Sámi Nature-Centered Christianity in the European Arctic unpacks the theological significance of North Sámi indigenous Christianity, demonstrating how the tension between Sámi nature-centered Christianity and official Norwegian Lutheranism has broad theological relevance. Focusing on Christian cosmological orientation, the author argues that this is not fully given within the Christian faith itself. It is partly shaped by the religio-philosophical frameworks that various historical receptions of Christianity were filtered through. The author substantiates that two different types of Christian cosmological orientation are negotiated in the North Sámi Christian experience: one reflecting a Sámi historical reception of Christianity primarily filtered through the egalitarian world intuition of the Sámi indigenous tradition; another reflecting official Norwegian Lutheranism, primarily filtered through a Greek hierarchical world construct passed down among European intellectual elites.
The argument is developed through thick description of local everyday Christianity among reindeer herding, river, and sea Sámi communities in Finnmark, Norway; through critical engagement with historical and contemporary Lutheranism; and through constructive dialogue with African and Native American theologies. The author suggests that the egalitarian, multi-relational logic of Sámi nature-centered Christianity points beyond the hierarchical binaries delimiting much of the theological imagination of dominant Christian theologies.
Sámi theologian Rev. Dr. Tore Johnsen is associate proffesor at KUN/VID Tromsø, Faculty of Theology, Diaconia and Leadership Studies, VID Specialized University, Norway.
Preface and Acknowledgments
Chapter One: Christian Worldmaking Reconsidered: The Sámi Arctic Speaks
Chapter Two: Doing Decolonial Theology in the European Arctic
Part I: Historical Analysis
Chapter Three: Deconstructing Historical Lutheran Discourses on the Sámi Tradition
Part II: Qualitative Analysis
Chapter Four: The Enacted Faith of Sámi Nature-centered Christianity
Chapter Five: The Religio-philosophical Framing of Local Sámi Everyday Christianity
Part III: Theological Analysis
Chapter Six: Theological Analysis through the Lens of African and Native American Theologies
Chapter Seven: Blessing Liturgy and Cosmological Orientation: A Critical Conversation with Norwegian Lutheranism
Chapter Eight: Christian Theology beyond Hierarchical Worldmaking: Sámi Contributions
Appendix 1: List of Research Participants
Appendix 2: North Sámi-English Glossary
Appendix 3: Invitation Letter and Consent Form
Appendix 4: Interview Guide
This eye-opener of a text succeeds in being both critical and creative. Tore Johnsen not only claims the obvious right to formulate indigenous and decolonial answers to central questions of human existence, but also shows how indispensable these answers are and why. The approach may be theological and the empirical example Sámi, but the range of the analysis is much wider. It convincingly demonstrates the advantage of using reasonings of so-called ordinary people as building-blocks in the formulation of a non-hierarchical philosophies, be they religious (as in this case) or secular.
Christians have often held that humans are God-ordained to have dominion or stewardship over creation. Johnsen argues that this has roots in Augustine’s and Luther’s view of a hierarchically structured world, which is at odds with the lived theology of Sámi Christian cosmology. Based on rich interviews and in conversation with African and Native American theological writings, the implications of this work are profound—it reimagines the doctrines of God and creation, and ecotheology, and it challenges a mindset that legitimizes the colonization of nature and of other peoples. This is an immensely important and provocative work.
Johnsen’s work is the first major contribution to the academic articulation of Sámi theology. It builds on a careful and detailed analysis of Sámi cosmology while retaining a clear insider perspective. Johnsen does Sámi constructive contextual theology that is deeply rooted in the everyday Christianity in the Nordic Arctic. Yet, his work is in intense dialogue with decolonial theories and African as well as Native American theologies with the effect of relevance beyond the Sámi circles. This is globally one of the most important contributions to contextual theology after the turn of the millennium.
Globally, religious studies and theological education continue to be one of the last institutional bastions of hegemonic colonial dominance. Slowly but surely, subaltern voices crying out for the liberatory presence of a just, inclusive, life-giving God are rightly disrupting long held academic and intellectual privilege. Indigenous voices, courageous, compelling, compassionate voices such as that of Tore Johnsen are now calling us all to notice the extent to which such historically embedded dominance has supressed and silenced the God given wisdom, insight, vision, and critical knowledge of indigenous peoples. Tore’s work is an exemplary act of both literary defiance and of deep indigenous grace.
Tore Johnsen’s book is an exquisite and path-breaking contribution to the evolving fields of religion and ecology, Indigenous methodology, decolonial theology, and Lutheran theology and ethics. Johnsen’s intellectual acumen and practiced indigenous methodology bear rich fruit. They bring North Sami Christian tradition out of colonial intellectual captivity, and they offer the broader Western theological imagination a path out of captivity to the hierarchical dualism that has shaped it. The nature-centered cosmological orientation of North Sami lived Christianity offers a vitally important re-orientation of Christian theology and practice away from hierarchical assumptions and worldmaking toward far more egalitarian and Earth-honoring ways of living and practicing faith. Through Johnsen’s astute theological inquiry rooted in Sami land and culture, indigenous Christians of the Arctic North offer an alternative ontological premise for human perception of and engagement in the world. This volume is a life-giving and brilliant gift to Lutheranism, the larger church, and the world.