Some reflections

To be a supervisor is one of the main privileges of my profession. It is an extremely rewarding experience to witness how students mature into scholars – and to play a small part in that process. I have the feeling that I learn more from, or through, my students than they ever learn from me. (Hopefully, for the students it is the other way round, though.) In a way, then, I am grateful for my students to share their intellectual journey with me, and I tend to be extremely proud of them for their achievements (maybe just because they proved their ability to bear out with me?). In practice, I emphasise mutual commitment, open critique, and reliability as main features of supervision.

There are three main types of projects that I have supervised. All can be equally stimulating.

Type 1 comprises project ideas that I had originally suggested to my students. These are like dreams to come true – things I once upon a time had myself intended to study, but never found the time or the energy to do so, were being entrusted to students who develop them into something of their own. This is a painful and at the same time wonderful metamorphosis. In my case, that sort of project mainly related to the study of Zoroastrianism, in particular in the context of a research group I headed at the University of Heidelberg. I am here referring to the dissertations by Robert Langer on the Iranian Zoroastrian shrines and by Beate Schmermbeck on Persian Zoroastrian devotional poetry as well as the ongoing project by Anna Tessmann (now at Södertörn Högskola in Sweden) on the contemporary Russian invention of astrological Zoroastrianism. (In all cases, I did not, or will not, act as an examiner of the thesis. The contamination of these roles – that of the supervisor and that of the examiner – are general practice at German universities. This is one of the things I dislike about the German academic system. Surprisingly, this lack of a basic separation of power in the academia is never addressed in public debates. Anyway, the separation between supervision and examination is one of the things I like about working in Norway.)

Since coming to Bergen (in 2004), as a supervisor I find myself for the most part exposed to the two other types of projects. Type 2, which is almost the opposite of type 1, are such projects that students mainly devise on their own (either beforehand or during their studies and possibly as a “by-product” of supervision). In that case, my role is that to help the students to refine, defend, and believe in their ideas (by convincing me that their project make sense and can be realised). It goes without saying that I learn a lot through these projects. (Whenever I feel the need for it, I invite colleagues from other disciplines to act as co-supervisors.)

The third type of projects is those that are being devised “on the road”, so to speak. They are being born during conversations, often with the students’ general areas of interest as points of departure. (Sometimes a type 3 project mutates into type 2: where ideas had been very vague initially, suddenly a plan is being put and pushed forward.) I do like these projects because they are based on a shared initial commitment.

Works supervised

During my time at Uppsala University I acted as co-supervisor of the following doctoral thesis:

  • Sundqvist, Olof, 2000, Freyr’s offspring: Rulers and religion in ancient Svea society (371) [published as a book with the same title in 2001].

In Heidelberg, I have acted as (co-) supervisor of the following two doctoral theses:

  • Langer, Robert, 2002, ‘Pîrân’ und ‘Zeyârat-gâh’: Schreine und Wallfahrts­stätten der iranischen Zarathustrier im schiitisch-muslimischen Kontext (671). [Published as Langer, Robert, 2008, Pīrān und Zeyāratgāh. Schreine und Wallfahrtsstätten der Zarathustrier im neuzeitlichen Iran = Acta Iranica 48 (708).]
  • Schmermbeck, Beate, 2007, Persische zarathustrische monāğāt: Edition, Übersetzung, Tradition und Analyse (313). [Published as Schmermbeck, Beate, 2008, Persische zarathustrische monāğāt. Edition, Übersetzung, Tradition und Analyse = Göttinger Orientforschungen, Iranica. Neue Folge 3 (350).]

In Bergen, I have supervised the following Master’s Theses:

  1. Strand, Marius Larsen, 2006, Cognitive Structures and the Southern Baptist Conflict (133).
  2. Grimstad, Monica, 2006, Associación Mokichi Okada: en nyreligiøs japansk bevegelse i Costa Rica (107).
  3. Åsheim, Janne, 2006, Islam og muslimer i media. En innholdsanalyse av VG i tidsrommet 1998-2003 (235).
  4. Larsen, Per-Arne, 2007, Angst, død og religion: “Terror Management Theory” som religionsteori—en kritisk diskusjon (147).
  5. Sundsbø, Vibeke, 2007, Congregations in an Urban Ecology. A Study of 14 Churches in Melbourne’s Central Business District (139).
  6. Årsheim, Helge, 2007, “… når de religiøse aspektene synes å være dominerende”. En systemteoretisk analyse av religionsbegreper i norsk rett (122). [co-supervisor: Synne Sæther Mæhle, Faculty of Law]
  7. Kolstø, Janemil, 2007, Rethinking Yasukuni. From Secular Politics to Religious Sacrifice (178 + 17).
  8. Fekjan, Sverre Andreas, 2008, Symboler og tekster på gravminner ved Møllendal kirkegård i Bergen. En kvantitativ analyse av endring i religionsvitenskaplig perspektiv (147). [co-supervisor: Arne Solli, History]
  9. Møyholm, Rosalind, 2008, Veien tilbake. Ritualenes rolle i reintegreringem av tidligere barnesoldater i Nord-Uganda (123). [co-supervisor: Sverker Finnström, Social Anthropology (Uppsala/Stockholm)]
  10. Tandberg, Håkon, 2009, Religion and Prosocial Behavior. An experimental and ethnographic study of contemporary Parsi Zoroastrianism (vii + 107).
  11. Melvær, Knut, 2010, fem komma tre religiøs. Operasjonalisering av religion som et globalt fenomen (134).
  12. Schoder, Reier Moll, 2010, “Noe må man jo tilhøre”- En undersøkelse av motivasjoner bak medlemskap i Den norske kirke (ix, 221).
  13. Vikene, Trygve, 2011, The Geniture of the Gods: an evolutionary model for the development of religious systems (119).
  14. Bie, Audun, 2011, Adapting Adaptation: an analysis of the adaptation discourse in the evolutionary sciences of religion (84).
  15. Tove Kristina Tordsson, 2013, How Do Religion and National Attitudes Coexist in Contemporary Macedonia? A Comparative Study of Two Religious Groups (112).
  16. Gerarda Maria Doeke Boekraad, 2013, Ecological Sustainability in Traditional Sámi Beleifs and Rituals (140). [Published as a monograph by Peter Lang in 2016.]
  17. Jens Inge Flataas, 2014, Called to Service: Officers in the Norwegian Salvation Army (107 + 64)
  18. Martha Houen Dahle, 2014, “For den som taler i tunger taler ikke for mennesker …” En religionsvitenskapelig undersøkelse av erfaringer med privat tungetale i bønn (115).



With Janemil Kolstø (l) at Johanneskirke (april 2009)

The tragic passing away of my former student and research assistant Janemil Kolstø on May, 30, 2009 was one of the saddest experiences in my life. Janemil was a highly talented, extremely committed and dedicated young scholar of religion — and on top of this a fantastic person.