New book about hospitality and migration

The anthology Contested Hospitalities in a Time of Migration: Religious and Secular Counterspaces in the Nordic Region sheds light on Nordic hospitality practices in a time of ever stricter immigration policies.

Photo: Wefring

The wave of migration in recent years has led to restrictions in Nordic immigration policies, but stricter borders and an increasing number of deportations is met with resistance in the form of numerous projects offering hospitality to migrants. These are organized by voluntary organizations, church communities and individuals. Contested Hospitalities, recently published by Routledge, examines the contrast between the increasingly anti-immigrant political climate and these hospitality projects. It also addresses the meeting and intermingling of the secular and the religious, and asks how this affects the interpretation of hospitality. The book’s premise is that hospitality is not just an abstract philosophical issue, but an everyday practice that needs to be researched empirically. It considers how this practice works and examines the relationship between host and stranger. Hospitality is harder in practice than as ideal, and the book also asks what the limitations and conditions of hospitality practices are, and whether they reinforce hierarchical structures.

Restrictions and resistance

Trygve Wyller, professor of theology at UiO, is project leader for Nordic Hospitalities in a Context of Migration and Refugee Crisis (NORDHOST), funded by UiO:Nordic, and co-editor of Contested Hospitalities. He describes the foundation for the project and the book:

On the one hand the Nordic countries are restricting the scope of the welfare state so it doesn’t take care of everyone, only citizens, and on the other hand there are hundreds of civil resistance projects. The idea for NORDHOST was to research this contrast that we knew existed, but didn’t have sufficient information about.

Contested Hospitalities approaches this contrast both theoretically and empirically. The first part of the book examines the Nordic context and the relationship between the welfare state, Protestant traditions for aid and hospitality, stricter immigration policies, and right-wing populism’s appropriation of Christian values. Part two presents six examples of Nordic hospitality practices, which take place in both religious, secular, and mixed spaces.

Nordic Christianity

Trygve Wyller discusses “Christianism” and migration at The House of Literature earlier this fall. Photo: Wefring

A central topic is Protestant traditions and the connections between secular and religious hospitality. The religious and the secular have long been entangled in a Nordic welfare context. Trygve Wyller explains that it is difficult to make a sharp distinction:

– The examples of Nordic hospitality explored in the book’s second part take place in both religious and secular contexts. We take a critical look at what constitutes genuine hospitality and what is pretense, but it is hard to say is this is connected to whether or not it has to do with the religious aspect. It depends on the practice, not what it’s called, and the divide between secular and religious seems to be almost entirely unimportant.

This is typical of Nordic Christianity. Wyller elaborates:

This intermingling where the difference between religious and secular becomes less important is a manifestation of Nordic Protestantism. Our point of departure was the assumption that there is something about the Nordic Protestant culture which has shaped and shapes a value system which emphasizes community and participation, and that appears to be the case. The book furthers existing knowledge about Protestant culture, but in a new context.

Important cooperation

Wyller, who is a theologian, started NORDHOST together with social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen, philosopher Arne Johan Vetlesen, and criminologist Katja Franko. His co-editor for Contested Hospitalities is social anthropologist Synnøve Bendixen. He enjoys working with researchers from other disciplines:

– This book would not exist without cooperation across academic disciplines. This is a kind of documentation of what can be achieved when you take your fundamental qualifications and use them in an interdisciplinary manner.

A glimpse into ongoing research

The book consists of two parts, Exploring the Nordic context and Reconfiguring migrantscapes in religious and ‘secular’ Nordic civil society. The chapters in part two are all written by PhD candidates and postdoctoral research fellows, four of whom are funded by NORDHOST. Trygve Wyller talks excitedly about the contributions from the young researchers:

This is a glimpse into their research, which will become dissertations and books. NORDHOST’s young researchers have connected well with each other, and this has proven to be a creative fellowship. It is really gratifying to include these contributions in the book, it gives insight into ongoing research which provides new knowledge.

/University of Oslo Public Release. View in full here.