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.

Khater, Ahmed Fouad. (2011). Embracing the Divine: Passion and Politics in the Christian Middle East

Khater, Ahmed Fouad. 2011. Embracing the Divine: Passion and Politics in the Christian Middle East. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Book Description

Hindiyya al–’Ujaimi, a young eighteenth–century nun whose faith was matched by her ambition and intellect, lies at the heart of this absorbing history of Middle Eastern Christianity. At the age of twenty-six, Hindiyya left her hometown of Aleppo to establish a convent in the mountains of Lebanon. Her order and her growing public profile as a visionary and living saint met with stiff opposition from Latin missionaries and with mistrust from the Vatican. Church authorities were suspicious of feminine spirituality and independent religious authority, eventually subjecting her to two Inquisitions by the Vatican. Sentenced to spend her entire life imprisoned, Hindiyya died in 1798 in her cell, leaving a legacy that shaped the church for many years to come.

Compelling in its cinematic scope—resplendent with the requisite villains and mysterious events infused with sinister and sexual tensions, tragedy, and pathos—Hindiyya’s story holds within its folds a larger tale about the construction of a new Christianity in the Levant. Khater skillfully reveals what her story tells us about religious minorities in the Middle East, early modern cultural encounters between the West and the Middle East, and the relationship between gender, modernity, and religion.