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Religion in the ‘Here-There’ System of References

The Orthodox Romanians are the prominent group of people in the community. As depicted in the excerpt below, the Orthodox identity is constructed with reference to Adventism, whereas on the ethnicity axis there is a strong discursive distancing between being Roma and being Romanian. Even though there are no conflicts between these distinct groups, there are social borders that appear throughout. The use of semantic constructions such as us, Orthodox stands for meaningful religious delimitations that, when it comes to migration, are transposed into different practices and strategies. The distinctions are rooted in daily interactions and are maintained on a daily basis.19 These collective references appear in various contexts, especially when describing migration from the community: the Roma and the Adventists were the first to migrate, the Adventists helped potential migrants from the very beginning, the Adventists, unlike the Orthodox, are religious people in the sense that they follow religious teachings.

I: So, you’ve been working here in the commune for 15 years?

R: Yes, I work here.

I: And... approximately when did people start to migrate? R: After 1990.

After 1990.

I: After 1990?

R: They left. They left after 1990. Many. Many, meaning gypsies of Roma ethnicity and Adventists, and less our Orthodox. They left for...

I: But when did the Orthodox start to go abroad?

R: What do I know, I think that after ’96-’97, the ones who went. They started to. but there aren't many of us Orthodox, there aren't.

(Seaca Town hall secretary, woman, 50, Orthodox, no migration experience)

There are many Orthodox Romanians in the community for whom migration triggers references to Roma who leave for work without previous formal arrangements and to Adventists.20 This association is very interesting in terms of the visibility of the phenomenon and its factual effects at the origin: Roma typically invest the money earned abroad in opulent houses, and Adventist Romanians are more prone to getting involved in entrepreneurship and setting their own small businesses, usually in association with other Adventists. At the same time, the money gained through the temporary, contract-based migration of Orthodox Romanian women enters family budgets as a daily resource ensuring subsistence and covering routine expenses.

Migration is embedded in the religiosity equation as a process that results in transformations of people's behaviour and of their general attitude towards the church.21 Abroad, religious affiliation gains a discursive importance and is a relevant element in the construction of identities. It differentiates between natives, who are Catholic, and Romanian migrants, who are either Adventists or Orthodox. The changes in people's religious practices at the destination as compared to home are multi-layered. The logical consequence of the fact that migrants have very busy work schedules is their limited temporal resources to be allocated socially. As such, a response such as ‘I didn't have time for anything, so I never really went to church in Spain' is not uncommon among the Orthodox migrants. But, at the same time, their religious participation at the origin is scarce as well. It can be thus concluded that, for the Orthodox, religious participation in the destination community is correlated with their religious behaviour at home. There are cases in which non-Adventist migrants go to Adventist Romanian churches in order to receive support.22 The correlation of the frequency of church attendance in the two communities stands for the Adventists as well. In their case, the intensive religious participation is a norm at both the origin and the destination.

For the Orthodox and Adventists alike, the religious behaviour of individuals is linked to their work patterns and schedules, and the influence of migration in this respect is most visible in the case of the Orthodox. As the priest relates, migrants have gone from a place where holidays are not marked by the abandonment of daily chores, to one in which work programs are designed by keeping in mind these special days:

I: Do you think that their experience abroad made them less religious, I mean were they...

R: No.

I: More.

R: It got better, because abroad, for example in Spain, it’s clear when it’s a holiday. Over there, when it’s a holiday, everybody is resting. It’s not like here, in Romania, where everybody does what he wants to, because it’s democracy. And they came, especially the Roma, and they come here respectful, I look at them and I’m amazed, because they says: father, we follow, as we do over there, says, we were forced at first and now we respect the holidays. There, if there’s a break. from what I understand, every day from 2 PM until 3 PM, nobody does anything in the whole country. They respect Sundays, holidays. It’s a good thing for a man’s soul, because man is religious and it’s good for him to respect his holiday. Each with their belief, because in Spain they are mostly Catholics.

(Orthodox priest at the local church)

As shown in the above excerpt, migration leads to changes in behaviours—respecting the holidays and working on a clear schedule. However, no reference is made to intimate aspects concerning the way individuals relate to religious claims. This account is convergent with ones given by all the other migrants or former migrants in relation to work and the professional life in general: while working abroad is tough and you really have to do your best and to be very serious in the way you perform your job, things are structured and everyone has to follow the rules, the very same rules that are designed to help people.

