Dr. Laurentiu D. TANASE[1]

 University of BucharestRomania


The endogenous and exogenous causes which supported the expansion of cults and new religious movements in Romania after 1989



Ladies and Gentlemen,


My talk proposes to make an analysis of the development of religious life in Romania after 1989, focusing particularly on the causes which supported the expansion of new religious movements.


The fall of the communist regimes in Europe, in 1989, constitutes a central event of the end of the XXth century. That changed the course of contemporary history and marked in-depth the evolution of international relations. The European religious field, also, was strongly influenced by these transformations of contemporary society. More particularly by the acceleration in the context of globalisation which supported the expansion of cults/ sects and new religious movements. In the variety of forms of expression which relate to religious life in modernity, cults/sects and new religious movements tend to occupy an increasingly broad area.


If one wants to refer more precisely to the topicality of cults/sects and new religious movements, one can distinguish, in the light of the elements characterizing the European situation, some determining features which one can also find in the rest of the world, namely [2]:

–              the erosion of institutionalised religion,

–              the collapse of religious practice,

–              the recruitment crisis of clerical personnel,

–              the decline of belief in a personal God and the autonomous expression of a personal moral conscience, when compared to the ethical rules prescribed in religious systems.


The variety of forms of expression of the religious feeling today, starting from classical forms, traditional, institutionalised, syncretistic – phenomenon which often exceed the most cautious predictions – can be generally perceived starting from this series of essential characteristics.


The religious phenomenon knew and knows various forms of expression in the different countries, especially within the boundaries formerly dominated by old communist regimes where the evolution was different, according to the religious specificity of each country. We can observe today that the emergence of new religious movements occurs simultaneously as communist communities of the past progress towards democratic systems. It also expresses itself with pluralistic logic in the religious sphere, characterized by specific criteria of competition and free market.


Romania – country of mainly orthodox religious expression


Romania, is a country of Christian tradition mainly orthodox (86.7 % of the population) belonging to the Romance languages and having been part of the communist sphere of influence.


After 1989, the dictatorial regime was isolated and Romania is now passing through an intense political and economic process of integration in the structures of the European Union, of which it will probably become member in 2007.


The communist period was characterized by the attempt of the political administration to eliminate religion or at least to decrease its influence and its sphere of public manifestation. To achieve this goal religious activity was little by little repressed out of social and political life; religious education was banned; one spoke in praise of the atheism of the “masses “. Rumanian society was confronted with this type of policy during almost forty five years.


The fall of the communist regime brought a return to freedom and constituted a crucial turning point for the adoption of a new political and social policy of development of the country, based on the respect of human rights and of democracy. The social, political and economic conditions of Romania, generated by the new democracy, supported a very dynamic evolution of the religious sphere, which also materialised by an increasingly marked presence of new religious movements


The year 1989 thus represents a turning point in Rumanian society which brought the Orthodox Church and other recognized religions to the forefront of the public life, the religious actors having played a significant role in the fall of Communism. The changes which occurred at an incredible speed, also affected the religious field in an inevitable manner.


Thus, a new relationship between religion and politics took shape in Rumanian Society, based on a triple religious pole: the Orthodox Church, recognized religions and new religious movements. The legally recognized orthodoxy and other religions feel the religious liberalization as a true challenge and perceive the market logic and competition which is emerging in the field of religion due to the presence of cults/sects and new religious movements as a real threat.


Legally, the recognized religions constitute the principal form of organization and institutionalization of worship. However, apart from these forms of worship, there is also the possibility to manifest the religious associative character by the creation of associations or religious foundations.


The difference between the accepted religions and a religious association is not a difference which can be expressed on a scale of authority according to which the second would be subordinated to the first. It is more exactly about a difference in the social extension of a belief and priority support of the Government for the religious creeds whose precepts are shared by a great number of citizens and whose lengthy historical existence on the country made a significant contribution to the development of culture and Rumanian spirituality.


Since 1990, the new religious movements occupy a visible place within the Rumanian religious field. In spite of their extreme diversity, the latter can be classified in four categories, according to their land of origin and their symbolic and theological image of:


  • Evangelical Christian origin.
  • Eastern inspiration.
  • the type “mystical nebula – esoteric”
  • the type “orthodox dissidence”.


