To Serve and to Experience : Simultaneous interpreting in church

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Pinni B building auditorium 1096, address: Kanslerinrinne 1

Doctoral defence of M.A. Sari Hokkanen

To Serve and to Experience: An Autoethnographic Study of Simultaneous Church Interpreting

The field of science of the dissertation is Translation Studies (English).

The opponent is professor emerita Christina Schäffner (Aston University, UK). Professor Kaisa Koskinen acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is English.

To Serve and to Experience

This dissertation reports on an autoethnographic study focusing on simultaneous interpreting in church, exploring how the religious setting of Pentecostalism affects this interpreting practice. More specifically, the study discusses the ways in which the concepts of Christian service and personal religious experience are reflected on the social understanding and subjective experience of simultaneous interpreting in two Pentecostal churches in Finland. In addition, the study sets out to examine the use of autoethnography as a methodology within Translation and Interpreting Studies. Autoethnography can be understood as ethnography of one’s own group or as first-person research with an ethnographic focus. In this article-based dissertation, both of these understandings of autoethnography are used; the first articles represent complete-member ethnography, whereas the latter articles move into first-person research. Thus, throughout the study, cultural analysis and introspection are combined, even though the weight given to each element changes from the beginning of the study to its finish. The overarching aim of the study is nevertheless to explore and describe church interpreting from an emic perspective.

The study examines the simultaneous interpreting of weekly services that are held in the Tampere Pentecostal Church and the Pentecostal Church of Seinäjoki. Both churches hold their main services in Finnish but also offer simultaneous interpreting into English for members and visitors who may need it – usually exchange students, recent migrants, or guests. The interpreting is carried out in built-in booths with conference interpreting equipment by volunteer church members, most of whom do not have training in or professional experience of interpreting outside of the church.

The conceptual framework of this interdisciplinary study mainly draws on prior research into church interpreting as well as on literature in the fields of religious studies, theology, sociology, and anthropology. The main theoretical concepts are church interpreters’ involvement, service, and religious experience. Moreover, the way in which these central concepts are used in the study is largely based on the local understanding prevalent within Pentecostalism and the churches studied. Thus, interpreter involvement is understood as personal engagement with the religious community, with the interpreted interaction, and with the interpreted message; service is understood as a “God-regarding” attitude and activity that aims to benefit other people; and religious experience is understood as an encounter with God.

Autoethnography is a relatively novel methodology within Translation and Interpreting Studies. It is rooted in the ethnographic tradition and uses the personal experience of the researcher as a main source of research material. I have been a church interpreter in both of the churches studied prior to and during the research process. In addition, I am a member in one of the churches, while also being a professional freelance translator and interpreter. Membership in these and other social worlds naturally affect all levels of the study. Indeed, the research materials collected through fieldwork and other means, the ways in which I have interpreted them, and the conclusions I have drawn necessarily produce situated knowledge – knowledge based on the setting and the time of the study as well as on myself as the main research instrument. Therefore, this autoethnographic study is guided by the principle of reflexivity; it aims to make transparent the influences of the researcher’s person on the study and its conclusions.

The research materials used in the study were collected in two Pentecostal churches in Finland, one in Tampere (fieldwork conducted during the winter of 2009–2010) and one in Seinäjoki (fieldwork conducted from 2011 to 2014). The main bulk of the research material consists of fieldnotes gathered when observing other church interpreters’ work (mainly in the church of Tampere) and when practicing church interpreting myself (in Seinäjoki). In addition, the research materials include documents (a church website and course material from a relevant church course, both from Tampere), portions of my personal journals, and audio and video recordings of my interpreting in church. These materials were analyzed thematically and the emerging interpretations were processed narratively, by writing in genres such as reflective notes, poetry, and creative non-fiction.

The main results of the study indicate that in these churches, simultaneous interpreting is understood as service to God; that a main function of interpreting is to allow the listeners to encounter God (have religious experiences); that an interpreter’s commitment to the beliefs of the church is valued above their training or prior experience in interpreting; and that the interpreter is attuned to having personal religious experiences also when interpreting. The findings thus point to important differences in the meanings attributed to church interpreting as opposed to professional interpreting, which has been at the focus of most Translation and Interpreting Studies research to date. The study also indicates the opportunities in studying emotions and embodiment related to interpreting with first-person research designs.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2212, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2016. ISBN  978-952-03-0231-3, ISSN 1455-1616. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1712, Tampere University Press 2016. ISBN 978-952-03-0232-0, ISSN 1456-954X.


Additional information

Sari Hokkanen,