The major moments of life, associated with special religious practices, are usually celebrated at home, in Romania: weddings, baptisms and funerals are all reasons for migrants to temporarily come back to their community of origin. This fact is ‘read’ by the Orthodox priest as an increase in the respect people have for the Church as an institution and a proof of the unbreakable ties migrants have with their homes.23

In the case of the Adventists, the religious identity is much more homogenous and consistent than in the case of the Orthodox. If the basis of self-definitions in religious terms in the community is a negation of

Adventism for the Orthodox majority, for the Adventist religious minority the construction of their own identity rests on the convergence of religious norms and teachings and the day-to-day behaviours of individuals. There is a certain model of the individual promoted by Adventism, with implications that go beyond the religious sphere way into the civic area. The sense of righteousness is not only a matter of religious participation, but it actually implies that one has to behave according to the religious norms in all instances of life. As Orthodox respondents explain, Adventists follow basic prescriptions on how to interact with others in their daily encounters with community members—they are always willing to help and they are known to be ‘serious’ and trustworthy. In the case of the Orthodox, religion’s explanatory power is rather low, with no patterns of interaction or moral choices characteristic for the group as a whole.

Adventists and Orthodox are often perceived by the latter as being antagonistic in what concerns their behaviour. In the community, it is a known fact that Adventists are stricter in their attitudes and their actions as compared to the Orthodox.24 Religion becomes a ground for constructing distinct social categories with distinct traits: while Adventists follow the religious norms and respect their own confession, the Orthodox often drift apart from religious teachings. The institutional element is a distinct part in the lives of the Orthodox, while in the case of Adventists there is a continuum that links the institutional and the day- to-day aspects of religion. This difference may be explained by turning to the statuses of the two religions within the country, as well as within the community: Adventists belong to a minority group and their religious affiliation is what sets them apart, while the Orthodox religious identity is considered the standard, or the norm. While Orthodoxy is something you are born into, Adventism stands on the manifestation of individual choice—one has to prove that she is following the religious teachings in every aspect of her life in order to maintain her place in the religious group:

R: By the way, the Adventists used to give you money only if they knew that you weren’t a smoker. If they knew you to be a smoker, they wouldn’t give you...

R2: Yes. Yes.

R: They were sworn enemies. [.]

R: they are. Of course...they are better than us, clearly. So, most of them are better than us. More educated, more.they got cultivated by studying the Bible.there are many teachings in the Bible. Those who don’t know, they are worse, colder. We get out of Church, start cursing, go into bodegas. Well, it’s not like that for them.

(M.C. and his wife, mid 50s, Orthodox, former migrants)

In the above excerpt, there are two ideas worth mentioning as they were encountered in many of the individuals’ narratives of migration and religious diversity. The Adventists offer their support to those in need, not limiting their interventions to fellow Adventists. But they only do so after a moral screening of the recipients according to their own religious teachings and standards of being a worthy and righteous person. This shows the deep-rootedness of religious teachings in Adventism, and the little room left for sin or moral uncertainties.

The religious affiliation of individuals has implications in what concerns their resources of integration in the destination communities. The fact that the Adventist religion requires the attendance of weekly meetings is not specific—it is characteristic for the Orthodox as well, but what distinguishes Adventists from Orthodox is individuals’ adherence to these norms. Apart from the Sabbath and its associated practices, there are activities in which Adventists are involved together, such as civic initiatives for helping those in need—regardless of their religious affiliation.25 At the destination, this is a factor that catalyses migrants’ adaptation as they get to know people with more extensive experience in Spain and can thus receive tips and advice on what to do in order to find a job, a place to live and so on. One factual example of the existence of social support initiatives comes from the origin community: in Seaca, the Adventist Church offers help to people in need in the form of housing, food and money.26 As mentioned previously, this activity is paralleled by the existence of Adventist Churches or gathering places in Spain, which are known resources for Romanian migrants in need. There, they receive support for integration and help with finding jobs and accommodation and gaining access to information. In the destination country, through participating in church-related activities, such as Bible studies, individuals interact with fellow Romanians and develop relationships that enhance their feelings of belonging. Ultimately, relocating to Spain is made easier by these support networks.


This case study contributes to the explorations of religions and migration in the Black Sea region by discussing how (religious) identities are attributed and defined in a multi-religious community. In the context of Seaca’s religious and ethnic dualisms, religious affiliation is a resource for identity construction especially in the case of the Romanian Orthodox. At the same time, having experienced migration is a characteristic that differentiates individuals, along with religion and ethnicity. Further on, the group identity of Orthodox Romanians is constructed through recurring references to the others, the Roma and the Adventists. For the non-migrants in the community, announcing migration as the topic of the research and as the conversation theme triggers the proclamation of the state of facts in the community: many Adventists and many Roma are now in Spain.

