Methodological Details and Options
The main claim of this essay is that religion and migration are interrelated at various levels. While churches are often promoters of migration, the experience of living and working abroad has significant effects upon migrants’ temporary or definitive return to their country of origin. The empirical evidence analysed in this essay resulted from field research carried out in the summer of 2012.4 August was chosen for fieldwork, as it is a month of holiday during which many migrants temporarily return to Romania, thus providing us with access to individuals with rich and various experiences abroad. The research was aimed at studying the impact and the effects of international migration on sending communities, and it consisted of a series of 8 case studies carried in 8 rural communities chosen according to certain criteria.5 The crucial criterion was the migration rate in the community, calculated in 2001 for each of the administrative units in Romania through the Community Census of Migration.6 The other criterion taken into consideration was the accessibility of the community, as determined by connections researchers had with the communities in question.
Having a reliable informant in the community worked perfectly in two ways. First of all, it allowed us to form an incipient picture of social understandings in the commune when it comes to migration. Secondly, as the informant was what can be called a ‘public figure’ in the community,7 being associated with her in the eyes of community members made us have basically unlimited access to potential respondents. But apart from these positive implications, the very same relation with the informant may have been a limitation, in the sense that, on the religious affiliation axis, we were known to be Orthodox. It is very likely that this identification influenced the attitudes of Adventists towards us, as well as the discourses of the Orthodox. For example, group references were often framed as they (the Adventists, Adventistii), compared to us (the Orthodox, Ortodocsii). However, these dichotomous discourses were only present in the interactions with Orthodox. As such, in terms of identity construction and perceptions of religious differences, this is an analysis of the Orthodox positions and attributions.8
Another criterion on which group selection was based was the sociological visibility of the communities: we mostly directed our attention to communities that hadn’t previously been studied, in order to add value to our empirically informed insights following the research. In addition to these points, geographical characteristics were also taken into account: the eight communities that were eventually chosen represent different regions of Romania. This decision was made in order to enhance the variability of cases, types of migration experiences and migration effects encountered during the field study.
In this analysis, I exclusively employ data from one of the communities in which I coordinated the field research, the Seaca commune situated in Teleorman County in the Southern part of Romania.9 Here, a total of 19 interviews were conducted with migrants, non-migrants and representatives of local authorities and institutions, accompanied by daily interactions with members of the community.
This choice is related to the fact that the primary research method was the in-depth interview, with ample insights based on researchers’ observations and field notes. As the time spent in each community was relatively short (about a week), the directly observed social relations, the visible social practices and the first-hand accounts about the constituency of the social space in the community are of high relevance, because they provide background elements in the analysis. A factual aspect must also be considered: all the interviews were recorded, but there are various additional conversations that took place with members of the community in different day-to-day situations. These ad-hoc encounters were invaluable resources for shaping the community’s profile and for the substantiation of researchers’ understanding.