‘Into a future unknown’ the Conference of European University Chaplains

Here is my first post about last week’s great conference in Sigtuna, Sweden.

This is just a quick overview of key note speakers. I want to come back to some of these themes in more detail in future posts. But this will give you a sense of what European university chaplains were thinking about.

Image of woman giving at talk - behind her is a projected image of a masked member of the English Defence League burning verses from the Koran.

This image is from the impressive presentation by Lisa Bjurwald, a Swedish journalist, who investigates European racist groups and extreme right wing parties. Highly relevant to UK news this week which was discussing the activities of the English Defence League seen here.

Mattias Gardell is a professor at Uppsala specialising in religious extremism and religious racism and was an expert witness at the trial of Anders Behring Brevik. Gardell looked at the connections between attacks on women’s rights and attacks on Islam.

Ulrika Svalfors, also from Uppsala University, argued for a practice of spiritual leadership that could value diversity rather than retreating into religious conservatism. I enjoyed her review of feminist and ‘indecent theology’.

Jesper Svartvik –  professor of Jewish-Christian relations and Biblical studies in Lund and Jerusalem –  addressed the need for Churches to respond positively to same-sex marriage. He argued that the Biblical texts often quoted by Christians opposed to same-sex marriage refer instead to abuse of hospitality or sexual violence. Other key terms in the debate are either obscure in meaning or do not correspond with our current understandings of sexuality.

Alongside these serious talks about the ‘future unknown’ in Europe there were many workshops on spirituality, education as transformation, and different ways to do chaplaincy. We also meet the Archbishop of Uppsala, attended a Rainbow Gospel Mass, went on a pilgrimage walk, did the usual sharing of food and drink from our own cultures, had a Swedish Midsummer party and, of course, the Abba-Sing-A-Long-Night (with fermented pickled herrings for that essential Swedish Marmite moment). open tin of Swedish fermented herrings, lovely!

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