There is a two-way relation between religion and migration, and a dual stream of influences that link them. Religion is an important variable for defining the social network on which emigration relies, whereas migration changes the way that Orthodox Christians engage in religious practices and their attitude and behaviour related to the Church as an institution and to religious constrictions on work schedules. Thus, while the Adventist Church is a catalyst for migration and adaptation in the host country and its influence on the followers is constant, both at the origin and at the destination, the Orthodox Church sees individual changes traced back to migration in the daily routines of its followers. Without having explored the subject in the empirical research, we expect the effects of migration on religious participation in the case of Orthodox to be stronger for older migrants.

The confessional life and the professional life of individuals are connected. Romania is associated with a lack of structure when it comes to working and getting paid—you don’t know what tomorrow will bring and you are in a constant state of thinking how to manage to get along. In Spain, things are different. Even though it might be rather difficult to find work as an immigrant, once you become employed you know exactly what is expected of you and how you should do your job. In this context, it is also claimed that Orthodox migrants borrow from the Catholic natives a sense of discipline when it comes to their religious behaviour and the importance of religious practices and norms in their lives. In this sense, the findings reiterate Vertovec’s (2000) and Yang and Ebaugh’s (2001a) discussions on the fact that departure from the homeland transforms religious practices, with the amendment that the change is perceived at the origin, upon returning, and doesn’t refer to the religious behaviours of migrants at the destination. However, it is often the case for the Orthodox to have minimal involvement in community religious practices, especially if they are in the active years of their lives.

The Adventists are seen as somehow more worthy than the Orthodox by the latter themselves. In this respect, the Adventist group or the Adventist minority is described as being different regarding the religious behaviour displayed by individuals and the place occupied by religion in people’s lives. An example is that, for the Orthodox, religion is community based, or, better put, it is origin based. Temporary return home for major celebrations, such as weddings or baptisms, is a fact that can be interpreted at the conjunction of religious practices and the social embeddedness of the Church. Nevertheless, there are no direct accounts of how the Orthodox are but only of how the Adventists are different from us, the Orthodox. In that, the constant reference to the Adventist other is a resource for constructing the Orthodox identity.

This community provides an example of both identity construction through the use of opposites and the field of interdependence when it comes to religion and migration. Not a linear relation, but a wide array of nuances governs the everyday life link between the two concepts.

Acknowledgements This chapter was supported by the CNCS-UEFISCDI grant PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0210.


