Dr. Markku Ruotsila from Finland is a visiting professor and researcher at LCC International University. Dr. Ruotsila came to LCC for the Fall semester 2019 to teach History of World Civilization and Religion & Race in the United States. Dr. Ruotsila is well known as a historian with a specific interest in US history. With the current events rapidly unfolding in the United States, he is not reluctant to voice his opinions, many of which are found controversial in his home country. Traveling around the world, following the source, and conducting research, is what brought Dr. Markku Ruotsila here, and he has already proven to be a valuable addition to LCC.
Dr. Ruotsila, you have been a research fellow at the Center for Faith and Human Flourishing at LCC since 2018. How did you become familiar with LCC initially?
I often attend American studies and conferences and once met a professor whom I have now known for many years, who has introduced me to LCC. For me, it seems unusual to find this kind of liberal arts university in Europe, which combines academics and Christian faith. This has always been something that I wanted to be a part of. Being a Christian and being a scholar, having the ability to combine these two things was the most appealing factor of LCC. The more I learned about LCC, the more I desired to be here. As I am a research fellow at CFHF, I am not at LCC all the time. However, this semester I am able to join as a visiting professor, which gives me an opportunity to work on my research, meet new people, and also teach two classes.
You have been working on the transnational history of fundamentalism in the Christian Right during the Cold War. Could you share a bit more about this research?
It is actually a book about American fundamentalists. Self-described fundamental conservative evangelicals, is probably a better description. It describes how this group has networked throughout the world to spread their message and the reception given in various countries and cultures. It is also partly about theology. It deals with what is uniquely American about fundamental evangelical theology and how it is received in other cultures and confessional institutions. Another part of the project is looking at the roots of a global Christian Right which now exists, yet started to form during the Cold War. I chose the Cold War period because I am looking at these themes through a specific organization, the International Council of Christian Churches, which began in 1948. It had very anti-communist and non-orientation messages, but it spread another theological emphasis as well. The cultural and political interchange started much earlier than when it is commonly understood. This is the argument to which the book will explain in great detail.
Dr. Ruotsila, you have been a visiting professor and research fellow in different universities in both the US and UK. What is the reason behind periodically changing your location?
As a historian, I work on various themes, so I go where the sources are. Most recently, I have been accepted as a visiting fellow in the US at Stanford University, California. They have a massive collection of work, and of course, there are a lot of materials to process before I move on to my next destination, but it is exciting at the same time.
Earlier this month, you presented an open lecture on the topic of Trump and the Christian Right. The topic is rather provocative given the recent news and development in US politics. How do you find the courage to speak about these hot topics in this day and age?
These topics are always problematic in the sense that people tend to confuse them. Quite often in Finland, I am introduced as the apologist for Trump and the extreme fundamentalist element. The results of my research and my personal opinions are different. I know these subjects are controversial issues, but someone has to talk about them based on research, not just opinion. I have written several books on the Christian Right in the United States. Most people in Europe seem to think that Donald Trump should not have any connection with the Christian Right, or rather the Christian Right should not support him in any way. However, they are in fact, his greatest supporters. I try to explain this one way to Europeans because the context is different. In the United States, I would explain it slightly differently. I do not think it is really a mystery why the Christian Right of that subsection of evangelicalism supports Trump. They support him on the actual policies that he has implemented. However, they do not support him as a person and they do not like the way he does things. In my paper, I am arguing that their reason for the support goes much deeper. Trump has an unsystematic way of doing things, but consistently over a long period of time he has argued for a sense of America-- what the nation really is and should be. Actually this argument is closely aligned to what ordinary members of the Christian Right, affiliated organizations and churches believe America really is and should be. He does not pretend to live up to the ideals himself but that is a different matter.
What are your hopes for this semester at LCC?
Teaching has taken most of my time, but slowly I am coming back to my research work as well. I do find LCC to be a special institution since most students seem very motivated to be here. The majority are active in classes and interested in various subjects. There is a sense of community here at LCC. I have not encountered another university like this where I have taught.
Photo credit from the book presentation: Gaudeamus