Co-workers at the research department

The Church of Sweden Research Department conducts strategic and independent research in close collaboration with universities and other higher education institutes in Sweden and abroad.

Cecilia Nahnfeldt

Cecilia Nahnfeldt is Head of the Church of Sweden Research Department since 2015. She has a PhD in Religious Studies and is associate professor in Gender Studies. Her main area of research is in systematic and practical theology with gender perspectives. Her dissertation: Kallelse och kön: Schabloner i läsning av Matteusevangeliets berättelser, 2006 [Vocation and Gender Reinterpreted: Patterns in the Narratives of the Gospel of Matthew] is a starting point for her further research on work life balance, social innovation, calling and work and also her interest for theological aspects of everyday life in practice.

In 2010 she published her research on work-life balancing at the work place, Balansamodellen. Systematisk kvalitetsutveckling till stöd för balansering av arbetsliv och övrigt liv. [The Balansa model. Systematic quality development supporting work life balance] The model has been further developed as a social innovation and is today run by the company CojnBalansa AB. In 2016 she published a book bringing together the concept of vocation with the contemporary understandings of work life balance, Luthersk kallelse - handlingskraft och barmhärtighet, [Lutheran vocation – empower and give mercy].

At the moment she directs the research department developing the platform on Societal theology, focusing on intersections between church, public society and other actors in society. She is involved in two projects: Social innovation in Church of Sweden together with associate professor Malin Lindberg, Luleå University of Technology; and she is also researcher and member of steering committee of NORDHOST, a program on Nordic hospitalities in a context of migration and refugee crisis at Oslo university.


Social innovation in Church of Sweden:
This project aims to explore existing initiatives for social support and development connected to activities of and organization of Church of Sweden and local, regional and national level. Focus is both to understand social innovation in a faithbased context, to critically analyze what hampers or support this development, and to discern gendered conditions and theological aspects. The project are built as series of projects and are supported by external funding from Vinnova, Sweden's innovation agency, and the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society.

NORDHOST: Nordic hospitalities in a context of migration and refugee crisis
This project aims to explore this duality of openness and closure. In the context of migration, values like hospitality and solidarity are frequently used internationally to discuss and challenge current policies. But what could these values mean in a Nordic context where the universality of the welfare state so far has had a significant impact? NORDHOST will discuss this, both conceptually and empirically.


Urban Claesson

Urban Claesson is a researcher at the department since 2011. He is also Professor in History especially focused upon Church History at Dalarna University, where he also is research leader in Educational History.  In his dissertation he analyzed the breakthrough of the democratic national church in Sweden. Claesson has more recently completed a research project by publishing the book “Kris och kristnande. Olof Ekmans kamp för kristendomens återupprättande vid Stora Kopparberget 1689-1713”  (Crisis and Christianity. Olof Ekman's struggle for the restoration of Christianity at Stora Kopparberget 1689-1713. Pietism, program and practice.) Claesson is responsible for the field "Memories and Opportunies" (Minne och möjlighet) , which in 2014 led to an anthology of the same title.  A continuous theme in Claesson's research is how the Church relates to different social organizational processes of change, and meet different challenges.


"Memories and Opportunities" focuses generally upon how the history of the Church is told. By providing critical tools for analysing older stories about the church, and presenting new results from research in the archives, this field of research is a continuing source for creating new perspectives upon how memories may contribute to new possibilities for the Church of Sweden. See for further information of a Nordic network for promoting research on religious uses of history and cultural memory. The Research department is a participating member of this network.


Elisabeth gerle

Elisabeth Gerle is Researcher at the Department and Professor of Ethics at Centre for Theology and Religious Studies at Lund University. Prior to this she was adjunct professor in Ethics, especially Human Rights, at Uppsala University. She has spent several years at Princeton University as visiting scholar and recently spent recurrent periods at Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study.

Gerle’s book Passionate Embrace. Luther on Love, Body, and Sensual Presence (2017) is now available at Cascade .  How the Lutheran tradition could be interpreted today is an ongoing process in Elisabeth’s work, often in international collaboration with scholars from Denmark, Norway, Brazil, USA and South Africa, sometimes in the form of “writing back” to Luther and thus challenging problematic themes.

Elisabeth Gerle wrote her thesis on Global Ethics and has since worked with themes related to multiculturalism, human rights, xenophobia, nationalism and reformation. Her work has an intersectional perspective where body, sexuality, gender, theology and societal norms meet.

