Study of Religions - Doctoral Theses

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    Materialising Soviet religions: Liquidation Commissions, sacred buildings and religious communities in 1920’s Moldavia
    (University College Cork, 2022) Lisnic, Dumitru; Kapalo, James; Coleman, Heather; European Research Council
    This thesis explores the interaction of religious groups with state agencies in the Soviet Union during the 1920s. The PhD project examines the activity of the Liquidation Commissions of Soviet Ukraine and looks into how these agencies used religious buildings and objects in order to study and manipulate religious communities. The Liquidation Commissions were responsible for making the religious landscape legible for the Soviet policymakers and institutions involved in anti-religious campaigns, including for the secret police. The thesis focuses on cases of religious objects and buildings belonging to Inochentist, Evangelical, Jewish, and Eastern Orthodox communities from the Moldavian autonomous region of Soviet Ukraine. The PhD research project draws on rich archival material from Kiev, Chisinau and Odessa, namely the archives of the NKVD of Soviet Ukraine, of party organization of Moldavian autonomous region and of Odessa region, and the secret police archives of Soviet Ukraine and Moldavia. The research takes a material approach to the archives drawing on a range of theories dealing with questions of agency and materiality. Through an exploration of the interaction of minority religious groups with the Soviet regime from a material perspective, my thesis a) contributes to a better understanding of the dialogical nature of the relations between authoritarian regimes and religious groups, b) examines the role of materiality in those relations, and c) analyses the mechanisms deployed by Soviet regime in order to control and examine religious communities. The core argument of this thesis is that the materiality and relationality of material religion and of the bureaucratic artefacts introduced by Liquidation Commissions into the religious landscape shaped the perceptions and actions of religious believers and Soviet officials during their struggle over the role and status of religion in Soviet society.
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    Hidden Galleries, Silenced Communities: homegrown religious communities and the secret police in 20th century Romania
    (University College Cork, 2022-08-30) Nagy, Iuliana; Kapalo, James; H2020 European Research Council
    This thesis explores the methods used by the Romanian secret police against two homegrown Romanian religious communities, the Old Calendarists and the Tudorists, and the manner in which they survived persecution by engaging in conscious acts of resistance. The creation of alternative narratives by these religious communities, narratives in which they critiqued and contradicted the established order, as well as the production of various objects and materials, such as icons, photographs, handwritten prayer or songbooks, letters and postcards ensured that they became a target for the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in Romania, which continuously tried to confiscate and destroy these materials. Meant to incriminate, these materials now testify of the wrongdoings of the regime, be it fascist or communist, and constitute a valuable resource to understand the intrusive character of these regimes. They also illustrate the creative ways in which these religious communities responded to authoritarian rule and managed to survive persecution, thus ensuring their survival and continuity as religious communities. Exploring important notions and concepts, such as archive, material religion, memory, sect, and secret police, this thesis advances a new approach to the archives of the secret police, focusing on its material religious contents rather than approaching it as a deposit of textual evidence. In order to realise this perspectival shift on the holdings of the secret police archives, archival research was combined with fieldwork and interviews with the members of the Old Calendarist and the Tudorist communities in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the significance of the materials that they produced, the context in which they were made, as well as to capture their responses to re-encountering with the visual and literary materials that their communities had created and that are now stored in the secret police archives. My archival work on Tudorists and the Old Calendarists, which forms the empirical basis for this thesis, demonstrates that with regards to the study of religions the archives of the former Romanian secret police have not been used to their full potential. The measures employed by the secret police involved the confiscation of objects and materials, such as brochures, diaries, icons, letters, postcards, songbooks from these religious minorities, as well as the production of images, photo-collages and bricolages of those considered enemies of the state. These items carry the potential to reveal much more about the communities than a written document could ever do. By looking at the experiences of the Old Calendarists and the Tudorists from a different perspective, the thesis will show how constraints and struggles can sometimes be an impulse for boundless creativity. The principal aims of the thesis are: firstly, to draw closer attention to these homegrown religious communities on which little research has been conducted. Secondly, I am to demonstrate the potential of the Romanian secret police archives to generate different types of stories about the repression of religion. By prioritising the archive’s material content, the thesis will focus less on the written file, the result of the work of agents and informers on which much of the work of researchers has focused in the quest for uncovering historical truths, instead foregrounding both the visual and material patrimony of these groups and the voices of those who have not yet been heard. This inevitably opens up the discussion about how Romanian history is written, who is included, who is left out, and why. Moreover, the thesis focuses on the gender relations that existed within the Old Calendarist community during the interwar period, highlighting the crucial role that women played in times of crisis by spreading and preserving the Old Calendarist ideas. Last but not least, the thesis analyses the complex relationship between history, memory and experience and brings forward the important role of story-telling and collective memory in the shaping and maintaining of a group identity for descendent communities. The research for this thesis, entitled ‘Hidden Galleries, Silenced Communities: Homegrown Religious Communities and the Secret Police in 20th Century Romania’ was conducted as part of the ERC research project, entitled ‘Hidden Galleries –Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: ‘hidden galleries’ in the secret police archives in 20th Century Central and Eastern Europe’ (project no. 677355).
