Through the Lens of the Secret Police: Images of the Religious Underground in Eastern Europe

October 12th, 2020

Dr James Kapaló and Dr Gabriela Nicolescu have opened an exhibition featuring materials and items collected and analysed as part of the ERC funded Hidden Galleries project on Friday 9th October 2020 in the Boole Library, University College Cork, Ireland. The exhibition will run from October 9th until March 31st 2021. Opening times can be found at

The exhibition, “Through the lens of the secret police: Images from the religious underground in Eastern Europe”, explores the legacy of secret police operations against and surveillance of religion through a visual cultural lens. Comprised of photographs shot or stolen by the secret police in the Soviet Union, Romania and Hungary, the images in the exhibition are sometimes violent or intrusive, at other times personal or with a documentary quality. The materials on display, which were used at the time as evidence of crimes and in anti-religious propaganda, today prompt varied interpretations. Can these photographs escape the categories of the archives into which they were placed? Who should have control over the use of these materials today? What impact does it have to view someone through the lens of the secret police?

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of a book Hidden Galleries: Material Religion in the Secret Police Archives in Central and Eastern Europe co-edited by Tatiana Vagramenko and James Kapaló, that presents in a series of short essays selected examples from the Hidden Galleries Digital Archive (see below) and exhibitions. Describing the book as “a true publishing event” Cristina Văţulescu (New York University)  expert in Soviet-era cultural expression and the secret police argues that the book is “gives us an unprecedented window into a diversity of religious practices and their state repression. Strikingly revelatory and accessible to the public, the book is however never sensationalist. Indeed, Hidden Galleries sets a new scholarly and ethical standard for research in the secret police archives.”

Willard Sunderland (University of Cincinnati and National Research University Higher School of Economics) acknowledges that “this remarkable collection based on revelations from secret police archives offers a stunningly new view of how the repression unfolded. It’s a story of state power and anti-state resistance but also of collaboration, intrigue, and counterintuitive twists and turns, including believers’ enigma codes and religious tracts composed by the KGB. The short scholarly entries provide rich context on individual cases, and the images are haunting. Anyone interested in the history of religion should read this book.”



Attēlu rezultāti vaicājumam “ucc cork ireland logo”   Attēlu rezultāti vaicājumam “osa archives logo”

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