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Laestadianism in the News: Media and Conservative Religion in a Finnish Case

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges book series (PSLRSC)


The topic of this chapter is the media discussion of a Finnish case of child sexual abuse within conservative religion. Religion and child sexual abuse have been a major topic in media coverage not least of Catholicism in the English-speaking world. Although this case deals with a different national and cultural context and a different religious group, a common denominator is the central role of the media in not only uncovering but also framing the abuse. The chapter uses discourse analysis of media and online material to show how the media not only discloses a horrendous crime but also uses this disclosure to marginalize a religious minority group. The study exemplifies the increasing influence of media on religion.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-59381-0_11
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  1. 1.

    See the chapters by Nykänen and Harjunmaa as well as Snellman and Dahlbacka. The latter text deals with the same group of Laestadians as this chapter.

  2. 2.

    It can be noted that the term “sect” from the perspective of sociology is a neutral, descriptive one and not a negative term as it has become in general use, for example, in the media discussion studied here.

  3. 3.

    For politics and Laestadianism, see also the chapter by Nykänen and Harjumaa in this volume.

  4. 4.

    Sexual abuse is a form of norm breach causing religious media scandals; another topic causing scandals according to Soukup (1997) is money.

  5. 5.

    At the time, the paper had just under 50,000 subscribers (Levikkitarkastus 2010).

  6. 6.

    Two others that can be mentioned are the discourse on childhood, dealing with the situation of the victimized children and in extension Laestadian children in general; and the discourse on legal matters, on how the crimes could and should be dealt with.

  7. 7.

    This is one example of a quote where the discourses both on generalization and on closedness are present. All quotes from the material are in my translation from Swedish.

  8. 8.

    Even more clearly so in Swedish than in English.

  9. 9.

    The word used by Hedman (chief editor of ÖT) that I have translated as “baiting,” “hets,” is the same as in the official Swedish crime classification of “incitement to hatred,” in Swedish “hets mot folkgrupp.”

  10. 10.

    The concept of labelling could invite a whole different theoretical discussion, not least related to Mary Douglas’ classical discussions on witchcraft accusations (e.g. Douglas 1991), but that will be left out for now. One important aspect that Douglas points out is that the truth of the accusations is not at issue but their social and cultural functions.

  11. 11.

    I want to thank Camilla Asplund, Heidi Henriksson, Stefan Gelfgren and others who have read and commented on this chapter.



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Häger, A. (2021). Laestadianism in the News: Media and Conservative Religion in a Finnish Case. In: Gelfgren, S., Lindmark, D. (eds) Conservative Religion and Mainstream Culture . Palgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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