Nov 22, 2011
In October 2011 the University of Helsinki in Finland commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the Sylff program. Rector Thomas Wilhelmsson gave an opening speech followed by a greeting from Hiroshi Maruyama, the Japanese ambassador to Finland.
“Twenty years ago, when the Sylff program was established here, Helsinki was a very domestic university,” the Rector said. “But we have globalized significantly over the past two decades, and I think Sylff has made a major contribution to this development.”
Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa conveyed his wish that Sylff fellows would emerge as leaders who contribute to society, and Tokyo Foundation Leadership Development Director alluded to the March earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, noting that he hoped Sylff fellows will become leaders capable of coping with any contingency.
Following a performance of Finnish music by a female duo, Polka Chicks, two Sylff fellows gave presentations. Professor Teivo Teivainen, who received a fellowship in 1993 and is now the dean of the university’s Political Science Department, spoke on the theme of global democracy, with references to the process of political reform and democratization now sweeping through the Middle East.
Saana Svärd, a recipient in 2010 and currently a student at Helsinki, presented the findings of her research on women and power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire, pointing to a link between the cultural ideals of the Assyrian Empire, as depicted in ancient writing, and the principles of the Sylff program.
Professor Emeritus Klaus Helkama then reviewed the 20 years of the Sylff program at the university, and Professor Reijo Vihko, vice chairman of the Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation and former president of the Academy of Finland, offered a greeting.
In the afternoon, the Sylff Association of Helsinki University organized a Sylff Alumni workshop. Below is a report of the workshop by the chairperson of the association, Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen.
The third Sylff workshop of the University of Helsinki, “Perspectives on Difference,” was organized on October 14, 2011. The aim was to discuss, what is a difference? Can we see similarities when we are used to the differences? How are differences produced? Are there various types of differences? How do differences disappear? What are the consequences of differences or of their disappearance? Are certain types of difference more significant than others?
In a globalizing world, differences across states, economies, laws, consumer practices, and social groups are seen to diminish and even disappear, resulting in greater similarity across regions and cultures. Likewise, in science the current trend is to promote multidisciplinary approaches that span various fields of study.
At the same time, conflicts and debates over cultural values and territorial autonomy around the world show that differences do exist and continue to matter in people’s day-to-day lives. Notions of difference are constructed in such contexts as politics, economy, jurisprudence, gender, ethnicity, region, class, age, race, and religion. Some researchers have documented the disappearance of differences in specific fields of social life.
The theme for the workshop was decided at the welcome reception for Helsinki University’s Sylff fellows in January 2011. The scholarship recipients are from international relations, Asian and African studies, and social and cultural anthropology.
In the workshop eight interesting papers about differences and “undifferentiation” in varying contexts were presented. Despite the variety of research topics, a great deal was learned from colleagues working in different disciplines.
The proceedings from the 2005 and 2008 Sylff alumni workshops in Helsinki have been published as books. Anni Kajanus and Maylin Meincke are the editors of the third publication that is scheduled to come out in April 2012.