Torbjørn Brox Webber on Sami Theology and Scandinavian Creation Theology

| Torbjørn Brox Webber is a stipendiat at VID Specialized University in Norway. He has written about Scandinavian creation theology and Sami theology in the journal Dialog.

Stephen: How did you become interested in this topic?

Torbjørn: I probably became interested in SCT (Scandinavian creation theology) as I saw there was a resonance between the philosophy of life that I saw and grew up with in Sàpmi and SCT as a theological interpretation and understanding of both ethics and social struggle.

Stephen: Who are the Sami people and what are some key aspects of a Sami theological perspective?

Torbjørn: The Sami people are the indigenous people. Sàpmi is the land of the Sami people and consists of the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland as well as the Kola Peninsula in Russia. A key aspect of the religious life in Sàpmi can be described as how we see that we live in a relationship with each other – not only humans, but in the relationship with the whole creation.

Stephen: How does this theological approach relate to the majority Norwegian culture?

Torbjørn: I think it would be fair to say that the Norwegian majority society and especially the Church of Norway have had problems recognizing Sami indigenous theology as a Christian theology. The churches have often dealt with the Sami communities as something outside Christianity. This is probably also related to the church’s role in what we call the Norwegianisation process, which was a colonialist project driven by national authorities to ensure national control over the land and promote Norwegian culture among the peoples in the north.

Stephen: What is Scandinavian creation theology?

Torbjørn: Scandinavian creation theology is a Protestant interpretive tradition that has its origins in its critique of anti-liberal theology.

Over time, SCT has often worked with issues within ethics and ecclesiology. It has contributed important input in ongoing debates on refugee issues and human rights, as well as climate and the environment.

Stephen: How can this creation theology and Sami theological perspectives relate to each other?

Torbjørn: This depends on which aspects meet each other. For me, it is obvious to take as a starting point the relational approach to, for example, the relationship between people. STC’s anthropocentric approach has probably overshadowed the relational aspects that lie in the relationship between humans and nature.

If one adds in a Sami understanding related to how we all (humans, animals, nature, etc.) belong together, I think this develops SCT further.

Stephen: What are the impacts of climate change on the land of Sami people?

Torbjørn: Indigenous peoples around the world are experiencing the dramatic consequences of climate change and how this changes the traditional  way of living.

At the same time as climate change is taking place, work is being done to implement what is called a green shift. This is a change where fossil energy will be replaced by green renewable energy, such as wind power. The problem here is only that it is again the Sami population that is affected by this as the wind turbines are placed on the reindeer’s grazing area. Former Sami Parliament President Aili Keskitalo has described this as green colonialism.

Stephen: How might these two approaches, Sami theology and Scandinavian creation theology, inform responses to climate change?

Torbjørn: I think an important aspect of this is that the work against climate change is also an ethical issue which is basically about changing an economic structure that creates over-consumption and that promotes a systematic exploitation of people and nature.

When one connects the anthropocentric perspectives of SCT together with Sami indigenous theology, this forms a very good basis for a theological debate about the most important challenge of our time.

Torbjørn Brox Webber is a stipendiat at VID Specialized University.

Managing editor Stephen Waldron is a Ph.D. student at Boston University School of Theology.