Dr. Ruth Illman, docent
Dr. Ruth Illman, docentDirector


Docent (Associate Professor), Uppsala University, 2018

Docent (Associate Professor), Åbo Akademi University, 2006

Doctor of Theology (Jewish Studies), Åbo Akademi University, 2018

Doctor of Philosophy (Comparative religion), Åbo Akademi University, 2004

Master of Philosophy, Åbo Akademi University, 2000

Master of Theology, Åbo Akademi University, 2015

Current research

Curriculum Vitae

List of publications

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. Chronologically, I work predominantly with contemporary religion, combining ethnographic research methods with content analysis and approaches deriving from the philosophy of religion.

Since 2016, I have been, together with Associate Professor Svante Lundgren (Lund University), editor of the scholarly journal Nordisk judaistik / Scandinavian Jewish Studies.

I am also the director of the research project Boundaries of Jewish Identities in Contemporary Finland finansed by the Polin Institute.

Research fields and issues I have worked with include:

  • Contemporary Judaism: Ethnographic research on vernacular Judaism in Finland. Also progressive Judaism in today’s Europe with particular focus on the role of music as an instigator of change in contemporary identity processes.
  • Interreligious dialogue: Ethnographic research on interreligious dialogue especially in the world of art.
  • Religion and the arts: Ethnographic and theoretical research on art and religion, religion in art and art (especially music) as a platform for expressing religious identities.
  • Dialogue philosophy: Interpreting Jewish dialogue philosophy and its importance for cultural and interreligious dialogue in practice.
  • Religion and change in Finland: Ethnographic, theoretical and methodological research on religious diversity in contemporary Finland.
  • Intercultural communication: Development of theories and methods for researching ICC from a humanistic point of view.
  • Ethnographic research on religion and methodology: Methodological reflections on hermeneutics and methodology for contemporary ethnographic research on religion.

Current collaborations and expert assignments


  • Member of Advisory Group, Assessment of Research Quality (RQ20), theology and religious studies, Lund University (2020)
  • Member of Scholarly Board, the Research Institute of Åbo Akademi University Foundation (2020-2022)
  • Member of Strategy Working Group, Åbo Akademi University (2019)
  • Member of Review Panel, Publication Forum of Finland (JuFo), philosophy and theology (2018–2021)
  • Chair of Review Panel HS-K (Religion, Ancient History, Archaeology, Non-European Languages and Cultures, Ethnology), The Swedish Research Council (2017), member of the panel (2016)
  • Member of Scholarly Board, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland (2017–2019)
  • Member of Executive Board, “Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective” Centre of Excellence at Åbo Akademi University, 2015–2018.
  • Affiliated Researcher, Centre for the Study of Jewish Thought in Modern Culture, University of Copenhagen, since 2015.
  • Member of Executive Committee and founding member, the annual arts and science project Aboagora, since 2011 (

Recent and upcoming keynote lectures

  • “Interviews and Field Work”, Nordic Jews in the 20th and 21st centuries – Multiple Identifications in Everyday Life, Södertörn University, Stockholm, 10/2020
  • “Music and Religious Change. Jewish Perspectives”, Musica Sacra Maastricht, the Netherlands, 9/2019
  • “2018 Missiology Lectures”, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, 11/2018
  • “The Jewish Tradition: Does It Matter?”, Workshop, Jewish Museum and Oslo University, Oslo, 3/2018
  • “Music for a Better World”, panel at the Wilson Center, Washington DC together with MA Emilie Gardberg, 1/2018
  • “Music in Interreligiösen Begegnungen”, Swiss Theological Association, Basel, 9/2017
  • Symposium “Religion, Music and Identity”, Tilburg University, Tilburg 9/2016
  • European Association for the Study of Religion (EASR), Annual Conference in Helsinki, 6/2016
  • Symposium on interreligious dialogue and extremist violence, Interreligious Council, Gothenburg 12/2015

Current publications

Most of my publications can be found on the website:


Music and Religious Change among Progressive Jews in London: Being Liberal and Doing Traditional. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (Rowman & Littlefield), 2018.

Monien uskontojen ja katsomusten Suomi, editor together with Kimmo Ketola, Riitta Latvio and Jussi Sohlberg. Tampere: The Church Research Institute, 2017.

Jewish Studies in the Nordic Countries Today, editor together with Björn Dahla, Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, vol. 27. Åbo: The Donner Institute, 2016.

On the Outskirts of “the Church.” Diversities, Fluidities and New Spaces of Religion in Finland, editor together with Peter Nynäs & Tuomas Martikainen. Zürich: LIT Verlag, 2015.

Theology and the Arts: Engaging Faith, together with W. Alan Smith. New York: Routledge, 2013 (paperback 2016)

Art and Belief. Artists Engaged in Interreligious Dialogue. London: Equinox Publications, 2012 (paperback 2017)

Selected Articles:

Researching Vernacular Judaism. Reflections on Theory and Method.” Nordisk judaistik/Scandinavian Jewish Studies, Vol. 30/1, 2019

Sonic Spaces for Community Building Across Religions: The Interreligious Choir of Frankfurt.” ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies, Vol. 30/1, 2018.

“Singing in Hebrew or Reading in English? Embodiment, Language and Emotions in Ethnographic Accounts of Music and Change within Progressive Judaism.” Contemporary Jewry, Vol. 38/3, 2018.

“‘Retaining the tradition – but with an open mind’. Change and Choice in Jewish Musical Practices”, Temenos. Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion, vol. 53/2, 2017.

“Discourses of Authenticity in Contemporary Jewish Practices of Niggunim Singing”,  Contesting Authority. Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs, ed. Marion Bowman & Ülo Valk. London: Equinox Publications, 2020 (forthcoming)

“Vapaus uskoa – miten luterilaisesta Suomesta tuli moniuskontoinen?”, Kaikki vapaudesta, ed. Kari Enquist, Ilari Hetemäki, Teija Tiilikainen. Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 2017.

“Creation and Creativity in Dara Horn’s Novel In the ImageStudies in the Reception History of the Bible, vol. 8, ed. Antti Laato & Lotta Valve. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2017.

Creativity, Community, Change. Functions of and Motivations for Singing Niggunim”, Jewish Studies in the Nordic Countries Today, ed. Ruth Illman & Björn Dahla, Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, vol. 27. 2016.

”Facebook as a Site for Inter-religious Encounters. A Case Study from Finland”, together with Sofia Sjö, Journal of Contemporary Religion, vol. 30/3 2015

”Reciprocity and Power in Philosophies of Dialogue. The Burning of a Buddhist Temple in Finland.” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, vol. 21/1, 2011

“Artists in Dialogue. Creative Approaches to Interreligious Encounters”, Approaching Religion, vol. 1/1, 2011

“Plurality and Peace. Interreligious Dialogue in a Creative Perspective”, International Journal of Public Theology, vol. 4/2, 2010

”The Realm of the Between. Reflections on Interpersonal Relatedness”, Encounters of the Children of Abraham from Ancient to Modern Times, ed. Antti Laato & Pekka Lindqvist. Leiden: Brill, 2010