Considering this diversity, it seems interesting to us to understand the endogenous and exogenous causes which supported or prevented their expansion in Romania after 1989.


  1. I)    Endogenous causes of the dynamic deployment of new religious movements after 1989


A careful analysis of the Rumanian religious field and the study of the dynamics of the new religious movements after 1989 should consider various causes, first internal (endogenous), social, legal, political, then external (exogenous).


However, before that, I wish to make a terminological clarification; one speaks about new religious movements to define the religious organizations recorded in Romania after the fall of Communism because, before that, any form of religious associative expression or other than the religions officially recognized by the Rumanian State, was prohibited. I also wish to stress that in current Rumanian language the word sect is always pejorative.


  1. a) 1989, an explosion of religious fervour


During the Revolution of December 1989, Romania experienced a true explosion of religious fervour. The causes reside on the one hand, in the rediscovered freedom of expression of which that of the religious feeling, prohibited publicly during the communist regime, and, on the other hand, in the moral legitimacy of the representatives of the religious organizations which, by their action during the forty-five years of official atheism, had managed to keep alive the religious feelings among the masses. We can explain the rise in force of the role played by religion in post-Communist society by a whole series of favourable circumstances: the identity crisis, the loss of confidence in the State and the social and economic difficulties. [3]


At the same time, the victory over Communism expressed itself against all its anti- religious characteristics. Besides, this caused many people even to declare themselves as belonging to a religion and asking to be baptized so as not to appear as communist atheists. The recourse to the religious symbolic system of divinity was a means of upholding one’s courage. It is around the “God is with us!” shouted massively during those days that a feeling of collective action was built.



It is clearly apparent, that the religious factor had played a very significant role in the Rumanian Revolution of 1989. At the same time, the Revolution contributed in its turn to redefine the post-communist religious landscape which entered a new competitive phase in a free and open society. The major changes which characterized society after the fall of the totalitarian regime had a decisive impact on the religious actors, in particular on the Orthodox Church.


  1. b) The privileged link between recognized religions and the State: legal regulation of religions by the State


With the reconstruction of Rumanian society as a whole, the church-state relations and the legal system of religious life were dominated by a series of problems such as:

  • The weakness of State influence of the on society.
  • Recognition in public opinion of the historical Churches and religions which had not compromised themselves with the communist regime.
  • The absence of legislation in the field of religious life and the inexistence of State institutions able to apply legislation on these matters.
  • Conflicts in the field of religious life.


After 1990, the religious organizations felt threatened in their monopoly of relations with the State and, consequently, they developed a pastoral activity centred mainly on the preservation of certain privileged relationships with the new institutions of the post-communist State. The State supported their pastoral activity in a direct way and thus slowed down competition with new religious groupings which had appeared in Romania after 1990.


The presence of many new religious movements in Rumanian society after 1989, as a result of the freedom of expression and opening of the borders, was perceived, especially by the Orthodox Church, in the most alarming terms possible.


This competitive presence created certain conflicts between religious actors and led to the expression of serious charges to the address of the institutions of the State responsible for the free installation of many “sects” without controlling or regulating the situation. The charge most often used was that of aggressive proselytising and unfair competition.


With limited material and financial possibilities, the Churches did not have any real means to compete. Ilie Fonta, former Secretary of State responsible for religious organisations (1994-1995) wrote: “the Churches and the clergy considered they had suffered a prejudice and were wrongly treated because of the unfair competition instituted in religious life and blamed the State for having allowed the legalization and the activity of new actors of religious life, by behaving a an accomplice or with indifference with regard to all the scenarios and hidden agendas conceivable, antichristian and antinational”. [4]


But apart from this visible complicity between established State policy and religion dominated by the Orthodox Church with its sheer numerical weight, there is also a conflicting situation within the accepted religious organizations, expressed in particular by many tensions and internal dissatisfaction.


