theological lineage, as is normally done, the analysis emphasizes their points of convergence with Persianate, Illuminationist theosophy of the 12th century mystic, Suhravardi. This convergence rests on acknowledging the existence of an intermediate cosmological realm that Henry Corbin termed the mundus imaginalis, which can be accessed by the subtle imagination of spiritual adepts and prophets. Situating Ahmadiyyat within the Persianate theosophical tradition sheds new light on the community’s persecution. In declaring Ahmadiyyat as “heresy,” and in Sunnism’s symbolic violence against Ahmadiyyat, the theosophical features of Ahmad’s thought have also been marginalized. The conclusion points out how other communities have faced and are facing similar exclusion on similar grounds, and argues for further investigation into the axiom that exclusion of the imaginal is a feature of modernity. Read article here



This article offers an initial description of the widespread presence of uncanny images in religious practice in South Asian Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity. Drawing on their multi-sited fieldwork, the authors map the presence of two religious images in each tradition that are familiar yet eerie, and that signal a rupture from the ‘normal’ order of things. Their analysis proposes that uncanny images make a phenomenological demand of the viewer that inherently challenges literalist or allegorical readings. While literalist readings increasingly attempt to tie down singular meanings of such images (or ban them altogether as in many Islamic cases), in practice many faithful viewers assign differing meanings to them as part of their locale, era, and life condition. The persistent use of such inexplicable images in vernacular religious practice opens the path for further empirical mapping and theoretical analysis into our collective religious unconscious. Read article here



The paper draws from my personal experience as a western trained psychotherapist practicing in Pakistan. It is based on a case of a female client having a similar socio-economic-cultural background as myself. Loosely framed within a western academic idiom, the writing is impressionistic, moving between brief descriptions of events, the patients' narrative and my own. In tandem, one touches on issues of religion, spirituality, culture, and the 'self' as understood by modern psychology in contrast with indigenous perspectives in South Asia as living psycho-spiritual traditions of healing based on a different conception of self and other.

Ahmed, Durre S. 2020. “Lost and Found: Gifts, Dreams and Sanity” In Contemporary Voices from Anima Mundi: A Reappraisal by Frederique Apffel-Marglin and Stefano Varese (eds.), pp 45-86. New York, Peter Lang

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“Reflecting what is today part of growing critique pointing to a ‘crisis of meaning’ in modernity, one way or another, as Habermas says, ‘Despite its religious language, fundamentalism is, as we know, is exclusively modern phenomenon.’ As such, modernity can be linked to a certain ‘mind set’ about how we think about self, others, and the world at large. The concept of the self has been a long-standing, ongoing concern in feminism, which has extensively critiqued its construction in Western moral and political philosophy in the twentieth/twenty-first century. Even outside of academic philosophy, the self is a crucial concept since it ultimately concerns our notions of humans, who we are, you and I. How each of us responds to this conception will impact our understanding of religion in general and Islam in particular.” 

Ahmed, Durre S. 2020. “Sleeping with the Enemy: Penetrations and S/permutations. In, Modernity, Its Pathologies and Reenchantments. Essays in Honour of Ashis Nandy. Shail Mayaram (Ed.). pp 43-77.  Delhi: Orient BlackSwan

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Holding Soil


"If madness, modernity, and meaninglessness are the seeds of terror, then culture is the soil in which these seeds grow, take root, bloom, and spread death. The more fertile the soil, the easier it is for such deathly outgrowths to crop up." Read article here



"By agreeing to the veil ban Finland will buy into the fascism lurking behind aesthetic policing; it will be a step toward totalizing normalization that allows only one way of representation and only one way of being European: Europe first." Read article here



The Virgin has always been venerated in Eastern Christianity far beyond her scriptural role. In this paper, we propose a symbolic framework of deep culture and apply it to understanding the prominence of Mary and the manner in which she plays a role in people’s lives through a bewildering variety of Marian icons. The framework begins with a mystical/esoteric perspective to appreciate Mary as a symbol that is multivalent, irreplaceable, archetypal, interior, and manifest yet hidden. We analyze images and stories of five highly venerated icons in Greece, Russia, Finland, and amongst diasporic Orthodox Churches, as well as associated hymns. Our analysis reveals that Mary’s significance for Orthodox faithfuls is best understood in her role as a symbolic doorway to mystical religiosity. This role is highly agentic, although not in the sense in which agency is typically — exoterically — understood as analytical and external, but rather as esoterically affective and internally transformative. We show how a deep culture framework adds to our knowledge of Mary in Orthodox Christianity and how it can be used to examine similar figures in other contemporary and historical religious traditions. Read article here



"Modern heroic consciousness is essentially...positivistic, Cartesian, rational and overwhelmingly masculine. It opposes as immoral and abnormal anything that is feminine, ambiguous, dark, symbolic, metaphorical. Such a mind set is excessively cerebral, denying the reality of body, decay, limitation. The diversity and multiplicity of the mythological pantheon, full of what Jung called 'the little people' of the psyche, are repressed, denied expression and seen only as 'symptoms' of a diseased and distorted mind; or as he said 'the gods have become diseases'".

