Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
J A Kapalo;
International Association for the History of Religion XXth World Congress
Literacy, Language and Lay Agency: Accessing the Divine Word in Gagauz Orthodoxy
Oral Presentation
Optional Fields

This paper explores the reading culture and performance of sacred texts amongst Orthodox Christians in the Republic of Moldova. My central focus is on the agency of lay practitioners in accessing scarce, largely paracanonical, texts as a means of securing religious capital and authority. This study in primarily based on the narratives of women of the Gagauz minority (Turkish-speaking Christians) collected during ethnographic fieldwork in southern Moldova. For the Gagauz, a linguistic minority in a largely Russian and Romanian speaking region, reading in their Turkish mother tongue is orientated to a very large degree towards the divine. However, poverty and marginalization has resulted in a generation of women, today in their sixties and seventies, that is largely monolingual, speaking neither the language of the Church nor the state with proficiency, and is characterized by high levels of illiteracy or semi-literacy. In this context, women's strategies for accessing and participating in the religious textual culture offer insights into relations between lay practitioners and the divine realm. I focus on the miraculous nature of the acquisition of literacy and the performative use religious textual resources in the Gagauz language in order to open a window on the agency of lay women in the Orthodox community. This paper also explores the gendered and polyvalent nature of the relationship between orality and literacy in the performance and transmission of religious culture.