Elisa Järnefelt


Illustrator, writer, researcher


Elisa Järnefelt

I was 19. I had just left art school and been accepted in the University of Helsinki, Finland, to study the research of religion. This was the point in life that I believed I knew an awful lot of things and my thoughts took the form of certainties. I firmly believed that my decision to become a researcher canceled out the possibility that I could be an illustrator too. I didn’t see how science and art could coexist.


Over the next several years, I became what I had decided to become: a researcher of religion. In religion, I wasn’t primarily interested in traditions and doctrines but rather the formation of supernatural thought. Early on, I remember being fascinated by the notion that there was repetition of various belief forms that couldn’t be explained by cultural transmission. This means that over the course of history, people had formed very similar supernatural beliefs despite having never met, or lived in a similar society. I wanted to understand why people around the world had a tendency to think and reason about phenomena in reference to supernatural agents and powers.


During my studies in religion, cognitive science and evolutionary biology at the University of Helsinki, as well as a visiting scholarship (2010-2014) in the Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences in Boston University, USA, I developed a unique and interdisciplinary expertise in the universal human tendency to form supernatural thoughts. I focused especially on how people spontaneously form (i.e., untaught and reflexive) thoughts about the origin of nature and natural phenomena. 

In my PhD research, I bridged the gap between the humanities and behavioral science and developed an experiment that allowed me to test the spontaneous thoughts that both religious and nonreligious adults had about the origin of living and nonliving nature (e.g., animals, plants, rocks, rivers). After obtaining my PhD, I continued in postdoctoral research and replicated the study cross-culturally in the United States, Finland and China. 


Some years ago, I started to draw again. It began while finishing up my dissertation: I had been working continuously with a single study for several years. I needed to do something that took only few hours to complete - to show myself that I was still able to finish something. I gave myself a challenge to draw one simple drawing every week. That year I finished my thesis, and several drawings. 

After moving around the world and becoming a parent, I tried to make sense of it all by drawing and writing short notions about life. Now, my illustrations and notions have turned into freelance work and paper goods company, As Little Cooking as Possible LLC, that I established in Vermont, USA, in 2018. 

In the future, I am working on to bring these different aspects – illustration, writing and research – together. In contrast to my 19-year-old self, I now like to think in terms of possibilities rather than certainties that cancel each other out. Let’s see what I can come up with.  


You can find some of my recent projects here.






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