Contribution of Northern Sami everyday Christianity to a cosmologically-oriented Christian theology
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Embargo end date30/11/2030
The thesis explores the question of the contribution of North Sami everyday Christianity to cosmologically-oriented Christian theology. The basic assumption underpinning the study is that a ‘cosmological orientation’ – that is, the way people enact and perceive their participation in the world – constitutes a deeply theological matter closely associated with their worldview. I argue that such worldview assumptions are not entirely given within the Christian faith itself but depending in part on the basic religio-philosophical dialogue partners informing a theological tradition. The study explores the cosmological orientation of Christian theology by privileging the tradition of North Sami everyday Christianity. The Sami are the indigenous people of Sápmi, a vast region in today’s northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and north-west Russia. Despite the colonial ways in which Christianity was introduced, the North Sami developed a Christian culture informed by indigenous ways of relating to the world. The material core of the study is based on a qualitative insider’s study of lived religion among North Sami everyday Christianity in four municipalities in Finnmark, Norway. Twenty-eight research participants of reindeer herding, settled inland / river Sami, and sea Sami backgrounds are interviewed in depth about the spiritual traditions they grew up with, and how they reflect on these today. The dominant overarching cosmological orientation coming out of the qualitative study (Chapters 4-5) is captured in the phrase ‘nature-centered Ipmiláhčči-faith’ (God the Father-faith). The overarching discussion is supported by diachronic analysis; that is, a critical deconstruction of historic Lutheran theological discourses on the Sami tradition from the Lutheran Reformation onwards (Chapter 3). The cosmological orientation of North Sami everyday Christianity is unpacked and theologically engaged through the lens of African and Native American theologies (Chapter 6). Its intersections with contemporary Norwegian Lutheranism is critically explored through a case study of a blessing ritual (Chapter 7). The thesis scrutinizes the complex negotiations between North Sami everyday Christianity and official Norwegian Lutheranism, informed by the historical encounter between two rather different cosmological orientations: Sami historical reception of Christianity, primarily filtered through the Sami indigenous tradition; official Norwegian Lutheran theology, primarily filtered through the philosophical traditions held by a European elite. The latter is seen as indebted to the medieval reception of the Greek Great Chain of Being conceptuality which sees the cosmos as a hierarchically ordered chain from ‘God’ on the top, downwards through ‘spirts’, ‘humans’, ‘animals’, ‘plants’, to ‘dead matter’ on the bottom. Foundational to this conceptuality is the spirit/matter divide at the middle of the chain, where the human being is located as the only being in cosmos being both spiritual and material. The Conclusion (Chapter 8) sums up the findings of the study in a discussion structured around the above-mentioned components of the Great Chain of Being. It is argued that the contribution of North Sami everyday Christianity to a cosmologically-oriented Christian theology is that the world is not seen as ordered along the same cosmological hierarchy and divisions. The indigenous imagination of North Sami everyday Christianity envisions spirit-matter relationships, visible-invisible relationships, human-nature relationships, and God-world relationships in a different way. A Sami perspective calls for a decolonization of Lutheran theology. An ontological turn in Christian theology is invited, where largely unquestioned, ontological taken-for-granted premises of hegemonic theologies are critically reconsidered. Indigenous methodology and contextual theology inform the overarching methodological framework of the study. Theoretical perspectives, methodological framework, qualitative methods, reflexivity, and ethical concerns are explained in a separate methodology chapter (Chapter 2).
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