Raija Mattila


Dr. Raija Mattila is the Director of Finnish Institute in the Middle East since 2014. Raija’s research focuses on the Assyrian Empire, which ruled the Middle East during the 1st Millennium BC. Raija’s research interests include the administration of Assyria and its highest officials, Egyptians in Assyria and Babylonia as well as animals in Ancient Mesopotamia.

In 2018, the institute started a series of workshops which study the social, economic and cultural status of minorities in the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires in 1st Millennium BC. The first workshop was held in Beirut in April 2018, and it examined the minority concept in the context of the Ancient Near East. The workshops are organised in collaboration with the Centres of Excellence Ancient Near Eastern Empires and Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions, both of which are funded by the Academy of Finland.

Raija has published Neo-Assyrian administrative and private documents. Her doctoral dissertation The King’s Magnates (2000) studied the highest officials of the Assyrian Empire.

Raija is an Adjunct Professor (Docent) of Assyriology of the University of Helsinki and an associate member of the Centre of Excellence Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions. Before her position as the Director of FIME in Beirut, she has worked for the Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient Near project at the University of Helsinki, as a researcher at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, as the director of FIME in Damascus (2004-2008), as a researcher in the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies of the University of Helsinki, in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary at the University of Chicago in USA, as well as in the State Archives of Assyria project at the University of Helsinki.


Taavi Sundell


FIME’s researcher and coordinator Taavi Sundell is in the process of finishing his doctoral research in world politics on the political economy of higher education in Jordan and Finland. Combining discourse theory and critical political economy, Taavi’s article-based dissertation examines how specific actors have articulated the border between public and private higher education and the underlying assumptions concerning the societal functions of universities and higher education. The Finnish case is studied through existing documentary data while the Jordanian case relies also on data collected by Taavi through research interviews in Jordan during 2013–17.

Taavi received his Master of Social Sciences degree in political science from the University of Helsinki in 2010. As minor subjects he studied development studies and practical philosophy. In 2010–13 he worked as a full-time research assistant at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. During his doctoral project Taavi has coordinated the Academy of Finland project Politics and Numbers: Global Governance and Policy Instruments, taught and coordinated two Helsinki Summer School-courses, and taught in his own faculty as well as in the University of Helsinki’s Open University.

Taavi is affiliated with the Academy of Finland funded Whirl of Knowledge: Cultural Populism and Polarisation in European Politics and Societies-project(2019–22). While working at FIME he will start working on his post doc -project in which he plans to examine the role of human capital theory in discussions on education and migration in the context of the Middle East.


Former researchers at the Institute

Päivi Miettunen


FIME’s coordinator Päivi Miettunen works on her postdoctoral research at FIME. Päivi is studying the role of information behaviour in the construction of social identities among both Bedouin and immigrant communities in the Middle East. She applies the multi-sited ethnography in her comparative study of the use and choice of information sources, and analyzes their effect on choosing and displaying social identities.

Päivi’s Master’s thesis in Semitic Studies (University of Helsinki) focused on the local rituals and beliefs connected to the shrine of Aaron near Petra, Jordan. Between 2000 and 2008 she was a member in the Finnish Jabal Haroun Project, participating in the excavations and specializing in the ethnoarchaeology of the Mountain of Aaron. In 2003 Päivi worked as an intern in Damascus, at the Finnish Institute in the Middle East. Her minor subjects have included archaeology, computer science and information studies.

In 2014 Päivi received her PhD degree in the Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Helsinki. In her dissertation she studied the effects of modernization on the religious and cultural identity of Southern Jordanian Bedouins. The case study focused on the holy sites of the region. In her field research she mapped and surveyed the sites, many of them uncharted until today. She also used participant observation and interviews to familiarize herself with local Bedouin culture, traditions and dialects. In 2016 Päivi was a visiting researcher at CMES in Lund University, Sweden.