CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


June 17-20, 2004 - Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Cinderella goes to market: The Religious Situation in Post-Communist Romania

by Dr. Lucian Turcescu, St. Francis Xavier University
A paper presented at CESNUR 2004 international conference, Baylor University, Waco (Texas), June 18-20, 2004. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

In the past three years, Church attendance has remained quite steady with 40% of those interviewed reporting attending church regularly, another 40% attending 1-2 times a year, about 10% going to church once a year or less, and 7% not going to church at all. Despite this, however, some 88 percent of citizens say that church is the institution they trust most (usually followed by the army).

In February 2001, the PSDR Government sent to the 15 recognized religions for comment a highly controversial draft bill on religious denominations, which the previous Government had withdrawn in February 2000 after strong objections by non-Orthodox religious groups and human rights groups. Most minority religious groups reiterated their critical views of the bill. If enacted the law effectively would have restricted freedom of religion, by imposing tough conditions on the registration of religious denominations and religious groups. It would also have required applicants to have a membership totaling 0.5% of the country’s population (over 100,000 persons) and strengthened the powers of the State Secretary for Religious Denominations. The draft law would have declared the Romanian Orthodox Church to be the national church. The Government made little progress on restitution of religious properties and has made more cumbersome the process of obtaining permission to erect new churches for non-Orthodox religious denominations.

There are generally amicable relations among the different religious groups; however, the Romanian Orthodox Church has shown some hostility towards non-Orthodox religious churches, and criticized the "aggressive proselytizing" of Protestant, neo-Protestant, and other religious groups, which the Church has repeatedly described as "sects." Opposition by the Romanian Orthodox Church to the restitution of religious property to other religious groups, especially Greek Catholic churches, remains a problem.

As a matter of fact, the word “sect” is used indiscriminately applied to any NRMs by the majority of the population and journalists. “Sect” is also used derogatorily by Orthodox Christians in reference to new Protestant groups (e.g., Baptists, Adventists, etc). The word “cult” is used in the sense of “cultus” and not in the English sense of something negative. The 16 denominations officially recognized are referred to as “cults” in Romanian.

Several minority religious groups continued to claim credibly that low-level government officials and the Romanian Orthodox clergy impeded their efforts at proselytizing, as well as interfered with other religious activities. No law against proselytism exists and no clear understanding by the authorities of what proselytism is.

The Government requires religious groups to register. To be recognized as a religion, religious groups must register with the State Secretariat for Religious Denominations and present their statutes, organizational, leadership, and management diagrams, and the body of dogma and doctrines formally stated by a religion. The Government has refused to register a number of religious groups, and the only religious group that has received status as a religion since 1990 is Jehovah’s Witnesses (Minister Order no. 2657 of 22 May 2003). The State Secretariat for Religious Denominations stated for a long time that its impossibility to recognize new religions was due to provisions of Decree 177 of 1948, which stipulates the recognition of religious denominations by a decree issued by the Presidium of the Grand National Assembly, a Communist era institution that no longer exists. Since no new legislation has been passed in this regard, the State Secretariat stated that the registration of any new religion is not possible. The Organization of the Orthodox Believers of Old Rite, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Adventist Movement for Reform, the Baha’i Faith, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) are some of the religious groups that have tried unsuccessfully to register as religions.

Religious education. The Government permits, but does not require religious instruction in public schools. Only the 16 recognized religions are entitled to hold religion classes in public schools. While the law permits instruction according to the faith of students' parents, minority recognized religious groups complain that they have been unable to have classes offered in their faith in public schools. According to minority religious groups, this happens mostly because the local inspectors for religion classes are Orthodox priests who deny accreditation to teachers of other religions. Religious teachers are permitted to instruct only students of the same religious faith. However, minority religious groups credibly asserted that there were cases of children pressured to attend classes of Orthodox religion, despite the fact that religion classes were optional, according to the Education Law. The Jehovah's Witnesses Association reported one case in Agapia (Neamt County), where a child member was subject to the threat of not graduating unless she attended the Orthodox religion classes. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church reported similar situations in Crasna Viseului (Maramures County), Ciocanari and Mircea Voda (Braila County), Provita (Prahova County), Tirgoviste and Bucsani (Dimbovita County).

Religious assistance to prisoners. Only the 16 recognized religions are entitled to give religious assistance to prisoners. Minority recognized religious groups complained that Orthodox priests denied them access to some penitentiaries. Seventh-Day Adventists asserted that they were not allowed to give religious assistance in the penitentiaries of Gherla and Poarta Alba. Moreover, Orthodox priests in the penitentiaries of Margineni and Gaesti gave their approval only after reviewing religious material to be handed over to the prisoners. The Baptist Church also had difficulties in getting access to the penitentiaries of Oradea, Satu Mare, and Carei.


Satanism (Ultima Ora, 18 June 2001)

In 2003 – 23 Satanistic groups were reported in Romania

  • Accused of drug trafficking and organized crime
  • In 1993 - the Death angels in Branesti (Ilfov) recorded the first ritual suicide
  • Satanism is said to have first started among street kids, rockers and male prostitutes, but is now embraced mainly by high-school students

MISA (Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute)

  • Accused of brainwashing, extortionism, sexual orgies
  • 1998 – one alleged follower, Valeria Bertescu, started spilling the beans on a North East Romania lieutenant of the movement who claimed to be #2 in command after the leader Gregorian Bivolaru.
  • MISA claims to prepare the way for Jesus’s second coming.
  • Recently under serious investigation by the Police, but no hard illegal evidence has been brought against it.
  • Large collections of pornographic materials were confiscated from its headquarters, but the material is legal in Romania
  • Public sex denied by group leader in a TV interview, but he acknowledged the sexual nature of the movement – because it is a variant of Tantra yoga




Peter Berger


  • Berger uses the analogy of capitalist companies when comparing religions

-       religion has become a matter of choice

-       religion has become privatized (public rhetoric and private virtue)

-       religions struggle with the new reality of pluralism

-       there is a competitive market in religion

-       to market one’s religion one has to rationalize it and then bureaucratization will follow

-       this leads to similarity b/w religions and competition for survival in the market place

-       formation of cartels (e.g., ecumenical movement) follows

-       meeting the buyers’ demands leads to minimizing differences b/w religions in substance

-       competition relativizes religion and undermines its plausibility


Rodney Stark

Lorne Dawson

Cyberproceedings Index

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences