Kapaló, “The Appearance of Saints”

Kapaló, James A. 2019. “The Appearance of Saints: Photographic Evidence and Religious Minorities in the Secret Police Archives in Eastern Europe.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. 15(1): 82-109. 

Abstract: 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 them and to 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.

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