To get things up and running I am going to introduce some of the hypotheses -- i.e. preliminary suppositions or starting points for further research -- of our project on political laestadianism. These hypotheses are based on what we already know about the movement: existing literatures on the subject and what might be described as "common knowledge". We are well aware that both of these sources have their share of problems, but this is the reason we need further research!
Let me begin from the hypothesis that laestadianism is Finland's Christian Right: it embodies and represents much of what goes under Christian reaction in this country. Laestadianism is not a political movement in the conventional sense of the term: it does not have its own party or a political platform. Laestadianism is a form of “fundamentalism” that poses no challenge to other Christian denominations or religions, just as it does not in any way aim to subvert the establishment. Quite the contrary: Laestadians have long practiced their religion within the confines of the national Lutheran Church; they have traditionally taken an active role in civil society; and they continue to organize themselves politically through the Finnish parliamentary system.
One of the objectives of our project is to study laestadianism as a form of civil religion. This idea can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 The Social Contract. For Rousseau civil religion provided the moral and spiritual foundation essential for any modern society. Not unlike “social cement”, civil religion functioned to unify the state by sacralizing its authority. For the Laestadians, remaining faithful to Martin Luther’s doctrine of two kingdom's, the state has a very specific theological meaning: it is government established by God and in its proper functioning his rule and reign are in stake. Among the varieties and intensities of civil religion we may identify in Finnish politics today, laestadianism embodies its purest theological expression and most explicit political articulation. Luther identified the state as the sole source of authority in worldly affairs -- as God’s government -- and Finnish Laestadians are devoted to this calling. It is here, if indeed anywhere, that Finland is worshipped today.
There is a contrast between the world-view of laestadianism and that of the “rest-of-us”: the secular majority of Finns. It almost seems as if the Laestadian community belonged to another era. Indeed: we can read laestadianism as a case of pre-modern civil religion. In his 2007 A Secular Age the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor writes that pre-modern forms of society reflect an “embedded” understanding of human life, where the polity itself is seen as God’s creation. In these societies political authority is inconceivable without God: social and political arrangements cannot be understood separately from the sacred and the divine.
What makes laestadianism important is that it plays a not at all insignificant role in Finnish politics. There are regions in this country where this role can be leading. While the rest-of-us can easily find a place in our horizontally arranged modernity, where religion is a personal choice of passing political significance, there is a large island in this “age” that believes otherwise. “We” may think that religion is far behind secular reason in “our” politics today, but there is a politically active minority that operates on the absolute opposite of this assumption.