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    The Theosophical Society and politics: esoteric discourse, esoteric monism, and theosophical identity in late 19th and early 20th century Britain and Ireland
    (University College Cork, 2018) Colin, Duggan; Butler, Jenny; Bocking, Brian
    This thesis addresses the connection between esotericism and political ideas in the formative decades of the Theosophical Society, including Irish dimensions. The Theosophical Society provided the most influential and widespread forum for esoteric discourse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This thesis examines how the introduction of the term ‘universal brotherhood’ as one of the Society’s core principles led to an increase in political discourse among the membership of a supposedly ‘neutral’ and apolitical institution. It argues that political and social reform-inspired interpretations of this idea helped to legitimise calls for theosophists to involve themselves more practically in improving the conditions of society. The resulting debates about universal brotherhood brought two of the Society’s other central ideas under scrutiny; the individualist nature of spiritual evolution and the neutrality of the Society with respect to individual beliefs, such as the belief in guiding masters. These three topics were debated and negotiated in the Society’s journals, among a global network of publishers and authors. In this thesis, contributions from two significant periods in the Society’s history are discussed in detail to highlight their centrality. One is the period leading up to the secession, in 1895, of the American Section, under the leadership of William Q. Judge. The second examines the events of Annie Besant’s presidency that led to her eventual rejection of the principle of neutrality in 1916. Several Irish individuals are discussed to demonstrate the importance of esoteric discourse to their political actions and it is argued that the concept of ‘esoteric monism’ provides the most cogent explanation for the connection between esotericism and politics in these cases.
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    Alfred Elmore: life, work and context
    (University College Cork, 2017) de Bhailís, Caoimhín; Dooley, Brendan
    Alfred Elmore R.A. was a prominent and prolific Anglo-Irish artist during the nineteenth-century. Since his death, in 1881, he has largely disappeared from the study of Art History with the exception of a few of his works that have been examined in terms of gender studies of the period. It has also been asserted that other paintings from his oeuvre exhibit anti-Catholic tendencies. This thesis seeks to reposition the artist and his religious paintings as being, if not overtly pro-Catholic, at least neutral in their intention. As a painter across all genres of the period, Elmore’s narrative paintings suggest a unique approach to ‘narrative’ painting that allows the viewer free-play in the construction of internal, imaginative, narrative creation. Elmore’s narrative paintings will be compared with familiar works by other artists of the period in order to locate these paintings within the genre and highlight his approach to rendering narrative. Described as ‘ahead of his time’ Elmore’s drawings display a modernity that belies his nineteenth-century, British context and allows for a reassessment of the status of British artistic practice during that period. As an exercise in connoisseurship and contextual interpretation, this thesis proposes that Elmore was an artist who either was a unique and exceptional artist in his output and mode of creation or that an examination of other neglected artists of the period that might exhibit similar artistic properties to Elmore will allow a renewed evaluation of British art and artists of the Victorian era.
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    Religious reformers in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century: the visits of Abdul Baha
    (University College Cork, 2017) McNamara, Brendan; Scharbrodt, Oliver; Kapalo, James Alexander; University College Cork
    The central theme of this work is an examination of the contribution made by home-grown reformers to the construction of new religious frameworks in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century. I focus on the evolution of a worldview oriented towards Asia and key individuals that sought interaction with religious ideas from the ‘East’. I will take as a case study the reception in Britain of the head of the Bahai religion, Abdul Baha, who visited in 1911 and again in late 1912. Through an analysis of the discourses he was invited to engage with, and the reasons his British hosts pursued these encounters, I recover lost aspects of what was a vibrant and multidimensional religious ‘field’. This will necessitate a review of why and how scholars of the new ‘science of religion’, ‘Celticists’, leading Protestant reformers and others expended much energy in supporting the Bahai leader’s public programme as he progressed through Britain. These interactions and their prominent promoters, significant in the context of the history of religions in Europe, are now mostly ‘forgotten’ or are ‘remembered’ in a particular fashion. Endeavouring to answer why these events are consigned as a footnote in history exposes a complex nexus of factors bearing on agency, myopic interpretation and the manner in which this history has been captured and interpreted. A key factor is the effect of the catastrophic conflagration which beset the world in 1914 on universalist worldviews. The figures analysed in this thesis were exponents of ideas and philosophies that are familiar in the present. Consideration of their experience illuminates similar contemporary discursive trends and leads me to posit the aetiology of such religious journeying as occurring long before it is generally thought such ideas were prevalent. Notwithstanding their eclectic interests, an important component in the construction of this discursive environment was the operation of a particular ‘filter’, one which still favoured Christianity as a pleroma.