Hidden Galleries, Silenced Communities: homegrown religious communities and the secret police in 20th century Romania

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Nagy, Iuliana
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University College Cork
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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).
Archives , Old Calendarist , Tudorist , Romania , Communism , Religious underground , Secret police , Homegrown religious communities
Nagy, I. 2022. Hidden Galleries, Silenced Communities: homegrown religious communities and the secret police in 20th century Romania. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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