She is often invited as a lecturer both in international conferences and in regional event. She is also a commentator now and then in national Swedish Radio, SR, in programs such as The Philosophical Room, Humans and their Faith.

Ongoing themes are the Role of Religion in the Public Sphere, the Role of Body and Desire in, especially, Lutheran Theology, and how different interpretations have political implications. Her latest publication is presented here


Many Modernities: Many people experience religion as a cornerstone in a democratic society, connected to freedom of expression and freedom of association. Other parts of civil society question this understanding and consider freedom of religion and belief as a threat to individual freedom, ostensibly or actually conflicting with other rights and freedoms. When issues of gender, health and sexual orientation are brought into the picture, questions of interpretation and authority to discern what freedom of religion and faith means become crucial. At the seminar an international group of scholars from Africa and Europe addressed themes such as:

  • The International Concept on Freedom of Religion – Importance and Challenges of Today
  • The role of Religion in the Public Sphere – South Africa and Europe
  • Values – Religion, Democracy, and Human Rights (Freedom of Religion) in South Africa and Sweden
  • Freedom of Religion or Belief with a short overview of the legislation but also challenges of today like individual contra collective, gender, sexual orientation, different other human rights etc.
  • Case studies based on Freedom of Religion or Belief within e.g. Christianity, Islam, and Traditional African Religion

The outcome of these deliberations will be published in STIAS book series as well as in Church of Sweden series at Wipfandstock.


Sara Gehlin

Sara Gehlin is a post-doctoral researcher at the Church of Sweden Research Department since May 2016. Her research concerns peace issues in the international ecumenical movement. In her research project she approaches these issues with a view to the UN Resolution 1325, which advocates the full participation of women in all peace processes. Against this background the project focuses on the discussion of vision and reality at the intersection between feminist theology and ecumenical peace theology. Gehlin defended her doctoral dissertation – Prospects for Theology in Peacebuilding – at Lund University in March 2016. The dissertation inquires into the concept of just peace in contemporary ecumenical theology and explores the capacity of theology in religiously motivated peacebuilding.


Jonas Ideström

Jonas Ideström is associate Professor in Ecclesiology at Uppsala University and has worked at the Church of Sweden Research Department since 2012. His main area of research is in ecclesiology and ethnography with a focus on local expressions of the Church of Sweden. A common theme is ecclesial identity and theological interpretations of the social embodiment of the church. In 2009 he published Lokal kyrklig identitet. En studie av implicit ecklesiologi med exempelet Svenska kyrkan i Flemingsberg [Local Church Identity. A Study in Implicit Ecclesiology with the Example of the Church of Sweden in Flemingsberg] in which he investigates a local parish in a suburb. The book Spåren i snön. Att vara kyrka i Norrländska glesbygder (2015) [Tracks in the Snow. Being Church in Northern Rural Areas] explores local parishes in two rural areas in northern Sweden. In both these projects conversations between sociology (and other forms of social theory) and theology has been central.

The methods have been inspired by ethnography. In the latest project Ideström has engaged in participatory research approaches. From a theological perspective questions concerning church and welfare has been studied within a theological action research project. At the moment he is engaged in a Nordic project on Pastoral learning in praxis. He is also the editor of For the sake of the world (PickWick, 2009) and Ecclesiology in the trenches (co-edited with Sune Fahlgren, PickWick, 2016) and the forthcoming What really matters (co-edited with Tone Stangeland Kaufman, PickWick).

Ideström is also co-chair for the Ecclesial Practices unit at American Academy of Religion.


Whom do we serve? A theological research project on church and welfare
Ideström is leading a project on church and welfare with the purpose of generating theological reflections on the role and identity of the church as a welfare actor. At the heart of the project are case studies in a few parishes in the Church of Sweden. The case studies are conducted within the frame work of theological action research. In April 2017 the results from the first case study were presented in a report (co-written with Stig Linde) and at a one day conference in Mölndal (in the diocese of Gothenburg). The case study in Mölndal focused on a transit home for unaccompanied refugee children that the local municipality ran in the parish home of the local church.

Ideström and Tone Stangeland Kaufman has written a chapter in the forthcoming book Mending the World (PickWick 2017) and a forthcoming article in International Journal of Practical Theology, both with a focus on action research, theology and ecclesiology.