Durre Ahmed’s stimulating and thought-provoking post-modern critique challenges the rationalistic, modernist, scientific perception of reality and questions the total rejection of religion and traditional practices. She also uses a post-Jungian analytical psychology to argue that moderns need to be critical of their heroic vision of science that has within it destructive and exploitative elements. Feminists need to take a second look at the importance of religion, myth, symbols and the richly subjective indigenous system of knowledge. Read more



This paper problematizes clean distinctions between secular and religious by tracing the history of modern higher education of Muslims in British colonial India. Grounded in the interpretive research tradition and with an empirical focus on the formative mid-nineteenth century, the article argues that relational notions between singular secularism and multiple secularisms best capture this historical trajectory. The institutional imaginary of colonialism constituted a significant milieu that, on the one hand, resulted in British policies in India that were at a tangent to similar developments in England at the time and, on the other, informed Muslim agency in its own institutionalisation of higher education. Muslim educational philosophy, politics and even theology were shaped in a concrete, historical, power-laden context. One of the consequences of this was a peculiar construction of ‘secularism’ in relation to Islam – again, related but at a tangent to the same notion in Europe. With a view on contemporary Pakistan, it is argued that such relational histories must be accounted for if policy and academic discourse is to move beyond largely stale and unhelpful binaries of Islam vs. Western modernity in religious education. Read more



"As a ‘synthesis of arts’, liturgy has been a ‘unique source of aesthetic, intellectual, musical, poetic and visual enjoyment’".

This paper adapts a glocalization framework in a transnational, anthropological exploration of liturgy in the Orthodox Church of Finland (OCF). It draws on the long-term ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with participants of liturgy from Finnish, Russian, and Greek cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The main argument of the paper is that generic processes of nationalization and transnationalization are not mutually exclusive in practitioners’ experiences of liturgy in OCF, but rather generate a glocal space that incorporates Finnish, Russian, Karelian, and Byzantine elements. Individuals artistically engage with glocal liturgy on sensorial, cognitive, social, and semantic levels. What is important for the participants is a therapeutic sense that comes from a feeling of "being at home," metaphorically, spiritually, and literally. People’s ongoing, creative work constitutes Orthodoxy as their national and transnational home. Read article here



“The images of Buraq and Jhuley Lal are directly linked to the travel/journey motif, appearing on modern vehicles ranging from tankers and freight trucks to taxis, rickshaws and minibuses. The images serve the dual function of displaying a competitive, decorative artistry, but more importantly, as protective talismans; journeys are fraught with risk and danger. The archetypal narrative inevitably contains encounter(s) with the fearful and unexpected. Monsters and seemingly impossible-to-overcome scenarios threaten the hero with death and annihilation. The talismanic function of these images which (un)consciously links ‘end users’ (such as truck drivers) to the symbolic world, is far removed from the motivations and attitudes underlying the modern idea of journey-as-tourism.

Ascendant literalism and parallel loss of the symbolic is now a defining feature of modernity. While the desire for the encounter and difference remains, every type of physical, psychological and emotional risk is minimized...Having 'been there, done that', we return home - at best quantitatively more knowledgeable about another place but qualitatively remain at the same level of ignorance about self and Other".  

From Durre Ahmed’s chapter “The Journey: Buraq, Jhuley Lal and Zuljinnah” in Read More 



This paper addresses the hitherto unexplored area of ethnographic reality surrounding Marian icons amongst Orthodox women of Russian and Finnish backgrounds residing in Finland. I build on transnational anthropology, which accentuates multi-sited lives and senses of belonging, and material religion, which emphasizes the holistic character of mind-body experiences. Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork, I suggest that icons of Mary generate a transnational religious aesthetic space, in which geographical borders and rigid boundaries of national imaginaries can be transgressed. This space constructively generates connections between and across Finland and Russia, and manifests itself in women’s narratives and experiences in at least two ways. Firstly, Marian icons enable experiences of “coming home” and journey in both metaphorical and literal dimensions. For many of my interlocutors, icons of Mary facilitated sensorial encounters with Orthodoxy as their spiritual home. Through icons of Mary, many Russian-speaking women developed their home-relatedness to Finland, at the same time retaining their sense of Russian belonging. Secondly, women’s narratives and experiences converge in their engagement with icons of Mary in the space of spiritual mothering. “Tenderness” icons are especially important in channelling corporeal and emotional aspects of mothering. Read more

