Practical theology studies the religious activities of individuals, communities and society and investigates how theology is applied in practice. The Department of Practical Theology offers research-based instruction in three disciplines: general practical theology, church and social studies, and religious education.
General practical theology
General practical theology examines how practices, structures and doctrines interact in different churches and religious communities in a social and historical context. The focus areas of our research are religious law, religious communication and pastoral theology.
Religious law encompasses the legal systems, concepts and interpretation of a religious community, the legalisation, political effects and structures of religious phenomena, a religious community’s interaction with society and multinational structures, and inter-community relations. Key areas also include the legal interaction between individuals and communities, the hierarchies in religious institutions, and their intra-communal and societal relationships and positions.
Religious communication covers various ritual, spoken, written, musical, visual and spatial forms of religions in the historical and cultural contexts of the religious community and society. Our research looks at various forms of communication within and between different religious communities and at social communication and journalism that focuses on religion. These forms of communication include various artistic, cultural, digital and social media phenomena.
Pastoral theology is a branch of practical theology that examines how individuals and groups experience religious encounters. Traditional research fields include pastoral care, spirituality, church social work and liturgy and worship, with recent research focusing on rituals, embodiment and context in lived religiousness. The starting point in our research typically involves a change experienced by an individual or a community that initiates a process in which the individual or community seeks explanation and meaning for what has happened. The theoretical foundation of pastoral theology is interdisciplinary.
Recent research topics in practical theology include religious law, the relationship between religious communities and society in saint cults, the governance of religious communities in relation to society, the use of cult buildings in religious communities, religious visual arts and cinematography, and issues of communication and journalism related to religion. Doctoral dissertation topics in pastoral theology have included existential discussion and the search for the meaning of life in patients with serious illnesses such as ALS and cancer. Dissertations on the thematics of married couples and on encounters with parents who have lost their child are currently underway.
Church and social studies
In Anglo-American countries, the field of church and social studies is called the sociology of religion. Church and social studies indeed falls between theology and social sciences: it studies how social changes affect religious movements, the birth and activities of religious communities, and the practice of religion. On the other hand, it also studies how religions and religious communities affect society. The discipline perceives religiousness from a wide perspective: religiousness encompasses spirituality, experiences of holiness, as well as values and their expression in people's actions and attitudes – for example through compassion and voluntary work.
Despite its name, church and social studies is not limited to the study of churches and their immediate operating environments. The sociological aspect is visible in not only the topics studied, but also in the concepts and theories used that mainly originate from social sciences. Most research in church and social studies targets one of the following three levels in its analysis: 1) individuals and their encounters, 2) groups, movements, communities and teams, or 3) dynamics in society and its institutions. In recent years, our research has examined, for example, the values and attitudes of Finns, collaboration between church and municipal social work, religious immigrant groups, compassion and enthusiasm in work communities, as well as Finnish civic society and voluntary work.
Religious education is the academic reflection on religious upbringing. It examines the world and phenomena of education, teaching and learning – to the extent that they are related to religion – in the context of society, church, religious communities, school, home or other institutions and groups. Religious education is interested in questions of the adoption and development of ideology, religious knowledge and attitudes. Religious education is a theological discipline with strong ties to educational sciences, psychology, sociology and social sciences.
Our religious education research is international and extensive both in its topics and methods, with a strong focus on examining the fundamental questions in education. Key areas include the study of the religious socialisation of the home and the family, and the study of religious education in schools, including questions of religious didactics. Religious and moral development are the foundations of religious education in Finland, but research is not limited to describing the work in practice. Instead, its purpose is to theorise and model processes in education and learning.
Researchers and teachers
For information about grant-funded researchers, see the University of Helsinki research portal.
The portal includes all current research projects in which our researchers act as either principal investigators or research group members, all research projects by our research fellows and postdoctoral researchers, and also projects that have reached their conclusion.
The Faculty of Theology offers instruction in three degree programmes. For more information, visit the degree programme websites. For more information about studying at the Faculty, visit the section Studying.