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René Gothóni

10.4.1950, Helsinki

Master of Theology 1973 and Doctor of Theology 1983 (study of religions), University of Helsinki

Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of Helsinki 2003-

Senior Lecturer in Comparative Religion 1984-2003; acting Professor of Comparative Religion 1985; Clare Hall Visiting Fellow, Cambridge, UK 1989-90; acting Professor of Comparative Religion 1993-94; Director of the Orthodox Monasticism and Society project funded by the Academy of Finland 1993-96; acting Professor of Comparative Religion 1995-97; Docent of Comparative Religion 1996-2001; Professor of Comparative Religion 2001-03 (fixed-term)

Publications, research projects and other academic activities
Research topics: comparative religion, specialising in comparative and empirical research on religious traditions

Photo: Veikko Somerpuro
Written by René Gothóni and Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta (ed.)
Translated by John Calton

My best memories at the University of Helsinki

As I reflect on a teaching career at the University of Helsinki spanning more than 40 years, and now nearing retirement, I notice that each decade has had its own highlights.

My fondest memories from the 1970s are of time spent in the university library. There were many other doctoral students and I was writing my doctoral dissertation on the mode of life of Theravāda Buddhist monks. We would also share delightful moments in the downstairs café with doctorands of other disciplines, engaging in animated discussions on scientific thinking and methodology. These discussions crowned our coffee breaks to such an extent that in some article of mine I dared to proclaim that the university library is the only reason to live in Finland!

I defended my thesis and became Doctor of Theology on the October 16th 1982, which is of course an unforgettable day and my first truly great moment in the 1980s. Another very important period came at the end of the decade, when I received the first Fellowship grant of Clare Hall College at the University of Cambridge for the 1989-90 academic year. Not only did that year witness the fall of the Berlin Wall, but a breakthrough in my academic understanding. I had the opportunity to breathe in a thoroughly international academic atmosphere, one in which I became more independent as a thinker and a scholar.

Somewhat forlorn on returning to my alma mater in 1990, I was nevertheless ready to face new challenges. For the entire decade, I was acting Professor of Comparative Religion on and off, growing as a teacher, researcher and head of department. It was the golden decade of action and administrative reform: I managed to bring about structural change in the comparative religion subject, renovating old job descriptions and creating new ones. Under favourable economic circumstances, the study of religions grew into a robust subject, by far surpassing the goals set, largely thanks to the excellent co-operation among the teachers. And the good results continue to this day.

I wish to mention two highlights from the new millennium. The first is of course my appointment as Professor of Comparative Religion at the Faculty of Arts on February 1, 2003. It felt strange to wake up as a professor, having gone to sleep as a docent! Another highlight, or rather the next season of highlights, relate to my students and their doctorates. I have experienced great joy seeing my students mature into fine scholars. It has been a great pleasure to witness the happiness in their eyes and how very learnedly they have read their lecture presentations and defended in public the academic conclusions in their dissertations. I catch myself thinking: if you’re looking for beauty, write a thesis!


Photo: René Gothóni​
Photo: René Gothóni​


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