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Colonialism versus Decolonisation: The Role of Laestadius and Laestadianism in Contemporary Sámi and Tornedalian Texts

Research project The outcome of the project will be a volume about the role of the popular revivalist Laestadius and Laestadianism in anticolonial Sámi and Tornedalian cultural mobilisation. Literature, film and art will be analysed with theoretical perspectives from Postcolonial and Indigenous studies.

The outcome will be a volume about the role of the popular revivalist Laestadius and the Laestadian movement in anticolonial Sámi and Tornedalian literature, film and art challenging homogenising narratives of the nation. Preparatory work has been done during research periods at Tromsø University 2008–2011 and at the Hugo Valentin Centre 2010 and 2012. Already published articles and presentations will be edited and completed with new contextualising chapters. The project produces new knowledge about transformations of the nation, the identity politics of minorities and alternative historiography, as well as new interpretations of Sámi and Tornedalian cultural mobilisation by establishing connections with indigenous and postcolonial studies.

Head of project

Anne Heith
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2016-02-03 2017-12-31


RJ, 2016-2017: SEK 1,639,240

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Culture and Media Studies, Faculty of Arts

Research subject

General literary studies

Project description


The project’s outcome will be a volume in the scientific series Northern Studies Monographs, published by Umeå University and The Royal Skyttean Society. The volume will be made accessible open access via Umeå University Library. Its theme is the role of the popular revivalist Lars Levi Laestadius (1800–1861) in contemporary Sámi and Tornedalian texts which produce alternative, anticolonial and decolonising narratives. The concept of ’text’ is understood in a broad sense including both written and visual narratives such as literature and film. The volume will consist of edited, previously published articles and conference presentations produced during research periods between 2008 and 2012. Contextualising chapters and new analyses based on already collected material will be written.

Nationalism is a discourse that makes identity claims, temporal claims and spatial claims (Özkirimli 2010). This theoretical backdrop is used in the analysis of the dynamics between cultural homogenisation versus the cultural mobilisation of the Sámi and Tornedalians. Constructions of the majority population as privileged whites is discussed with theoretical tools from critical whiteness studies (Dyer 1997). Studies of the modernisation of Sweden show that the Sámi and the Tornedalians were contructed as the Others of the modern nation (Arvastson ed. 1999, Mebius 1999). The project examines how this construct is challenged in decolonising Sámi and Tornedalian cultural mobilisation. Decolonisation is a central concept in postcolonial studies and indigenous studies (Smith 2008), referring to the creation of positive self-images among groups that have been marginalised (Thiong’o 1986, Bhabha 2008, Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 2009, Hirvonen 2008).

The target group of the volume is researchers in the fields of Arctic Studies, Northern Studies, Laestadian studies, but also in the fields of postcolonial studies, indigenous studies, minority studies and whiteness studies. The volume will have an interest both for researchers in Scandinavian Studies and for a larger public interested in ethnicity studies, minority studies and postcolonial studies. The issues of race, ethnicity and minority status have increasingly come to the fore during the last years in Scandinavia through critical studies of Nordic colonial complicity (Keskinen et al. 2009), cultural homogenisation (Arvastson ed. 1999) and racialisation (Kjellman 2013).

Outline of the volume

I Introduction

• Postcolonialism: Presentation of central concepts and themes which will be elaborated upon in the analyses of the literary texts and films which constitute the material of the study:

– Alternative spaces: Sápmi and Meänmaa.

– Alternative histories produced in the contexts of Sámi and Tornedalian cultural mobilisation. A central distinction is insider versus outsider stories, that is stories produced by indigenous peoples’ themselves, or people who identify themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority, versus stories produced by ‘outsiders’.
– Identity and belonging are core themes of literary narratives that problematize, challenge and deconstruct stories of homogeneity. These central themes will be presented with a focus on:
1) Strategic essentialism and ethnification in Tornedalian and Sámi texts: The role of borders for identity politics
2) Dissolving and diffuse borders: multiple spaces – multiple belongings, complex identities and hybridity
3) The implications of migration and mixed ethnic heritage for identity constructions
4) Not quite white: The section presents perspectives from critical race and whiteness studies which will be used in case studies in part II and III.
II Multiple and Contradictory Narratives

• Laestadianism as an oppressive force versus Laestadianism as an exotic asset: Comparative analysis of Bruno K. Höijer’s novel Djävulens kalsonger, Ester Cullblom’s feminist critique and Annika Korpi’s narrative of nostalgia and longing, respectively.