The Orthodox Church in particular was in a difficult situation, as mentioned above, following the charges of “collaboration” to which it was to answer. But “at the same time, the Church, did not dispose of any legal base to begin a new era in its relationship to the post-communist political power “. [5]


It also had to deal with internal tensions which generated another approach of the role and the place of the Orthodox hierarchy in the new pastoral economic situation and had been forced to react to the new tensions caused by the competition of new religious actors.


The development of this religious pluralism and the dynamics of the Rumanian religious field were strongly influenced by the close cooperation which developed between the State and the religions. The legislative vacuum created after 1989, the inefficiency of State institutions and their lack of legitimacy, created the premises which privileged the strengthening of existing relations between recognized religions and the State.


In these circumstances new religious movements were not received with sympathy by the majority of the population which saw in their presence an unfair test of aggressive proselytising aimed at destabilizing the religious life of the country.



  1. II) Exogenous causes of the expansion dynamics of the new religious movements


The exogenous causes, such as the effects of globalisation and the trans-nationalization of religious organizations, facilitate the dynamics of expansion of religious organizations thus contributing to the reinforcement of the phenomenon of globalisation of the religious.


The “religious” offers, increasingly numerous, attractive and competitive, which characterize open societies, develop a strong missionary spirit based on the expression and the application of certain marketing strategies, of religious marketing, whose function is to make attractive and accessible the new symbolic products of cults/sects and NRM.


a). Religious globalisation; the North-American influence


The emergence and proliferation of new religious movements – dimension characteristic of the pluralistic process of the Rumanian religious landscape after 1989 – was influenced from the very start by what one called universalisation or globalisation, by the multilateral opening of the markets after the end of the cold war and after the collapse of the Eastern bloc.


The Rumanians, modelled by a culture and a spirituality marked by the Orthodox Christian tradition, faced the phenomenon of globalisation with reserve and considered it as a risk of weakening their ethno-religious identity. Furthermore, the increasing and diversified presence, after 1989, of cults/sects and NRM was perceived, by the Rumanians, as a threat to their freedom and their basic rights.


The intensification of economic exchanges, the amplification of migration and immigration, the increasing flow of foreign missionaries are the many exogenous factors supporting the expansion of new religious movements.


Encouraged by cheap labour and the favourable economic system and eager to conquer new markets, the large international companies opened subsidiary companies in Romania. The new investors supported the arrival of thousands of foreign citizens of everywhere in the world, in particular of the Chinese, the Turks and the Koreans. This new reality of economic globalisation obviously influenced the after-1989 configuration of the Rumanian religious landscape.


Thus for example, the Christian Methodist Association of Romania was founded by the South Korean Pastor Tae Sung Jung, called to Romania in 1992 by Korean businessmen to provide religious services for Korean citizens who worked in the companies “LG”, “Samsung” and “Daewoo”, and for the personnel of the embassy of the Republic of South Korea. [6]


Pastor Tae Sung Jung, amazed by the poverty of the inhabitants in a working class district of Bucharest where he had organized a church for Korean businessmen, decided in 1993 also to celebrate religious services for Rumanian citizens and to develop a system of social assistance and charity for poor families, in particular for the Gypsies, with the assistance of donations received both from Korean businessmen established in Romania as from South Korea.[7] This charitable activity centred mainly on presents of primary food needs (oil, sugar, flour, etc.) and of clothing. Today, this Methodist community counts, in addition to the Korean businessmen, some two hundred and fifty members who are Rumanian citizens.


In the same way, the Rumanian Foundation of Islamic services was instituted in 1993 in Constanta by Turkish citizens who had come to Romania to develop businesses, in particular in the transport sector and small trade of the type “bazaar ” or “boutique“.[8] From the very start of the years 1990, a significant cross-border trade developed with Turkey, particularly for Bucharest and the cities of the south of the country, because Turkey offered goods that were not expensive and of quality. And this developed very quickly because Rumanian citizens did not need visas to go to Turkey, contrary to Western Europe where it was more expensive and difficult to meet the conditions of obtaining a visa.


Other businessmen of Islamic religion, but of another nationality than Turkish, also founded the Islamic and cultural League of Romania. It has approximately 1500 members of Iraqi, Jordanian and Palestinian extraction, a great number of them (1200) having already obtained Rumanian citizenship.


