Our researchers

Do you want to become a visiting research fellow?

International researchers within the field of religious and cultural studies, who are interested in visiting the institute for a shorter or longer time e.g. as part of a sabbatical, are welcome to approach the institute with a freely formulated application. The Donner institute can offer visiting research fellows a tranquil and inspiring research environment. Furthermore, the extensive library collections are at the disposal of the visiting research fellows during their times as visitors at the institute. The institute can unfortunately not provide visitors with housing during their stay and no grants for covering travel and living expenses are available.

The Institute’s researchers

Ruth Illman

PhD, ThD, Associate professor of the study of religions

E-mail ruth.illman@abo.fi

My main research interests concern questions pertaining to cultural encounters and interreligious dialogue, ethnographic research methodology with cultural studies as well as contemporary Judaism. I am especially interested in the relationship between the arts (particularly music) and religion. Currently, I work predominantly with contemporary religion, combining ethnographic research methods with content analysis and approaches deriving from the philosophy of religion.


Sofia Sjö

ThD, Associate professor of the study of religions

E-mail sofia.sjo@abo.fi

Religion and film has been the main focus area of my research, but I am interested in religion, media and culture research broadly. During the last couple of years my research has also focused on young adults and religion and areas such as socialization, gender, digital media and volunteer work.


Nina Kokkinen

PhD, research doctor

E-mail nina.kokkinen@stiftelsenabo.fi

The focus of my research is on the connections between art and religion from late 19th century onwards. In my dissertation (2019, University of Turku), I examined the importance of esoteric spirituality in Finnish art at the turn of the 20th century, and re-conceptualized the notions of ‘occulture’ and ‘seekership’ – theoretical concepts building a bridge from late 19th century esotericism to present-day spirituality. In my postdoctoral research, I further delve into the discourses related to esotericism, heterodox and especially ‘Eastern’ spirituality in modern and subsequent Nordic art. As a researcher I move across the disciplines of study of religion, art history, and cultural history. I have also curated art exhibitions related to my area of expertise, and I'm interested in creative writing and developing my skills as non-fiction writer and editor.


Research desks

Tore Ahlbäck

Dr, Associate professor, Former director

E-mail tore.ahlback@abo.fi

Previously my research interests have primarily been “new” religious movements, above all the Theosophical Society and movements that have been inspired by it. Among these the Anthroposophical Society has been the most important one. My research interests today are the same; however, with a stronger focus on the historical contexts of these movements and on the present extent of the research into these contexts.

Robin Isomaa

Doctoral candidate in comparative religion, Åbo Akademi University

E-mail robin.isomaa@abo.fi

I am a PhD student in the study of religions at Åbo Akademi University. My doctoral research concerns atheism on YouTube. I follow over sixty atheistic content creators, who produce videos about everything from religion and science to politics and popular culture. The focus of my research is the constructions of and negotiations around atheist identities and communities. How should an atheist be? Who is welcome inside atheist communities? How are conflicts between atheists handled? How does YouTube function as a platform for atheist content? Furthermore, I address theoretical and methodological issues around research on YouTube. Outside the work with my dissertation, I am interested in religion in media and online, and I have a weakness for religion in film and other forms of popular culture.

Ville Mantere

Th.M. Doctoral candidate in archaeology, University of Turku

E-mail ville.mantere@abo.fi

In my doctoral thesis, I study the significance of the Eurasian elk (Alces alces) in northern Europe during the Stone Age and the Early Bronze Age (approximately the period c. 11,500–1100 BC). The research material consists primarily of elk representations in art (rock art and portable art), as well as of other prehistoric remains related to the elk (e.g. pitfall traps and bone remains) within the study region. The tangible material is analysed in the light of ethnohistorical sources with reference to the elk’s role amongst circumpolar peoples. I am especially interested in the religious and ideological connotations of the elk in the past. Specific research questions in my research are, for instance, the sacral nature of prehistoric elk hunting; the relationship between the elk and the bear; the extraordinary percentage of elks depicted without antlers in the art, and the function of the elk-headed staffs and boats.

Joel Mansikka

Doctoral candidate in the study of religions, Åbo Akademi University

E-mail joel.mansikka@abo.fi

My research concerns methods for studying narrative video games and religion. Religion and video games can be approached in vastly different ways depending on the scholarly focus and the video game genre in question. My primary focus is on the methodological differences in studying video games, as opposed to literature, film and TV-series. I consider narrative video games to be cultural objects capable of mediating and reflecting contemporary ideas in themselves like any other popular culture medium. The methods of accessing and analysing religious content within video games, however, require further research, which my study focuses on. My research connects studies within religion and popular culture with video game studies, while maintaining a humanistic view of video games as cultural products.

Miika Ahola

Th.M. Doctoral candidate in theology, University of Helsinki

E-mail miika.ahola@helsinki.fi

My main interests are ecumenics and ecclesiology. My study focuses on the dialogue document The Church: Towards a Common Vision by the Faith and Order Commission in The World Council of Churches. The Church document gathers the ecclesiological discussion in the ecumenical movement from the last hundred years. Its aim is to address the nature of the Church and provide a convergence text that expresses the achieved consensus and inspires further dialogue. The document is founded on ecclesiology of communion (koinonia in Greek), a conviction that the Church is created in ontological participation with the Triune God through Jesus Christ. In my dissertation, I am analysing the elements of this communion in the document.