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.
Abstract: This essay presents an ethnographic account of two divorced Catholic women’s memories of praying to the Virgin Mary while seeking illegal abortions under the Romanian socialist regime. These women’s stories focused on troubling memories of being in love, reflections that were retrospectively shaped by divorce. Drawing on Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I call these recollections uncanny memories of the self in love. Uncannily remembering one’s self in love combines experiential self-examination and ethical assessment of actions. The notion of the uncanny self in love thus helps bridge the divide between experience- and action-oriented approaches to lived ethics. I argue that the ethical significance of the Virgin Mary’s actions depended on my acquaintances’ approach to love. For one woman seeking to stay estranged from her ex-husband, the Virgin Mary’s actions accentuated his ethical immaturity. My other acquaintance harbored more ambivalent feelings toward her ex-husband; for her, talking about the Virgin Mary helped her relativize feelings of ethical indignation. As a core implication of this argument, I urge greater awareness of the problematic tendency to include the need for greater awareness of tendencies in theories of lived ethics to reify socially situated perspectives on love.
Abstract: Despite growing insights into the secular practices of former socialist states, we are yet to grasp fully their resonance in religious lives. Taking socialist modernity and Old Belief as distinct ethical projects, in this article I discuss the ethical engagements of Russian Old Believers in socialist Romania as reflected in individual biographies. Their struggle to maintain an ascetic Orthodox culture in the midst of an intrusive atheist state was at odds with the urge to join a modernizing project that preached the collective good. This tension was managed through a temporary ‘secularization’ which allowed for differentiated generational commitments and the successful reproduction of their tradition within the socialist system. Old Believers’ return to the church in old age reveals their attempt to shape their lives through ethical action based on the obligation to continuity, to carry on the old faith. It shows how the pursuit of continuity in the Old Belief is a virtuous practice leading to moral exemplarity in a space of equivocal moralities.
Volume Description: Religious and secular convictions have powerful effects, but their foundations are often surprisingly fragile. New converts often come across as stringent believers precisely because they need to dispel their own lingering doubts, while revolutionary movements survive only through the denial of ambiguity. This book shows that a focus on uncertainty and doubt is indispensable for grasping the role of ideas in social action. Drawing on a wide range of cases, from spirit mediums in Taiwan to Maoist revolutionaries in India, from right-wing populists in Europe to converts to Pentecostalism in Central Asia, the authors analyse the ways in which doubt is overcome and, conversely, how belief-systems collapse. In doing so, Ethnographies of Doubt provides important insights into the cycles of faith, hope, conviction and disillusion that are intrinsic to the human condition.
Excerpt: “This paper seeks to present everyday life experiences of Baptist Serbs in Romania during the specific historical period of communism . . . Special interest is paid to the connections between Serbs from Romania and Yugoslavia, various missionary activities, and religious experiences of the born-again Christians during communism “