Sociological institutionalism and religion: A Discursive perspective (in Finnish)

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This chapter introduces sociological institutionalism and proposes a discursive addition for enhancing its utility for the study of religion. The chapter reviews neo-institutionalist social theorizing and underlines its argument that agentic actorhood is constituted by and embedded in a world-spanning culture. We point out that the potential of this line of scholarship for the study of religion remains unexplored partly because it does not say much about the actual discursive practices that motivate actors to behave in concrete situations. We illustrate how a discursive approach to sociological institutionalism can fill this gap by highlighting the relational context that all actors intuitively take account of. We then offer a brief programmatic agenda for the study of religion under the rubric of epistemic governance, indicating the potential for new theoretical insights into the category of religion, some methodological implications, and empirical studies.

Qadir, Ali and Pertti Alasuutari. 2021. “Sosiologinen institutionalismi ja uskonnontutkimus: Diskursiivinen näkökulma” [Sociological institutionalism and religion: A discursive perspective]. In Uskonto, kieli ja yhteiskunta[Religion, Language and Society], edited by Titus Hjlem. Hesinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura [Finnish Literary Society].

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The widespread prevalence of religious and artistic symbols across cultures entices viewers to ask what that symbol is doing there, and why it is shared across human history. The very presence of these symbols, the commonality in the work they do on viewers and their ability to depict what cannot be said in any other way suggests an interconnectedness and intertwining of cultures and human experiences and carries a strong potential for intercultural dialogue. Symbols are carriers of possibilities, senses and interpretations.

Carvings and depictions of birds are among the oldest works of art ever found. Since pre-historical times, people have observed remarkable abilities of birds to move between the elements   ̶ air, earth, and even water. The bird is a powerful symbol of transformation and movement between different states and worlds. It is linked to creation and beauty, death and rebirth, duality and balance, as well as vision and wisdom. A creative act of human imagination often connects birds to mythical winged beings, whose voices lead to inspiration and love or lure people into loss and destruction. This gallery invites you to explore the images and stories of famed birds in different cultural and religious contexts. It opens a window into an inexhaustible web of cross-cultural meanings surrounding this ever-present symbol. Explore more

Affirmation Poster


This article analyses how therapeutic self-help discourse, as a global form, has been domesticated in contemporary Russia. It proposes the concept of a glocalised therapeutic assemblage to capture the dynamics through which a range of transnational and historical elements are pulled together in self-help. Drawing on analysis of bestselling self-help books and interviews with their readers, the article addresses the domestication and transformation of two paradigmatic features of the self-help genre: the ‘bullet-point’ narrative form and the idea of positive thinking. The article identifies three domestication strategies. First, the bullet-point form is domesticated by articulating it with the Russian discourse of ‘culturedness’, transforming it into a multilayered intertextual narrative. The second domestication strategy places positive thinking in dialogue with Russian discourses of suffering, while the third fuses positive thinking with historical discourses of spirituality and consciousness, thus subverting the idea of the transformative power of the rational mind. The article concludes by suggesting that the concept of assemblage is helpful in highlighting the situated and variegated forms of self-help and therapeutic culture. Read more



This chapter focuses on the life stories and experiences of Orthodox women of two generations: older Karelian women, “cradle” Orthodox, who along with their families were dislocated from the Orthodox-dominated easternmost part of Finland during World War II; and younger women from Finnish, Karelian, Russian, and Ukrainian backgrounds, some of whom are either “returnees” or converts to Orthodoxy. It demonstrates how women from different backgrounds actively strive to make Finnish Orthodoxy their spiritual and social home, and how their practices and agentic capabilities feed into the glocal making of Finnish Orthodoxy. The chapter focuses on women’s agency as manifested in experiences of the Divine Liturgy, family-making as mothers and grandmothers, and participation in parish life. It contributes to recent critical scholarship on gender and religion, which deconstructs the understanding of agency as penetrative, action driven, and limited to the social power/resistance frame. Read more

La Sorbonne


"Philosophical and theological discussions on science and religion must be complemented by grounded, ethnographic bottom-up research, as well as critical research on science, religion and secularism in the social sciences and humanities." Read article here



”Further analysis [Copenhagen shootings] in the days to come will doubtless be framed in the clash thesis, with less and less explanation required for trained audiences around the world." Read article here

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