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KUMMA – A new research network is founded

Mind and the Other -project has founded a new research network, the purpose of which is to study experiences and conceptions concerning the afterlife, the so-called supernatural, and extraordinary or parallel realities.

In Finnish, the research network is called KUMMA-network. The word kumma can be translated as curious, strange or bizarre. The name reflects the peculiar and unexpected nature of the phenomena studied by the network members that do not quite fit into the existing categories of the study of the human mind.

People experiencing curious and unexplainable phenomena seem to be excluded from the major institutions such as medicine and religion. Fortunately, there are general practitioners and priests, who are willing to discuss these phenomena with the people who experience them and offer support without stigmatization. This is, however, not the case with everyone working in medical or religious organizations. Stigmatization and exclusion still exist.

The network’s first research seminar was held at the University of Turku in 10-11 December, 2013. Speakers were invited from the universities of Turku, Helsinki, Tampere and Stockholm. The speakers came from various disciplinary backgrounds, including folkloristics, comparative religion, social psychology, psychiatry and theology.

The major theme of the seminar was to examine the attitudes of the most important social institutions dealing with kumma, such as medical and religious organizations and science. The keynote speakers were the professor of general medicine Paula Vainiomäki from the University of Turku and pastor Pasi Jaakkola from Turku and Kaarina Parish Union. Their commentators were the professor of psychiatry Jyrki Korkeila and a doctor of theology Kai Alhanen from the University of Turku.

Other topics that were discussed in the seminar included e.g. folkloristic perspectives on studying supernatural experience narratives, trajectories of post-secularism, supernatural experiences and the philosophy of science, conceptions of afterlife and women’s communication with the deceased in pre-industrial Karelia and how people who have supernatural experiences make their experiences meaningful and significant.

In future, the network will gather together regularly to discuss research themes, methodologies and concepts relevant to this field of study. The next meeting will be held in May 2014. The major themes of the second meeting are fiction, popular culture, creativity and imagination.

The founding members of the KUMMA -research network are:

Marja-Liisa Honkasalo (University of Turku), Kaarina Koski (University of Turku), Kirsi Kanerva (University of Turku), Susanne Ådahl (University of Helsinki), Kai Alhanen (University of Turku), Jyrki Korkeila (University of Turku), Annika Svedholm (University of Helsinki), Kirsi Hänninen (University of Turku), Pasi Enges (University of Turku), Jaakko Närvä (University of Helsinki), Eila Stepanova (University of Helsinki), Marja-Liisa Keinänen (University of Stockholm), Jeena Rancken (University of Tampere) and Peter Nynäs (Åbo Akademi University).

The network is coordinated by Varpu Alasuutari, the coordinator of the Research Center for Culture and Health, University of Turku.

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