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Hidden Galleries: Materialising Religion in the Secret Police Archives in 20th Century Romania and Moldova

Thursday, December 8, 2016, 5:30 pm

James Kapaló
(University College Cork)

Hidden Galleries: Materialising Religion in the Secret Police Archives in 20th Century Romania and Moldova

Abstract: The persecution of churches and religious groups under communism is well documented and the various secret police archives from the period have been utilized by researchers in order to trace the history of repression and collaboration and to understand the methods employed by totalitarian regimes to control their populations. The significance of these archives for the study of material religion, however, has been largely overlooked by scholars. The Secret Police archives in Romania and Moldova constitute a hidden repository of confiscated religious art, materials and publications that in many cases survive nowhere else, presenting an exceptionally rich resource for the study of religions in the 20th century. Kapaló argues that these archives represent an important resource for understanding not only how religious groups were able to deploy various creative art and media, resisting and critiquing the totalitarian and authoritarian system of the time, but also for exploring questions of ‘otherness’ and societal prejudice in post-socialist societies. Due to the controversial nature of the archives they present certain challenges in terms of methodology and ethical practice. In this lecture, Kapaló will outline a new approach to the holdings of secret police archives that takes into account issues of cultural patrimony and the right of communities to access their sacred materials. 

James Kapaló is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religions at University College Cork, Ireland. His main research interests are minority religions in Eastern and Central Europe in the twentieth century, folk and material religion, and religions in the secret police archives in post-communist states. He is author of Text, Context and Performance: Gagauz Folk Religion in Discourse and Practice (Leiden: Brill, 2008) and a forthcoming monograph Inochentism and Russian Orthodoxy (Routledge: London, 2017). He is Principal Investigator of the European Research Council funded project Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: Hidden Galleries in the Secret Police Archives in Central and Eastern Europe and co-Director of the Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre (MEWSC).