Accepted paper:

Coping with disaster: vernacular religion in post-Chernobyl Belarus


Elena Romashko (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes the ways in which people in Belarus resort vernacular religion in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. It gives an outlook on the approaches and interaction between official and vernacular religion in the process of coping with the ecological and worldview crisis.

Paper long abstract:

The given paper analyses how vernacular and official religions in Belarus approached the challenge of the radiation contamination and connected with it religious, medical and bioethical issues. I demonstrate the usage of the objects of material religion in the emerged rituals of purification for food and houses, as well as veneration of icons with allusions to radiation. Moreover, I attempt to analyse how the interplay of forces between official and vernacular tradition is represented in issues such as coping and healing. I argue that women in Belarus (in the situation of the prevailing Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) are still playing a considerable role in the stability of the religious system in contemporary communities, even though they cannot express their religious piety and worship through priesthood or representative positions in ROC administration. I plan to demonstrate with empirical data how women take ad hoc ways of worshipping, through the roles of vernacular religious specialists (as healers, folk ritual performers and counsellors) and material religion keepers (by keeping knowledge about healing power of religious artefacts and providing control over a 'proper' attitude and interaction with shrines and sacred objects). Thus, the aim of the paper is to demonstrate the inclusiveness of vernacular religion and the role of women as its main agents in coping with the changes of daily life caused by the Chernobyl disaster and constructing social security in the issues of radiation.

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