Sorin Gog

Current Project

Sorin Gog

Curriculum Vitae

Current Project

The politics of after life. Religious Conversion among Lipovanians in Romania.

My research project is focused on the way the new post-socialist cosmology is restructuring religion and how it is shaping the religious mentalities of contemporary Romania. I am trying to investigate this by analyzing the ways the different local politics of ethnic and cultural identities shape the perspectives on after-life and burial practices. My research aims at analyzing the symbolic architecture of the discourse that surrounds and penetrates the dead body and of the way the cemetery is transformed into a micro-world that reflects the religious, ethnic and cultural struggles of the new post-socialist world.

On this purpose I am researching the multi-ethnic and multi-religious village of Sarichioi, situated in the south-eastern part of Romania. Old-Orthodox Lipovenians (divided into two antagonistic religious communities, popovtsi and besopopovtsi) and their eternal rivals, Orthodox Romanians, have to co-habit the village and share the local resources with the post-socialist emerged community of Lipovenian-Romanian Adventists. What seems even harder to do is share the after-life and cemetery space, where the borderlines between these four communities become even stronger.

During the communist regime, with its atheistic ideology, the religious life of the village was strongly persecuted. The communist local authorities wanted to modernize the social structure of Sarichioi and disenchant the overall religious-magical orientation towards life. Some priests were imprisoned and the religious hierarchy was silenced down.
After the fall of communism Romania experienced a religious revival. Sarichioi was not an exception to this and religion begun to play again an important role in the life of community. A contribution to this was brought as well by the local NGO's that regarded the Old-Orthodox religion (the antagonistic popovtsi and besopopovtsi) as an important mean to consolidate the distinctive ethnic claim of the Lipovenians.

The religious freedom of the new post-socialist world led to the emergence of a Neo-Protestant movement in Sarichioi. The Adventists emerged in the village in the early 90's and they were all important members of the Old-Orthodox church. Soon more converts followed and gradually they established a religious community that had its own church.

The Adventist movement appealed to the villagers because it challenged the over-ritualized religion and the priesthood monopolization of the sacred. In the Old-Orthodox church only the priests are allowed to read and interpret the bible and the liturgy is officiated in Slavonic, an old language that nobody understands anymore. The Adventists challenged this by institutionalizing a Romanian religious service and giving people access to Romanian and Russian bibles. This led to the filtering of all ethnic traditions, rituals and values through the Scriptures, and the resulting process was a new cultural code that the Adventists converts adopted. They still regarded themselves as Lipovenians, but they attached to this a whole new meaning.

The forsaking of the ancestors religion was something unconceivable by the other three religious-ethnic communities. A strong symbolic violence that was aimed at the Adventist community followed in Sarichioi: local church councils that excommunicated the "heretics", exact plans to move them out of the village, the forbiddance of making new proselytes, ritual cleansing of objects touched by the Adventists, etc. This culminated with the problem of the burial of the first dead Adventist believers. The three ethnic-religious communities were strongly opposing to having Adventists buried next to their own believers because, as one of the Old-Orthodox priests that organized a watch around the cemetery remembers, they feared that this would spiritually pollute the dead ancestors. This led to a strong segmentation of the cemetery space and the revitalization of the different narratives that surrounded the dead body and its faith in the after-world.

In Sarichioi each of the dead bodies has a certain conceivable place within the graveyard. Each dead body falls under a specific practice of burial (according to a religious categorizing of death) and has attached to it a specific mythology of after-life and distinct social practices among the living. Only the Adventists do not have any place in this symbolic universe. For them there is no chance left in the after-life, they are buried somewhere outside the cemetery, in a place that can be hardly conceptualized. Dying as an Adventist, and since then a few of them died, is conceived as one of the worst ways of dying that leads to the burial in one of the lowest and impure grounds.

The symbolic representations of dying and the specific types of mortuary space and practices attached to it (burial grounds that lie symbolically in the sun or shadow etc.) became one of the dominant instruments of controlling and safeguarding ethnic and cultural identities. The instrumentalization of the symbolic architecture of after-life that penetrates the dead body and the fragmentation of the cemetery space that accompanied this process mirror the important transformations of the Romanian social system and the struggle to enact the different post-socialist politics of ethnic and cultural identities.