Furthermore, the presence of Chinese citizens in Romania for business, in particular in the small trade of cheap goods manufactured in China, has influenced the configuration of religious life. Commercial centres dominated by Chinese tradesman were formed in certain suburbs of Bucharest inhabited mainly by Chinese. Gradually, the cultural and spiritual presence Chinese is marking itself in gastronomy and in the popularization of energy therapeutic practices of acupuncture, naturist medicine, yoga meditation and astrology.


Among, the exogenous factors determining the dynamics of the religious field, one can also notice a significant North American influence. This is apparent both by the financial and spiritual support of the already existing Rumanian neo-Protestant Churches by their North-American sister Churches, Baptist, Adventist and Pentecostal, as by the creation of certain new, independent religious movements. The most representative cases are those of independent religious movements, created by pastors, Rumanian citizens having immigrated to the United States during the communist regime, who returned after 1989 with the intention of expressing freely their religious ideas.


Thus, for example, the Christian Center Timisoara, is an independent charismatic evangelical church, created in 1990 in Timisoara by Pastor Daniel N. Matei back from the United States. Today this new religious organization has more than two thousand five hundred members, subsidiaries in more than twenty-two localities in Transylvania and its development is supported [9] by the creation of houses of prayer and an active practice as a charity.

Always among the exogenous factors which supported the deployment of new religious movements in Romania, an apparently unimportant element, but actually very significant and representative of the phenomenon of globalisation is related to the Spanish language. Linguistically close to Rumanian, it facilitated the appearance and the installation of a religious movement whose language is the principal vector on which was based the missionary strategy of the newcomers according to an interview we had with one of the leaders, Mr. Otavio Bravo, vice-president and administrative and spiritual person of the Religious association The Center of Universal Assistance. [10]

The Association is a subsidiary of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. created in Brazil by the bishop Edir Macedo in 1977, this Pentecostal trans-national church, typical of religious globalisation, was developed in the early 1990s in the whole world and in particular in Europe where, in Spain, it took the name of The Community of the Holy Spirit (Comunidad del Espiritu Santo). It started its activities in Bucharest in 2002 with two centres and already declares more than two hundred faithful in 2004.


In the last few years, the televised series in Spanish or Portuguese (Telenovelas), diffused by commercial televisions or even by the State TV, were particularly appreciated by the general public which have a direct access to these sister-languages. This widely supported the acceptance of Pastor Otavio Bravo who, assisted by some members of The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was favourably accepted by a population already familiar with Spanish and Portuguese and sensitive to the popular expression of mass television. From this capital of linguistic sympathy, the transmission of the religious message was more easily accepted. Today, rigorously following the establishment strategies of the movement tested on a worldwide scale, two cinemas are rented in Bucharest in the working class districts of Giulesti and Pantelimon where the pastors of The Center of Universal Assistance celebrate daily services according to the Brazilian model of origin, by blessing water, salt, bread and the clothes of participants, and filling their hall with their faithful and supporters. [11]


This last case makes us consider the importance of the globalisation phenomenon to understand the current transformation of the Rumanian religious field and the internationalisation of the NRM. This process of trans-nationalisation of the religious is marked economically by an economic logic and it accompanies closely the evolution of the phenomenon of globalisation. [12]


  1. b) The Movement of spiritual integration in the absolute (M. I. S. A.)


Always following the logic of the internationalisation of the religious but this time in the sense of a cult/sect being exported from Romania to the European Union, we want to briefly introduce a religious organization of Rumanian origin fairly well known in Western Europe because its guru accused in a sex case with a religious mask, related to a European press scandal, was recently judged and found innocent in Sweden.


MISA is a humanitarian and religious indigenous organization of the yoga type and of Oriental inspiration. Following the accusation by the media due to a sex scandal, related to its founder, the guru Gregorian Bivolaru, considered as a swindler, a trafficker of human beings and the head of certain prostitution networks, even of children, the M.I.S.A. is perceived as a dangerous cult/sect.