Pastoral learning in praxis
Together with a group of researchers from Denmark and Norway Ideström is planning a project studying how pastors learn in professional praxis. The project is planned to begin spring 2018. During 4-5 years two researchers will follow a group (6-8 people) of pastors as they finish their last semester of training and after ordination serve as parish pastors. The overall approach is shaped by a socio-cultural and socio-material understanding of learning and knowledge. An important component of the research process will be group conversations with the pastors every 12-18 months that involves participatory elements. The Scandinavian collaboration also makes it possible to add interesting comparative dimensions to the project.


Kristina Helgesson Kjellin

Kristina Helgesson Kjellin has worked as a researcher in Cultural Anthropology at the Church of Sweden Research Department since 2014. Her research interests include migration, integration, church belonging and identity, and cultural and religious diversity. In 2016 she published a monograph on diversity work in the Church of Sweden: “En bra plats att vara på. En antropologisk studie av mångfaldsarbete och identitetsskapande inom Svenska kyrkan”. The interdisciplinary meeting between anthropology, mission studies, and theology is a starting point for her research, as well as the research field “Anthropology of Christianity”. She furthermore has a special interest in research on Africa as well as on Pentecostalism.

Helgesson Kjellin got her doctoral degree at Uppsala University in 2006. Her Ph.D-thesis “”Walking in the Spirit”. The Complexity of Belonging in Two Pentecostal Churches in Durban, South Africa” deals with experiences of apartheid and of belonging among white and coloured South African Pentecostals. Helgesson Kjellin is an affiliated researcher to the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology at Uppsala University.


Cultural and religious diversity, migration and church
We live in a world that is characterised by cultural and religious diversity. Not least does migration - forced or optional – imply that societies, including religious denominations, are being faced with partly new questions and challenges.

The research projects that are presented here focus on the present refugee-and migration situation in Sweden as well as globally. Civil society, including churches and other religious denominations and organisations, have played and continue to play important roles in the processes of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, as well as in the continuing processes of integration. Partly new needs result in new and other ways of working, as well as in new ways of cooperation between various actors in society as well as between individuals.

Here are some of the questions that are being studied in the research projects:

  • How is hospitality understood and expressed by various actors in processes of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers?
  • How is interreligious co-operation being formed?
  • What happens in parishes that are characterised by cultural and religious diversity?
  • How are self-images and identities affected by encounters in a culturally and religiously diverse setting?
  • What happens with religious identities in a situation of living in diaspora?
  • How are relationships shaped and how is power expressed?

Expressions of Hospitality in Culturally Diverse Churches
The aim of this research project is to study the role of ”the cultural broker” for how diversity work and expressions of hospitality is being carried out in the context of two culturally diverse churches in Sweden.  A “broker” is a person that can hold a variety of positions, but it is a person that has cultural and/or language competences, and that is anchored both in the Swedish majority culture as well as in another cultural/national group that is part of the church activities.

These are some of the underlying questions guiding the project:

  • How is hospitality understood by various actors involved in the church?
  • What role does the “cultural broker” play in the church activities and in the meeting with people that come to church, that have another cultural/religious/Christian background than that of the “majority Swede”?

The churches that will be included in this study is one parish in the Church of Sweden and one neo-Pentecostal church. Anthropological field studies, including participant observation and in-depth interviews, will be carried out in these two churches, starting in March 2017.


Jenny Ehnberg

Jenny Ehnberg is doctor of philosophy in theological ethics. Ehnberg’s doctoral thesis from 2015 is entitled Globalization, Justice, and Communication: A Critical Study of Global Ethics. In the thesis Ehnberg conducts a critical analysis of four different models for global ethics, two from political philosophy and two based in Christian ethics.

Ehnberg has been working with different questions in relation to the theory and practice of human rights. Especially the question of what universality might mean in the context of the international human rights regime. A further field of interest is the subject of rights for persons with disabilities and the critical perspective that the idea of universal design offers for policy and practice in relation to human rights.

In an ongoing research project Ehnberg aims to investigate what possible contributions theology might make to the model of deliberative democracy. More specifically this project deals with the question of what would constitute a tenable model of democracy and how the religious traditions can engage in the political sphere.


The project with the working title A Political Church? A Critical Study of Deliberative Democracy and the Political Contributions from Theology seeks to investigate what possible contributions theology can give to a tenable model of democracy.

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