The study of religions in East and Central Europe has undergone dramatic change since the fall of communism.  The opening of the secret police archives in the region took place as part of a broad movement for transitional justice aimed at overcoming the legacy of repressive regimes and working towards justice and reconciliation in society, a process which proved extremely contentious. The archives also presented scholars of religions with important new sources to understand the relationship between anti-religious repressive policies of totalitarian regimes and the practices of religious groups. A paradox, however, lies at the heart of the secret police archives. Despite the recognition that the extensive personal files contained in the archives relied on ideologically constructed and fabricated crimes, false testimonies and made up conversations, in postsocialism these files have become the primary object of interest and research in the search for “truths” about the past.

 

Whilst the texts contained within the secret police files have received a great deal of scholarly attention, neither the presence of material religion within the archives nor the material religious practices of the secret police themselves have been explored to any degree. The archives constitute a hidden repository of confiscated religious art, materials and publications that in many cases survive nowhere else as well as containing a rich corpus of secret police photography presenting an exceptionally rich resource for the study of religions in the 20th century. In this seminar, which is based on the ongoing findings of my European Research Council Project Hidden Galleries (project no. 677355), I will explore visual representations of the religious underground found in the secret police archives in Romania, Hungary and Moldova in order to illustrate how the materials we find there participated in a performative co-construction of religious clandestinity during totalitarian rule and how this has had a lasting influence on societies in the region. I argue that in the emerging “illiberal”political context in the region, publicly revealing images from the archives and exploring them together with the religious communities they represent can play an important role in questioning the power of the “textual truths” pursued so vigorously by researchers, politicians and various publics in postsocialism.

 

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme No. 677355.

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