• Depictions of Laestadianism in contemporary films about young people: Comparative analysis of the Swedish film Elina: As If I Wasn’t There, based on a book by Kerstin Johansson i Backe, and the Finnish films Pahat pojat (2003, Bad Boys) and Kiellety hedelmä (2009, Forbidden Fruit). The films have in common that they are about young people from Laestadian families.

III Sámi and Tornedalian insider-narratives

• A Sámi, migrant woman’s narratives: Sara Ranta Rönnlund’s novels exemplify narratives from a Sámi, Tornedalian and Finnish cultural sphere populated by Sámi people, settlers, Laestadians and Korpelians. Her four novels were published in the 1970s when she was retired. She was then living in Uppsala. The narratives provide a perspective ‘from below’ their author being uneducated, a woman and a Sámi. This section is a newly written chapter which will be produced during the project period.

• Swedish Tornedalian Bengt Pohjanen’s narratives from Meänmaa: This chapter consists of the editing of articles and presentations produced during previous research periods as well as new sections. The following texts will be discussed: 1) the poem “Jag är född utan språk” (“I was Born Without Language”; 2) the novel Ropandes röst (A Crying Voice), whose main character is Lars Levi Laestadius; 3) the novels Dagning röd (Daybreak Red) and Silverarken (The Silver Ark), both about the Korpela movement; 3) Laestadius-uuppera (Laestadius opera).

• Valkeapää’s and Pohjanen’s challenges of privileged whiteness: Analysis of Valkeapää’s Beaivi áhčážan and Pohjanen’s poem “Rättipäät”.

• Laestadius as a radical force: Comparative analysis of a Sámi Action Movie, Nils Gaup’s The Kautokeino Rebellion, and Pohjanen’s Song of Praise to Lars Levi Laestadius.

IV Concluding discussion and summing up of results:
From homogenising nationalism to national diversity: the chapter sums up in what respects the Laestadian elements of the Sámi and Tornedalian texts that have been discussed challenge and undermine a nationalist discourse based on identity claims, temporal claims, and spatial claims (Özkirimli 2010).

The project contributes to the emerging field of Nordic postcolonial studies. It explores a new theme in Swedish research, namely the impact of insider narratives in processes of decolonisation exemplified by the cultural production of the Sámi and Swedish Tornedalians. The project also contributes to establishing Nordic Critical Whiteness Studies by analysing the role of constructions of privileged whiteness and the social constructions of the Sámi and Tornedalians as not quite white. These categorisations play a major role in the marginalisation of the Sámi and Tornedalians which is being questioned in literature and films inspired by the anticolonial currents of the 1970s. Furthermore, the project contributes to the field of new theoretical perspectives in Laestadian studies and the research on histories ’from below’, and studies of popular, vernacular narratives which challenge and provide alternatives to the official stories of the nation which have dominated in nation-building. Connections between Finno-Ugric ethnicity and Laestadianism has been discussed in a couple of Norwegian contributions examining the Norwegian Kven population’s and the Sámi’s relationship to the Laestadian movement (Kristensen 1998, Nergård 2000). Lundmark’s study of the Korpelians, a fraction that broke loose from the Laestadian movement, is a Swedish study of connections between Tornedalian ethnicity and Laestadianism/Korpelianism (Lundmark 1985). However, there are no previous analyses of Laestadianism from the vantage point of postcolonial theory.

Remaining work and time-table

• Jan.–June 2016 Part I: Writing of introductory chapter which involves combining new sections with the editing of already finished manuscripts.
• July–Dec. 2016 Part II: Writing of chapter about contradictory narratives which implies using a published article (Heith 2009c) and synthesising it with a new section about Höijer’s novel Djävulens kalsonger, and analysing a finished analysis of Elina: As If I Wasn’t There (Heith, forthcoming 2015) with new analyses of Pahat pojat and Kiellety hedelmä.
• Jan.–March 2017 Part III (to be continued in May): Writing of chapter about Sara Ranta Rönnlund’s novels, and writing, syntehesising and editing chapter about Bengt Pohjanen’s contribution.
• April 2017: Research stay at Tromsø University.
• May–Oct. 2017 Part III and IV: Writing of comparative analysis of Valkeapää’s Beaivi áhčážan (Heith 2014) and Pohjanen’s poem “Rättipäät” (Heith 2012b) (Part III), and chapter about Laestadius as a radical force in Sámi and Tornedalian cultural mobilisation (Part III) with a focus on Nils Gaup’s The Kautokeino Rebellion (Heith 2010a) and Pohjanen’s Song of Praise to Lars Levi Laestadius (Heith 2009a). Writing of concluding chapter (Part IV).
• Nov. –Dec. 2017: Indices, proofreading, copy editing and final editing with the editor of Northern Studies Monographs.