Democracy and miracles : political and religious agency in a convent and village of south central Romania
This thesis investigates the strategic exercise of political and religious agency in a Romanian Orthodox convent and the village surrounding it, during the local and national elections of 2000. It examines how three groups living in an isolated river valley, Romanian peasants, Roma traders and Orthodox nuns, made use of two fields of social action newly opened by the collapse of socialism-democratic politics and religious devotion-in order to maximize their access to power and economic resources. Using archival research, oral histories, interviews and extensive participant observation, the thesis traces the political life of Horezu convent, an important estate of the Orthodox Church, over its 300-year history, focusing particularly on the socialist and post-socialist periods. It examines the shifts in the convent population and monastic ideology, relations with the surrounding village and with political authorities. Horezu convent became a focus of attention in post-socialist times when its founder, Prince Constantin Brancoveanu, was sanctified by the Orthodox Church in 1992. Linking religious and national symbolism, this sanctification was an expression of the efforts of the Church and of its allied political actors to distance themselves from associations with the socialist regime. During the socialist period, the community of nuns at Horezu had developed close relations with members of the Party elite, and they continued to rely on these connections when, after socialism's collapse, these elites re-emerged as important political actors. Whilst the convent was able to thrive thanks to its privileged political connections, local peasant workers' living standards were severely deteriorating, due to the closure of former state-owned industry in the area. Increased competition over dwindling state resources, and a growing dependency on the local political elites who controlled their redistribution exacerbated tensions, leading to a growing separation between the three local groups, Romanians, Romas and nuns.