Dissertation: Lars Levi Laestadius was also a philosophical thinker


Lars Levi Laestadius (1800–1861) is known as one of the most influential Swedish pietistic Lutheran revivalists, a multidisciplinary scientist, and founder of Laestadian movements in northern Scandinavia. His religious and scientific work has had a significant impact on the spiritual and cultural life of northern Scandinavia, but up to this date his thinking, adhering to anthropology and the philosophy of religion, has not been studied at the doctoral level in the field of philosophy. M.Soc.Sc. Kosti Joensuu’s dissertation reveals new information about Laestadius, as a philosophical thinker.

Toward the end of his life Laestadius wrote an extensive work addressing the problem of reconciliation from the viewpoints of philosophy and psychology. The work was titled En Blick I Nådens Ordning (The Lunatic: An insight Into the Order of Grace) and it was written in defence of northern pietistic religion and humanism. An English translation of the book appeared at the end of 2015, making it available to a larger international research community. In his dissertation The Physical, Moral and Spiritual: A Study on Vitalist Psychology and the Philosophy of Religion of Lars Levi Laestadius Mr. Joensuu concentrates on this main theological and philosophical work of Laestadius.

“I studied Laestadius’ work on human existence and faith. I have also investigated the nature and contents of his theology, psychology, and philosophy of religion from the viewpoint of philosophy," Kosti Joensuu notes.

Critique of Western rationalism and metaphysics

The dissertation creates a historical and ideological frame for Laestadius’ thinking and contains analyses and interpretations of his most salient theoretical formulations. It provides an extensive account of Laestadius’ theorising by addressing his way of defending Lutheran pietism, analysing psychological human existence, and shaping philosophical and psychological views on faith and religion. The author also analyses Laestadius’ critique on Western metaphysical rationalism and his vitalist redefinitions of the central notions of metaphysics.

“Although Laestadius’ production consists of multiple voices and layers, he was a surprisingly coherent and precise theoretical thinker also in terms of anthropology, psychology, and philosophy,” Mr. Joensuu says.

The author interprets Laestadius’ attempts to solve classical problems met in the fields of psychology and philosophy, especially the relationship between mind and body, as well as the meaning of corporeality in view of human consciousness, action, faith, and being in the world. The emphasis on corporeality in Laestadius’ thinking is essentially the result of his adherence to the theoretical tradition of vitalist physiology and heritage of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. In particular, his philosophical and psychological views frequently follow the vitalist thoughts of Xavier Bichat.

Kosti Joensuu notes that “Laestadius forms a philosophically and psychologically interesting conception of psychosomatics and the subconscious. Laestadius’ theorises that consciousness, as well as the entire soul, is a corporeal phenomenon and inextricably connected to organic faculties such as passions and emotions.”

A powerful influence

Above all, Kosti Joensuu’s dissertation examines the theoretical thinking of one of the most influential spiritual leader and scientist in northern Scandinavia. Thereby it also makes a valuable contribution to multidisciplinary academic research.
“Considering for example northern culture, its history of ideas, Laestadianism, and Sámi research, it may be useful to have studied Laestadius’ theoretical argumentation,” the author says.

The dissertation is also important in the context of applied Sámi research because Laestadius’ vitalist and pietistic thinking may be considered as partly compatible with the 19th century Sámi worldview.

“The study opens up a broad question concerning the critique of Western metaphysics and hopefully thereby generates further research. Faith and spirituality play an important part in many people’s lives, and the associated religious discourse is utilised to address people’s experiential reality,” the author notes.

Information on the public examination of the dissertation

M.Soc.Sc. Kosti Joensuu’s dissertation The Physical, Moral and Spiritual: A Study on Vitalist Psychology and the Philosophy of Religion of Lars Levi Laestadius will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland. The examination takes place on Friday 9 December at 12:00 in lecture hall 10. The opponent is Professor Emeritus Timo Airaksinen from the University of Helsinki and the custos is Professor Kaarina Määttä from the University of Lapland.

Information on the doctoral candidate

Kosti Joensuu, born 30 April 1979 in Alajärvi, graduated from Alajärvi upper secondary school in 1999. He has studied philosophy, psychology, education, and sociology at the University of Jyväskylä and at the University of Joensuu. He earned his Master’s degree in Social Sciences, majoring in philosophy, at the University of Jyväskylä in 2004. In 2004 he started doctoral studies in philosophy, focusing on phenomenology and Martin Heidegger’s thoughts, while working as a teacher of philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä. Since 2011 he has worked as a researcher and teacher at the University of Lapland.

Further information
Kosti Joensuu
kjoensuu (at) ulapland.fi

Sale of the dissertation: verkkokauppa Juvenes and booky.fi. Other purchasing channels are also available. Further information and press release copies are available at the Lapland University Press, phone: +358 40 821 4242, email: julkaisu (at) ulapland.fi

Publication data

Kosti Joensuu: The Physical, Moral and Spiritual: A Study on Vitalist Psychology and the Philosophy of Religion of Lars Levi Laestadius. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 337. Lapland University Press. Rovaniemi. 2016. ISBN (paper format) 978-952-484-932-6, ISSN 0788-7604. Web version (pdf): Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis. 205. ISBN 978-952-484-932-6. ISSN 0788-7604.

Ulapland/Communications & Language Centre / J-EK&AT