Rethinking the Role of Religion in a Nordic Welfare State: Church Poverty Relief during the Time of Crisis in Finland

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Heikki HIILAMO, University of Helsinki, Finland
A key feature of the Nordic welfare states is their long history and tradition as Evangelic Lutheran state church countries, a fact which is very seldom recognized in the analysis of the development of the Nordic welfare state model. In the 1970s and 1980s the secularization theory was used to explain why churches in the protestant countries withdraw from providing welfare to make space for public actors, but with the rise of comparative welfare state research the role of religion was forgotten For example, Esping-Andersen’s (1990, 1999) regime theory suggests that the kind of traditional assistance the church lends to the poor would die out in the course of “socio-democratic” welfare state development, a statement analogous with the secularization hypothesis. With data on poverty relief in Finland this study aims to question this assumption,

In the early 1990s Finland was hit by a severe economic recession, which motivated the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland to combat poverty and social exclusion through new programs and initiatives. The global recession that started in 2008 gave new impetus. In the context of two recessions, this study provides a quantitative review of the volume and structure of Church poverty relief. The data on Church engagement in poverty relief is derived from annual Church statistics. The trends on Church poverty relief are contrasted with aggregate data on municipal social assistance, a source of statutory last resort financial aid.

The results show that the scope and volume of the Church’s poverty relief programs during economic downturns gives reason to challenge the conventional clear cut conception of the universal Nordic welfare state model based solely on poverty relief. The Finnish case does not confirm the welfare state regime secularization theory. Instead it shows that churches can still be active agents in shaping welfare states.