Accepted Paper:

Distrust: negotiating women's agency within a fundamentalist Catholic milieu in Poland  


Agnieszka Koscianska (University of Warsaw)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on fieldwork among participants of an informal group representing a fundamentalist wing in the Polish Roman Catholic Church, this paper explores a distrust of state institutions (e.g., the public heath system), and focuses on anti-liberal models of agency.

Paper long abstract:

In Poland, older religious Catholic women often meet informally to pray, to chat and to help each other. They have visions of the Virgin Mary or experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. They have healing skills and believe in the power of prayers to affect change. At the same time, they share a deep distrust of various modern institutions, such as those associated with the public health system, the welfare system, mass media, and organisations associated with feminism and the women's rights movement. They see these institutions as promoting liberal and individualistic models of agency, which they see as a threat to Polish national community and the Roman Catholic Church.

The paper discuses the ways in which my informants deal with those fears. I focus on alternative healing practices and channels of communication, and anti-abortion mobilization to analyse models of agency and personhood developed due to this distrust. These models of agency and personhood are reflected in the personal narratives of the elder religious women I interviewed, and parallel developments in political and public domains, such as the Catholic fundamentalist radio station Radio Maryja.

Panel W048
A matter of trust: anthropological explorations into an old concept