The appearance of saints: photographic evidence and religious minorities in the secret police archives in Eastern Europe

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Kapalό, James A.
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Taylor & Francis
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I present here examples of the photographic presence of a religious minority community in the secret police archives in ex-communist Eastern Europe. The use of secret police archives by researchers to trace the history of repression and collaboration and to understand the methods employed by totalitarian regimes to control their populations is well established. 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 the Republic of Moldova constitute a hidden repository of confiscated religious materials and photographs which often sit alongside photographic images created by the secret police in the course of their investigations into criminal religious activities. These archives, therefore, represent an important resource for understanding both how religious groups chose to represent themselves and how the totalitarian system created images of religious others in order to incriminate and produce anti-religious propaganda. In this paper, through the presentation of example cases from state security files, I discuss the dual character of the photographic traces of communities in the archives as both religious justification and incrimination, and suggest ways of approaching these images through their materiality in the context of contemporary post-communist society.
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.
Romania , Moldova , Secret police , Photography , Religion , Religious minorities , Archives
Kapaló, J. A. (2019) 'The Appearance of Saints: Photographic Evidence and Religious Minorities in the Secret Police Archives in Eastern Europe', Material Religion, 15(1), pp. 82-109. doi: 10.1080/17432200.2019.1570445
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Material Religion on 11 Apr 2019, available online: