Professor of Cultural History, School of History, Culture and Arts Studies, University of Turku
I am Professor of Cultural History and Head of the School of History, Culture and Arts Studies at the University of Turku. I consider improving the research environment at the department to be one my most central duties, and it is a challenge that I am happy to take on. I am currently the leader of two research projects; Profiling Premodern Authors is a digital humanities consortium funded by the Academy of Finland, and Vihan pitkät jäljet, funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation as part of the Argumenta funding model, focuses on the age-old and constantly current topics of hate speech, hatred, and persecution.
I have held a variety of different research and teaching positions at the University since 1991. My teaching has often focused on research methods, but I have also had the opportunity to teach many courses on cultural history of the early modern era, which is my area of speciality and the main focus of my own research. I began my doctoral studies with a subject relating to the English reformation and the research monograph Religious Life and English Culture in the Reformation (Palgrave 2002) investigated the controversy circulating around the shutting down of monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. My fascination with questions of corporeality and gender was awakened already at this stage and since then I have spent many years on research connected to these issues. Publications related to these topics include Breast Cancer in the Eighteenth Century (Pickering & Chatto 2013) and a book on the history of cultural elites in Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries (Arjesta ihmeisiin. Eliitin kulttuurihistoriaa 1500–1800-luvun Euroopassa, Tammi 2005).
It was initially a matter of mere coincidence that I ended up doing research on Spiritualism and Theosophy. I was looking for a subject that would allow me to return to archival work after many years, and Professor Kirsi Vainio-Korhonen suggested that I start researching Vera Hjelt. I was immediately inspired by the subject, but my studies have for the most part been conducted alongside other work. Hence it took some time before I reached the point where I could start producing publications. My original idea was to write a group biography of Hjelt and her circle of friends, but when I became aware her spiritual and theosophical involvement the direction of my study changed and I was completely absorbed into this dimension of her life and work. I am enthralled by the detective work involved in historical research. My journey with Hjelt and her friends has been so captivating that it has occasionally caused sleepless nights when I have been too excited to stop working.
I published my first article on Vera Hjelt in the summer of 2017 (Historiallinen Aikakauskirja 2/2017) and an English version of the article came out in the spring 2018 issue of Approaching Religion.
I am currently in the process of producing a monograph in which Vera Hjelt also plays a significant role, particularly in the part where I investigate the debates surrounding Spiritualism in Finland 1893–94. The dispute originated with the spiritual séances that were held in Helsinki by the English medium Madame d’Espérance and were followed by a full-blown media circus. It was almost comparable with the year 1897 that I also examine in my book. In this discussion on anti-Spiritualism as part of the culture of Spiritualism my aim is to form a parallel between the medium Madame d’Espérance and the anti-Spiritualist Faustinus – this setting was also present in contemporary debates.
The monograph is my favourite hobby right now and almost every free moment is spent on this stimulating work. In addition, I try to keep up with what is happening in Finnish literature. I also have a personal blog, the main purpose of which is to remind me that writing can be easy and enjoyable.
Keywords: Vera Hjelt, Madame d’Espérance, Faustinus, Annie Besant, Theosophy, Spiritualismi, anti-Spiritualism, history, gender, Helsinki, 1890s
Publications relating to the project:
Vera Hjelt and the calling of theosophical universal work, 1894–1904. Approaching Religion 1/2018, 17–30.