Viola Teisenhoffer

Project title

From contemporary pagan renewal to public events: new forms of rituality, national identity and “re-enchantment” in Hungary

Project abstract

This research project aims to contribute to the ERC CZ “The re-enchantment of Central-Eastern Europe” by studying and comparing new forms of spiritual practice and public events that have emerged in Hungary since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Building on previous ethnographic fieldwork on the identity processes at work in contemporary pagan revival, it attempts to grasp the phenomenon of “re-enchantment” through the widest scope possible, focusing of the ethnographic study of public events that draw on ancient Hungarian history and folklore which also inspire pagan revival. This choice is justified by two main hypotheses. The first one is that the most salient characteristic of the religious and spiritual alternatives that have developed in the past thirty years is most likely the centrality of the idea of nationhood. The second is that festivals evoking putative or established traditions, notably the alternating biannual historical reenactment festivals Kurultaj (“Tribal gathering”) and Ősök Napja (“Ancestors’ Day”), the Busó Carnival in Mohács and the Easter Festival in Hollókő, convey more or less “secular”, religious or spiritual, but concurrent conceptions and experiences of being Magyar. The objective of this project is thus twofold. Through oral history, it attempts to shed light on the historic and social processes that shaped pagan revival and connect it to other spiritual practices that delineate the phenomenon of “re-enchantment” in Hungary. Through the study of the festivals mentioned above, it explores the ways new forms of rituality may generate the religious or quasi-religious experience of national belonging comparable to that afforded by Neopagan rituals.

Viola Teisenhoffer



Short bio

A native of Budapest, Viola Teisenhoffer was trained at Loránd Eötvös University (ELTE), then at Université Paris Nanterre where she obtained a PhD in ethnology. Afterwards, she became affiliated with the Groupe Sociétés, Religions et Laïcités (GSRL) research unit in Paris and worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at the LabEx History and Anthropology of Knowledge, Technologies and Beliefs (HASTEC). Specialized in the study of contemporary spiritualities, she conducted a long period of fieldwork among French practitioners of Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion, in Paris and in São Paulo. In her doctoral research, she sought to shed light on the ritual mechanisms at work in the production of a spiritual sense of self in a transnational worship group in France and in Brazil. The analysis showed, on the one hand, that these are relatively stable, despite the diversity of the cultural references of the group’s practices and its individual members draw from. On the other, ritual participation proved to be an essential and efficient means of identity construction, a powerful self-technique in this process. Her post-doctoral research continues and renews the study of these religious dynamics in another context and in a wider perspective. Based on an ethnographic research initiated in 2015, she studies the construction and the representations of a conspicuously Magyar and spiritualized national identity in Pagan revival in Hungary. Her research program focuses on the forms of religious and political engagement which elicit this identity construction. She has presented the results of her recent work in several seminars and conferences. 

Selected publications

2018    “Assessing ritual experience in contemporary spiritualities. The practice of ‘sharing’ in a New Age variant of Umbanda”, Religion and Society: Advances in Research, 9, pp. 131-144.

2013 “The power of submission? Personal growth and the issue of power among Umbanda practitioners in Paris”, in A. Fedele et K. Knibbe (éd.), Gender and power in contemporary spirituality. Ethnographic approaches, New York: Routledge, p. 78-98. 

2008    “De la nebulosa ‘misitco-esoterica’ al circuito alternativo. Miradas cruzadas sobre el New Age y los nuevos movimientos religiosos”, in A. Aguilar-K. Argyriadis-R. de la Torre-C. Guiterrez (eds.), Translocalisación y transnacionalisación de las práticas religiosas, Guadalajara: El Colegio de Jalisco / ITESO / IRD / CEMCA, p. 45-72.

2007    “Umbanda, New Age et psychothérapie. Aspects de l’implantation de l’umbanda à Paris”, Ateliers du LESC, nº 31, Religions afro-américaines: nouveaux terrains nouveaux enjeux, [Online since July 23 2007].

2001-2002 “Devenir médium à Paris. Apprentissage et adaptation dans l’implantation d’un terreiro de candomblé à Paris”, Psychopathologie africaine, Vol. XXXI-No 1, pp. 127-156 (co-authored with Stefania Capone).