Panu Pihkala

Title of Docent

  • Vuorikatu 3



  • Yliopistonkatu 3

    00014 Helsingin yliopisto



Research activity per year

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Personal profile

Curriculum vitae

Dr. Panu Pihkala (b. 1979) is an adjuct professor (title of docent) of environmental theology in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki. His interdisciplinary research deals with the psychological and spiritual dimensions related to environmental issues and especially climate change. Pihkala has become known as an expert in eco-anxiety. He is also affiliated with HELSUS Sustainability Science Center.

After publishing several academic articles on the theme, Pihkala’s first book on eco-anxiety was published in Finnish in October 2017 (“Päin helvettiä? Ympäristöahdistus ja toivo”) and it raised much public discussion in Finland. Pihkala was awarded the National Prize for Adult Education (Sivistyspalkinto) in 2018 by The Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation (Kansanvalistusseura). Pihkala's second book on the topic, "Mieli maassa? Ympäristötunteet" ("Environmental emotions"), was published in October 2019. 

In summer 2019, the Finnish Mental Health Society MIELI published a 20-page report on climate anxiety, written by Pihkala and freely available online.

Pihkala's first key academic articles about eco-anxiety are "Eco-anxiety, tragedy, and hope: psychological and spiritual dimensions of climate change”, Zygon Vol. 53:2 (2018), and “Environmental Education After Sustainability: Hope in the Midst of Tragedy”, Global Discourse Vol 7:1 (2017).

Pihkala’s interdisciplinary studies on the environment deal also with theories of recognition. He is a member of the Center of Excellence on Reason and Religious Recognition at the University of Helsinki. Before joining the Center, he worked in the Academy of Finland project on “Ecumenical Recognition and Toleration of Otherness” between 2012 and 2016. Pihkala is the author of over 10 peer-reviewed articles and a monograph in environment-related studies. He has participated actively in practical environmental work, especially environmental education, and has served as an expert in various positions of trust.

Pihkala wrote his dissertation on Joseph Sittler and Ecumenical Ecotheology in the University of Helsinki with Prof. Risto Saarinen as the main adviser. A revised version, Early Ecotheology and Joseph Sittler, was published in winter 2017 by LIT Verlag in its series Studies in Religion and Environment, with a new foreword by Prof. Martin E. Marty.

Pihkala is a member of the executive committee of the research organization European Forum for the Study of Religion and Environment. His international positions include also the membership of the Thematic Advisory Group on Ecological and Environmental Justice for the Council of European Churches.

Besides research and teaching at the University, he works as a writer and trainer in environmental work. Pihkala is an ordained pastor in the Lutheran Church of Finland and has published several books on the practical dimensions of ecotheology.

Pihkala has conducted significant parts of his research abroad and in connection with international scholars. He spent the Spring 2011 in Chicago, researching the Sittler archives at LSTC and University of Chicago collections. During this time he held lectures both in Chicago and as a guest of the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (Wilfrid Laurier University) in Ontario. Pihkala also participated in the activities of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science. In 2012, he spent the late autumn in North America doing research and giving presentations at the AAR Annual Meeting, at Wheaton College in Chicago area and at Regent College, Vancouver.

Pihkala has been active in the ecumenical movement in Finland and Europe. He did his master's thesis on Environmental Issues in the LWF until Curitiba, and was a delegate to the organisation’s Assembly in Stuttgart, summer 2010. One of his special interests is pilgrimage research, both as an ecumenical and protestant phenomenon. He has also specialized in the Spirituality and the Internet – project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.        

From December 2011 Pihkala has been the chairperson of the Finnish section of the international Christian conservation organization A Rocha. He is also a member in several other organizations and committees and was selected to be the vice chairperson of the council of the diocese of Espoo 2012-2016 (hiippakuntavaltuusto).

Born 1979, Pihkala spent his childhood in Kärkölä, in the Häme region. He began his studies in theology in the University of Helsinki in 1999. From that time on he has been an active member in many organizations, such as TYT (the Faculty Organization for Students of Theology, where he also worked as a chairman of the board in 2002), Amnesty International, FinnChurchAid and Changemaker Finland. He participated as a student member in several working groups of the Church of Finland, most notably in the Committee for Theological Education. Pihkala also served as a steward for ecumenical meetings, such as the 2003 LWF negotiations with the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

After graduating in 2005 Pihkala worked as the pastor responsible for school relations in the congregation of Kirkkonummi, in the western end of the capital area. On the basis of these experiences he wrote the manual for co-operation between congregations and schools, "Seurakunta ja koulu", together with Kaarina Hakkarainen. Besides Christian education he specialized in Christian Environmental work. He participated in the continued education of the Church of Finland (Pastoraalitutkinto), as well as Radio speaker training and Student mentor training. 

Pihkala is married with Anna-Maija Viljanen-Pihkala, a pastor and researcher also. They live in Helsinki with two young sons. His favorite hobbies, besides reading and writing, include orienteering, music and games. He has been a member of the governing bodies of nature preservation and traditional sailing organizations in Kirkkonummi, and spends much time in the woods. He works occasionally as a pilgrimage and nature trek guide.

Description of research and teaching

Multi-disciplinary environmental studies
Pihkala has studied environmental education and participated in the multi-disciplinary environmental studies in the University of Helsinki. Psychosocial studies, communication, environmental history, ethics and philosophy are especially close to his studies.



Pihkala teaches courses on ecotheology and interdisciplinary environmental studies. He has designed an introductory course about eco-anxiety, first conducted in Spring 2019.



Other areas of interest
Research on Sittler has resulted in a deeper knowledge and interest in the history of American theology. Pihkala has been especially interested in Prof. Gary Dorrien's work on the history of Liberal Theology in America. Other areas of interest include material theology, theologies of place and space, theology of eating, and theology of play.

Fields of Science

  • 614 Theology
  • ecotheology
  • ecumenics
  • ethics
  • lutheranism
  • Joseph Sittler
  • Lutheran World Federation
  • World Council of Churches
  • pilgrimage
  • Christian Education
  • Christian Environmental Education
  • ekoteologia
  • ekumeniikka
  • etiikka
  • luterilaisuus
  • Luterilainen maailmanliitto
  • Kirkkojen maailmanneuvosto
  • kristillinen kasvatus
  • ympäristökasvatus
  • environmental education
  • kristillinen ympäristökasvatus
  • pyhiinvaellus
  • eco-anxiety
  • ympäristöahdistus
  • ympäristöpsykologia
  • environmental psychology
  • ecotherapy
  • ekoterapia

International and National Collaboration

Publications and projects within past five years.
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