Anca Șincan, In the absence of men: How women took over underground religious communities in 1950s Romania

It is often the case that the history of the church in East Central Europe during communism is a narrative about men. A top-down interpretation that is linked with hierarchies and power, with the meeting between secular and religious central administrations of state and church is rarely a narrative that includes women. Research into institutional archives reveal a world dominated by men, structural hierarchies of power where the women have marginal roles. However, one particular archive preserves, if rather distorted, a view on religious women: the archive of the secret police. In the process of surveil- ling church leadership, clergy and church elders the secret police uncovered the new roles that women took over in the church when the church and religious life were under the control of the totalitarian state. This presentation focuses on several women that took up leadership roles in their religious communities in the underground. With the help of archival research and oral interviews I attempt to reconstruct the context and conditions that surrounded their access to positions of leadership in the religious community, the change they went through to fulfill this new role and the reactions of the community to their assuming a power role in institutions that were traditionally led by men. Their impact in the life of the religious communities, however temporally restricted (their leading positions were taken over again by men with the liberalization of the regime) was significant and reflected not only in religious issues but also in education and social life of the communities. After 1989 their histories were rewritten, forgotten or eliminated from the canonical narrative of the religious communities, their memory resisting in popular stories, personal experiences, oral interviews.