Born in 1952, Bivolaru, nicknamed Grieg by his followers, succeeded in attracting a great number of followers and even extending his activities abroad where he inaugurated subsidiaries, particularly in countries in the North of Europe. [13] Having had a revelation in his childhood that he is a Tibetan yogi, he claims to have studied many works describing the old practices of self-realisation through yoga, which resulted in his inventing an original form of yoga that he began to experiment since 1978.


The communist regime did not tolerate any of the practices and teachings of the Orient in the country. Therefore Bivolaru acting illegally, was arrested imprisoned for two years and at the end of his time in prison, according to his story, he had miraculously managed to escape. [14]


Frequently disputed by the media, since 1995 he had officially withdrawn as head of the movement while remaining however its spiritual leader. The movement counts twelve ashrams “or “research centres of teaching and cure” organized on the lines of yoga principles. Approximately two hundred teachers spread all over the country to teach yoga at the initiation level. For the upper levels achieved by a very small number of people, Grieg himself was the teacher.


M.I.S.A practises various yogas (Hatha yoga, Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Rajah yoga, Tantra yoga, etc), while hoping to obtain “health, dynamism and effectiveness” as well as “cure or improved health”. [15]


The practice is based on breathing control, meditation, concentration and relaxation. Presentations and film projections were given for beginners. The movement has a number of libraries, two houses for the followers and buildings for the courses. Having been accused of non-conventional practices, the meeting places are guarded and “non-members” are not allowed entry.


Relations between the M.I.S.A. management and the Rumanian authorities are ambiguous. In March 2003, Bivolaru was arrested under various charges, especially for the production and the diffusion of pornographic material and for having had sexual relations with a minor girl. [16]


Following certain shortcomings in the procedure, he was briefly released, then again arrested and was again returned before the Court. During the investigation, more than fifty thousand different kinds of evidence including books, courses, photographs, video cassettes were analyzed, more than three hundred buildings were checked and more than a hundred witnesses were heard.[17] In the meantime, in Bucharest, the followers of the movement organized frequent demonstrations of protest before the Senate, the Ministry of Justice and the Parliament, to support their innocent leader, according to them. As he had fled, he was actively searched for in all the country and was finally arrested in April 2005 in Malmö, in Sweden. [18]


After having refused an application of extradition transmitted by the Rumanian authorities, Swedish justice decided to grant the political status of refugee to guru Bivolaru because “there was a risk of his not being fairly tried in Romania”. This decision took the Rumanian magistrates and the Government of Bucharest by surprise because this business risked tohave repercussions for Romania whose integration in the European Union in January 2007 is subjected to a particularly severe safeguard clause with precisely regard to Justice.


Police action and public scandals caused by the revelations of the investigation implying public personalities, created a negative image of dangerous cult/sect for M.I.S.A which started “to dissolve”. [19]


III)   Configuration of the contemporary Rumanian religious field


The current structural configuration of the religious field is determined by the Orthodox Church which accounts for 86.7% of the total of the population of the country[20], i.e. 18.817.975 faithful out of a total of 21.680.974 inhabitants. By its history, its privileged bonds with the State and its mass, it constitutes the central pole dominating the Rumanian religious field.


Apart from that, we can identify two more institutional poles of religious life: Religions recognized by the Rumanian State, composed partly by traditional religious organizations (Christian Catholic, Protestant, Moslem and Jewish) and by neo-Protestant religious organizations, the third religious pole being linked to the arrival of new movements in Romania after 1990.


Indeed, the statistical and social importance of these three poles is absolutely disproportionate. If, according to the national census of 2002, the Orthodox Church accounts for 86.7% of the population, the recognized religions account for only 12,13%. Among the latter, the Roman Catholic Church and the Uniate Church represent 5.6% of the population, ethnic religions (reformed Hungarian, Lutheran S.P. Hungarian , C. A. Lutheran Protestant German, Moslem, Jewish approximately 4% and the neo-Protestants religions (Pentecostal, Baptist, Adventist) 2.53%. [21]


However, it is specially the third pole which from a statistical point of view appears more virtual than real. Indeed, by adding these data, there remains only one negligible percentage, that is to say 1.2% of the population for the other religious expressions as well as for the non-religious, i.e. for new religious movements recorded after 1990 and for those who declared themselves as atheists or without religion or had abstained from referring to their religious identity.