  • 1. Connections refer to constant communication between migrants and friends and family at home, on various channels (Internet, mobile phone, etc.). They are also sustained and deepened through economic remittances—money and goods sent home by migrants on a regular basis.
  • 2. In the present analysis, the conceptual framework does not contain the term diaspora. Yet, Vertovec’s arguments are relevant, as they refer to individuals living outside the borders of their native country, while maintaining ties to their homeland.
  • 3. 1989 marks the end of the communist regime and the shift to capitalism. It also means the opening of borders that allows people to circulate internationally. Before that time, leaving the country for other than vacations or studies was made possible only by working agreements between Romania and other states or by family unification policies. For example, the latter allowed many Romanian German ethnics to migrate to Germany in the 1960s.
  • 4. The initial research, organised and funded by the Soros Foundation Romania, was afterwards continued and adapted to the researcher’s specific interests with the help of the Romanian Institute for Quality of Life.
  • 5. The present analysis is based exclusively on empirical data generated at the origin. For future developments, it would be helpful to enrich the data pool through research carried at the destination.
  • 6. The Community Census of Migration was meant to provide useful information about Romanian migration and, through the use of local key informants, to result in reliable data. A detailed discussion about the census and its methodology is offered by Dumitru Sandu (Sandu 2000).
  • 7. She worked as a primary school teacher in Seaca for almost 20 years.
  • 8. Interviews were conducted with both Adventists and Orthodox, but subjects pertaining to the significance of religion and religious identity/dichotomy/differences only came up in the interviews with Orthodox. This could have been a consequence of the fact that we were perceived as Orthodox, because our informant was a known Orthodox.
  • 9. In each community, the investigation was conducted by a team of two researchers with sociological background. I coordinated the research in two communities, and from these two I chose to discuss only one due to the chapter’s length.
  • 10. Before 1989, many people in the community, both Orthodox and Adventists, had industrial jobs in the towns nearby (Turnu Magurele and Alexandria). Along with deindustrialisation, the majority of them had to adjust their life strategies and to adapt to the new economic environment.
  • 11. Adventism is a neo-Protestant denomination. It is characterised by the belief in the ineludible coming of Jesus Christ on Earth, and it promotes strict behavioural norms for its followers—religious endogamy, total restriction of alcohol or cigarette consumption. Saturday is the holy day of the week.
  • 12. The communist government of the time abandoned the project for a while, only to resume it in 1987-1988, just prior to the Revolution in 1989.
  • 13. Individual accounts from the community place the beginnings of Adventism in Seaca at the beginning of the twentieth century (around 1910). Adventism’s status changed throughout history in Romania: from 1942 to 1945 it was labelled as a sect and pushed outside the limits of the law. Ever since1945, it is considered a cult, with legal status. For 2005, the number of Adventists in Romania was estimated at 93670 members (Chiriac 2005).
  • 14. This categorisation of individuals based on their expectations and estimation of life abroad was present in various interviews with migrants.
  • 15. Verdery (1996) provides a solid argument for the transformation of time brought by the fall of communism in Romania. The etati- zation of time, a process that took place in communism, refers to the fact that the organisation of time and the daily/periodical working schedules were a matter of the state, the entity that governed the lives of individuals. This placement of responsibility outside individual decisions and actions may very well still be present as a general frame in the professional lives of individuals. Now, by living and working elsewhere, people encounter new perceptions of time and new ways of relating, from both a professional and a temporal perspective.
  • 16. While Orthodoxy is a state religion, Adventism is not associated with certain nation states. There are Adventist communities in various countries, for example, in Romania and Spain. Moreover, these religious communities located in different countries communicate. This way, Adventists have far more resources for integration at their disposal than the Orthodox.
  • 17. Adventist migrants are people in their 30s to mid-40s. Unlike Roma, they are rather unsatisfied with their jobs and their opportunities rather than unemployed. Usually men are the first to leave for work, and they are followed in Spain by the rest of their family (wives and children).
  • 18. Contract based migration is seasonal, and confined to the agricultural sector, with departures to rural areas in Spain. This type of migration is specific exclusively to Orthodox Romanian women. Long-term or non-seasonal migration is characteristic to both Romanians and Roma, but based on distinct networks and with different trajectories at the destination: Roma migrants, both men and women, work in agriculture whereas Romanians (mostly

Adventists and only a few Romanians) work in the domestic sector (women) and constructions (men).

  • 19. Following Frederick Barth’s argument, who treated ethnic boundaries as being both generated and maintained in interactions (Barth 1998).
  • 20. Prior to their migration to Spain, Roma also experienced seasonal migration to Serbia (1990-1992) and long-term clandestine migration to Germany (1992-1996). However, for Adventists migration started later on (1996-1997) and was directed towards Spain from the very beginning.
  • 21. At the origin, the Orthodox Church does not appear to be an important entity in the daily lives of the individuals. Apart from major holidays (Christmas, Easter or celebrations of weddings, baptisms and funerals), participating in weekly religious services is not common—it is only characteristic for the elderly, especially women. At the destination, the church becomes a Romanian place, a place for Romanians, and the religious affiliation becomes an important individual trait. But, even though it is seen as such, there is not much variance in what concerns church attendance.
  • 22. M.C., an Orthodox Romanian former migrant in his mid-50s, talked about how he would go to the Adventist gatherings in his first few months in Spain, before he settled down and found some stability. Still, these are only rare occasions and do not account for changes in the patterns of church attendance or religious reconversion.
  • 23. For some Orthodox, being a successful migrant is traceable to God’s plan. Expressions such as ‘there is a God, indeed’ where verbalised, especially in cases of clandestine departures in which safely arriving at the destination was an outcome that depended on multiple unknown variables.
  • 24. For example, in the case of Adventism, the obligation of marrying someone with the same religious affiliation or various prescriptions for daily practices (no alcohol intake, not eating pork, respecting the Sabbath) is respected by every individual. Also, Adventists are extensively engaged in religious activities, regardless of their age. On the other hand, in the case of Orthodox, church attendance on a regular basis is associated with the elderly, and behavioural constraints are seldom practised.
  • 25. In fact, one Adventist respondent explained that Adventists are not usually in need; it is other people with religious affiliations different from Adventism who are experiencing hard time and require assistance.
  • 26. This is the only such initiative in the community. Otherwise, the community development projects, as activities that involve people working together for any sort of common good or service, are missing completely.


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