Feasting and fasting: The evidential character of material religion in secret police archives

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Kapalό, James A.
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This chapter explores the value of textual data on material religion in secret police files for contemporary research on religious transmission and ritual life during communism. Based on examples from an operation targeting Inochentist-Stilists in 1950s and 60s Romania, I highlight the significance of the numerous insider-informer surveillance reports that focus on the foodways of the community. Although not qualitatively the same as ethnographic sources, I view the reports composed by these informers, as “surrogates” of the performances that led to their creation allowing the researcher today to access material, spatial and somatic aspects of religion that are often overlooked in readings of secret police files. Through the presentation of a series of brief examples, I illustrate how alternative readings emerge when data on religion is taken seriously and not discounted simply as an reflection of the ideological vision of the regime. The data we find presented in the files invites us to question its evidential status, both at the time, as evidence of criminal or anti-state activity, and for the scholar of religion as evidence of religious practice, meaning and agency. I argue, that when viewed through a material lens and situated within a broader appreciation religious lifeworld and cultural context, the texts and images in the archives reveal aspects of the material aspects of the transmission of religion in the underground that remain relatively under-explored and little analysed.
This research is part of the project Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: Hidden Galleries in the Secret Police Archives in Central and Eastern Europe. The project has received funding from the European Research 2020 research and innovation programme No. 677355.
Secret police , Communism , Eastern Europe , Religion , Archives
Kapalό, J. A. (2021) 'Feasting and Fasting: The Evidential Character of Material Religion in Secret Police Archives', in Kapaló, J. A. and Povedák, K. (eds)., The Secret Police and the Religious Underground in Communist and Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9780429331466
This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Secret Police and the Religious Underground in Communist and Post-Communist Eastern Europe on 13 August 2021, available online: http://www.routledge.com/9780367279998