  1. 3. Three pronged religious configuration of Romanian



Rumanian Orthodox ChurchRecognised religionsAtheists, without religion, N.R.M et not declared


Source : National Census, N.I.S., 2003.


The table above clearly reflects the asymmetry which characterizes the three poles and the more virtual than real of the third character. Nevertheless, this third pole is growing and it will be necessary to await the next censuses to measure its relative importance which can only grow if one considers the social visibility of some of these movements.




The presence of cults/sects and new religious movements, after 1989, especially of neo-Protestant orientation, was perceived as a threat to the freedom of expression and human rights, by the Orthodox Church, the ethnic Churches and by the press of the country. Both endogenous and exogenous causes contributed to the expansions of cults/sects and NRM.


Profiting from a favourable legislative framework, several new religious movements developed after 1989, thus answering an increasingly large quest for religiosity after forty five years of a political regime which promoted atheism.


The religious landscape was enriched by many new movements which, through intensive missionary methods and activities and in a free and competitive market logic developed strategies in order to attract more and more followers with their new “religious” ideas.


The religious effervescence observed after the fall of the totalitarian regime is not a unique phenomenon among the old communist countries. But in Romania, it appeared more active and more significant from the social point of view than in other countries.


[1] Dr. Laurentiu D. Tanase teaches Sociology of Religions at the University of Bucharest, Orthodox Theology Faculty

[2] Danièle HERVIEU-LEGER, « Pour une sociologie des « modernités religieuse multiples », une autre approche de la religion invisible des sociétés européennes », Social Compass, vol. 50 (3)/2003, p. 289.

[3]Olivier GILLET, Religion et nationalisme, Bruxelles, éd. de l`Université de Bruxelles, 1997, p. 162.


[4]Idem, p. 70.

[5]Radu PREDA, Biserica in Stat, Bucharest, éd. Scripta, 1999, p. 23.

[6]Discussion with Mr. Tae Sung Jung, president of the Christian Methodist Association of Romania, and Laurentiu Popa, secretary, March 3, 2004, in Bucharest.

[7]Idem, to see the preceding note.

[8] Discussion with Mr. Arslan Muharrena, vice president and Gaye Faruk, member of the Management of the Rumanian Foundation of Islamic Services, May 18, 2004, Bucharest.

[9]Discussion with Pastor Daniel N. Matei, president of the Christian Center Timisoara, March 9, 2004, Bucharest..

[10] Discussion with Mr. Lazar Constantin, president, and Mr. Otavio Bravo vice-president, responsible for administration and spiritual matters of the religious Association « The Centre of Universal Assistance », March 16, 2004, Bucharest.

[11]Idem, see previous foot note.

[12]Idem, p. 99.

[13]Constantin CUCIUC, Religii noi in Romania, éd. Gnosis, Drunk carest.>.>, 1996, p. 109.

[14]Idem, p. 109.

[15]Idem, p. 109.

[16]Sorin GHICA, “Gregorian Bivolari”guru”, lasat its fuga DIN tared” (Gregorian Bivolaru “Guru” was allowed to flee the country), in the national newspaper România Libera, April 7, 2005, Bucharest.

[17]Mr. D., “Guru Bivolaru in atentia cartii recordurilor” (Guru Bivolaru attracted the the attention of the Guinness Book), in the national newspaper Adevarul, May 9, 2005, Bucharest.

[18]Vali STIRBU, “Bivolaru arestat in Suedia” (Gregorian Bivolaru arrested in Sweden), in the national newspaper Cotidianul, April 6, 2005, Bucharest.

[19]*** “Ramasa will fara Guru, secta him Bivolaui destrama” (Without its Guru, the sect of Bivolaru dissolves), in the national newspaper Adevarul, May 5, 2005, Bucharest.

[20]Cf. *** national Recensamantui Al populatiei (National Census of the population) National Institute of Statistics, vol IV, Bucharest, 2003, p.390.

[21]Cf. *** national Recensamantui Al populatiei (National Census of the population), N.S.I., vol. IV, Bucharest, 2003, p. 390.