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Introducing Jason Lepojärvi, Regent's Newest Scholar-in-Residence

September 13, 2016
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"Even when we don’t consciously think about it, our understanding of love informs our thinking and our actions."

Regent is hosting a new Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Jason Lepojärvi. Dr. Lepojärvi was born and raised in Finland. He received his PhD in 2015 from the University of Helsinki, writing on C. S. Lewis’s theology of love. Since 2014, he has been a Junior Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall at the University of Oxford. His current project is titled Idolatry: Catholic and Protestant Perspectives. Curious about Jason’s work? Read his blog, follow him on Twitter, or view his faculty page. We look forward to welcoming Jason, his wife Iisa, and their two daughters into the Regent community.

What brings you to Regent College?

Well, I’ve been at Oxford for the past three years. I’ve done a lot of teaching and studying—I got my doctorate last year—and now I’m starting post-doc work. So I’ve come to Regent to spend a year or two focusing on my post-doc research on the theology of love.

Can you tell us a bit more about your research?

I did my doctoral dissertation on the C. S. Lewis’s theology and understanding of love. That opened up a lot of opportunities and invitations to speak—C. S. Lewis is so admired, and everybody’s interested in love. But it also fuelled my interest in the theology of love in general.

The new project that I’m launching here is called Idolatry: Catholic and Protestant Perspectives. In technical jargon, I’m trying to understand the difference between worship, veneration, and idolatry. Or, in the vocabulary of love, I want to know what is the difference between the love that we as Christians ought to give to God alone, the love that we can give and ought to give to other creatures, and the love that we ought to give to God but give instead to creatures—idolatry.

In my work, I’m asking what exactly is the distinction between these acts. I’m also asking whether we as Christians understand it differently in different traditions and, if so, whether we can formulate a shared vocabulary that could help to build bridges. Some of the centuries-old disagreements between different denominational traditions relate to this question. For example, one tradition might say, “You’re loving or respecting or honouring that thing, that person, that teacher, too much. You’re approaching idolatry.” On the other hand, another tradition might say, “You’re not showing enough respect.” My question is, where exactly is the line between inappropriate and appropriate love?

It sounds like your work has a lot of practical implications.

Absolutely. Of course, I have a philosophical background, so I’ll be focusing on systematic, textual, and conceptual analysis. I’ll be looking at the terms and the acts themselves. However, conclusions about what we think about love and what is appropriate and inappropriate in love have immense practical implications. It could lead us to become more aware of what we think about love: even when we don’t consciously think about it, our understanding of love informs our thinking and our actions.

Your work also seems to have a lot of implications for ecumenism. Is that an interest of yours?

Yes—a super important interest. I have a very diverse background: sometimes I say I am Pentecostal by birth, Lutheran on paper, and Catholic-leaning in doctrine. I was born to a Pentecostal family. That’s how I came to know the Lord. I am officially a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. But on many divisive questions, I have come to see wisdom in the Catholic position.

I have very, very close friends, not just acquaintances, in all of these traditions, So yes, I feel the importance of ecumenical dialogue. I feel it in my being.

How did the transdenominational nature of Regent play into your choice to do your research here?

My research project is shared between three universities: Oxford, Helsinki, and Regent. Each of the universities provides a platform for work on a different aspect of the project. My own college at Oxford, St. Benet’s Hall, has Catholic roots. So when I’m working on the more Catholic chapters, I’ll be doing that at Oxford.

Regent has very Protestant roots—Plymouth Brethren. It’s transdenominational now, but there are not very many Catholic students here: they’re mostly from Protestant churches. However, some of your professors have a broader focus: for example, Hans Boersma, my sponsor, who is a specialist in ecumenical theology.

Professor Boersma isn’t actually physically present at Regent right now—he’s on a sabbatical—but he invited me to Regent to give a lecture last year that related to this post-doctoral topic, titled “Aslan’s Mother: C. S. Lewis’s Theological Blindspot?” That was my introduction to Regent College, and it led to this arrangement. Professor Boersma is my host in absentia. I’ll be working out of his office. I’ll be enjoying the space this year and doing my best to mix up the order of the books in his massive office library just to make it really confusing for him to return [laughs].

I understand that you brought a family with you as well. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Yes. I have a wife and two baby daughters. My wife’s name is Iisa, pronounced Ee-sa. She’s a special ed teacher, now a homemaker for the past two years. Our firstborn is Evelyn. She was born in Germany three weeks before her due date and was very close to being born on a train. And our youngest is Leona. She’s 6 months old. We share parenting responsibilities, of course, but for a few days of the week, I’ll be at Regent while Iisa manages the girls’ entertainment and education.

How are you planning to be involved in the Regent community?

Well, I’m hoping to be involved as much as possible. The good side of being a scholar-in-residence is that I have no teaching or administrative responsibilities. I can focus on my research, which, as all scholars know, is a treat. Since I won’t be meeting students regularly in class, I’ll be looking for opportunities to participate and contribute in the community life: soup groups and whatnot. 

Is this the first time you’ve lived in Canada?

Actually, I lived here when I was five years old: my mother is from Kitimat, which is up north. She moved to Finland in the 70s and stayed there, but I have family all around Canada.

What are some of the things that you’re hoping to do here in Vancouver?

I’m looking forward to exploring BC. It’s a beautiful province: like Finland in that there’s a lot of forest and a lot of lakes, but to the power of 10. Where we have a molehill, you have a mountain—everything is just bigger and more diverse. It feels like home, but on steroids.

What is the thing you’re going to miss most about home—not only Finland, but also Oxford, where you’ve been living for the past three years?

For the past 6 months we lived in Finland. We cancelled on my teaching for the spring when we had another baby girl, because my wife wanted to experience Leona’s first few months in Finland, close to family. What I’ll miss the most is the presence of grandparents: grandparents who are liberal in their sacrifices, a great help, and good company.

What I miss most about England is my hometown, Oxford. It is just beautiful: wonderful history, wonderful architecture, surrounded by natural beauty, and such an intellectually stimulating place. So much happens at Oxford in one week or even a given day that you have to pick and choose—you can’t go to every interesting lecture. I just miss the city so much.

As a final question, what book do you most frequently recommend?

I’d recommend two books, actually. These are my standard gifts to newlyweds: I have a stack of each. They’re both on love, but offer very different perspectives. The first one is A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s a spiritual autobiography that relates to C.S. Lewis because Vanauken and his wife befriended Lewis. It’s one of the best books on love that I’ve read. You want to read it for its wisdom on love, its wisdom on Christianity in general—because they were atheists who converted—and then for its stories on Lewis: very personal stories. And this is coming from a Lewis scholar, so it’s saying a lot that I chose a non-Lewisian book. Any one of those reasons would be enough to read it.

The second book would be The Jeweller’s Shop. It’s written by a guy called Karol Wojtyla, also known as Pope John Paul II: the Polish Pope. It’s been translated from Polish to English in a beautiful prize-winning translation.

It’s a very unique book about love. It follows three couples and a jeweller, who probably symbolizes Christ. The first couple has a very happy, wonderful marriage; the second couple has a very tumultuous, problematic marriage; and the third couple consists of the son from the happy and the daughter of the unhappy marriage. I just get goose bumps when I think of the beauty and wisdom of this very short book.

So I’d recommend these two: A Severe Mercy and The Jeweller’s Shop. Get them.

Thanks for your time! We’re looking forward to having you in the Regent community.

Thank you! I’m looking forward to it as well.

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