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Human Development &
Capability Association

Multi-Disciplinary and People-Centred

In Memoriam: Sirkku Kristiina Hellsten (1962- February 8, 2018)

Professor Sirkku Kristiina Hellsten founded Journal of Global Ethics more than a decade ago, with co-editors Heather Widdows and Christien van den Anker. The journal grew under their editorship, and she continued in her role as editor right to the present, with plans to retire from editorship with this issue. Her final work for the journal will appear in its forthcoming 2018 issue.

Her educational background was deeply entrenched with achievements in practical ethics and political philosophy. In 1987, she received a Diploma in Public Relations and Organizational Communication, at the Institute of Marketing, Helsinki, Finland. In 1992 Sirkku Hellsten earned her MA in Social Sciences (specializing in Moral Philosophy) in the Department of Practical Philosophy, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. Her post graduate thesis (written in Finnish) was Well-being and distributive justice. She further gained a Licentiate’s degree in 1994 in the Department of Practical philosophy for the thesis (in Finnish) Justice without moderation: a critique of modern liberal conception of justice. In 1997 she was awarded her Doctorate in Social and Political Philosophy for the thesis In Defense of Moral Individualism: critical look at the liberal-communitarian debate.

Dr. Hellsten was awarded a DAAD Research Fellowship for science and ethics at University of Bonn in Germany that year. She taught philosophy briefly at the University of Kenya in Nairobi, and returned to the University of Helsinki as Research Fellow and Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy for four years until 1996.

In 1998 Dr. Hellsten was awarded a year as visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg where she worked with the renowned moral philosopher Professor Peter French in the Ethics Center. From there in 1999 she began a professorship at the University of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. In 2001 she spent six months as a visiting scholar at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

For the greatest part of her teaching career, between 1999 and 2015, Dr. Hellsten was based in Tanzania where she was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dar es Salaam, and spent some time as Head of the unit. While in Tanzania Professor Hellsten also worked as a consultant and lecturer at the Tanzania Prevention of Corruption Bureau. She developed, wrote, published and taught civics education programmes throughout the country alongside Tanzanian colleagues. Dr. Hellsten also held positions as consultant in development cooperation in a Finnish bilateral project on Civic Education at the Research Institute of Population Studies in Mtwara and Lindi, working with the philosophy unit of the Political Science Department in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Dar es Salaam. She was a close colleague of the former Vice Chancellor, Professor Mukandala. She also collaborated closely with the Director of the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation, Dr. Ayoub. She had worked with diplomatic circles for the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Counselor for Economics, Governance and Human Rights at the Finnish Embassies in Maputo, Mozambique and in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr. Hellsten was responsible for the first international development ethics conference in Dar es Salaam in February 2000, and was on the organizing committee for follow up conferences in Tampa, Florida in 2001 and in Helsinki in 2002.

Dr. Hellsten had been sitting for a short period as Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics after participating on the Faculty of the University of Birmingham, in the UK, as a Reader in Development Ethics. She has published extensively on issues related to development especially in Africa, including relevant theories of bioethics, global ethics, social justice, human rights, governance, participatory democracy, civic education, and African political economics as well as more foundational philosophical topics concerning global justice and social identity.

Professor Hellsten also maintained throughout her career a formal and active affiliation with her alma mater, the University of Helsinki, as an Adjunct Professor/Docent of Social and Moral Philosophy. In 2016 she supervised the shipment of hundreds of philosophy books donated by the University of Helsinki Philosophy Department, shipped to the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at UDSM, which she was central in creating as a separate Department in the College of Humanities in 2012.

At the time of her passing, Professor Hellsten held a Senior Researcher’s position at the prestigious Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. She moved to the Institute from the University of Tanzania in 2015. Dr. Hellsten was also a member of the advisory board of the International Development Ethics Association. Her attendance was anticipated warmly at the next annual conference of IDEA in Bordeaux France this coming June 2018. A special plenary is being scheduled into the program to honor her work posthumously.

Professor Hellsten was a pioneer in bridging cosmopolitan ethical theory with African sagacity. While she taught in America, Finland and Tanzania, she organized with the University of South Florida three consecutive conferences on global ethics, referred to as the AmFiTan meetings.  One of her lasting contributions has been the creation of an established genre with a global audience which features African experts in ethics and development.

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