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Envisioning the Underground - lecteur by J. Kapaló

James Kapalo-slide

Date: 23 May 2019, 7PM - Balassi Institute
Envisioning the Underground: Secret Police Archives and the Study of Religions in Central and Eastern Europe - 
lecteur by James A. Kapaló, University College Cork
In the framework of the Belgian Club of Hungarian Scientists' events 



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.

Short Biography
James Kapaló is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religions at University College Cork, Ireland and co-Director of the Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre (MEWSC – He has an MA in Central and Eastern European Studies from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), London and a PhD in the Study of Religions from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. He is author of Text, Context and Performance: Gagauz Folk Religion in Discourse and Practice (Leiden: Brill, 2011) and Inochentism and Orthodox Christianity: Religious Dissent on the Russian and Romanian Borderlands (forthcoming Routledge: London, 2019). He is Principal Investigator of the European Research Council project Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: ‘Hidden Galleries’ in the Secret Police Archives in Central and Eastern Europe (project no. 677355).





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May 19.
- Jul 25.
Perchance - Szilard Cseke Solo Exhibition
IFA Gallery - Rue Saint-Georges 24, 1050 Ixelles
May 19.
Literature without borders - Photo exhibition by Ottó Kaiser
Balassi Institute, 10 Treurenberg, 1000 Brussels
May 23.
- May 23.
Envisioning the Underground: Secret Police Archives and the Study of Religions in Central and Eastern Europe
Balassi Institute - Treurenberg 10
May 28.
- May 28.
Young Hungarian Talents Concert
Balassi Institute, 10 Treurenberg, 1000 Brussels
Jun 11.
- Jun 11.
Honorary concert for Erzsébet Szőnyi
Balassi Institute, 10 Treurenberg, 1000 Brussels
Jun 16.
- Jun 16.
Veronika Harcsa & Balint Gyemant Quartet concert
L'An Vert, Rue Mathieu Polain, 4, 4020 Liège
Jun 16.
- Jun 16.
Ferenc Sebő Trio at Cinéma Nova
Cinéma Nova, 3 Rue d'Arenberg, 1000 Brussels


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