Romani Studies

Praying through the pandemic: Religion, uncertainty, and care

Romani Studies (2021), 31, (2), 277–297.


Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Roma Pentecostal converts in England continued to meet for religious gatherings and communal prayer, either outdoors or in private homes of church members, despite measures put in place by the British government that limited the number of social contacts between individuals and at times forbade visiting other households. Among the members of the Life and Light church are many who belong to one of the high-risk categories for complications from Covid-19. Why would converts take part in activities that involved increased risk of virus transmission and increase their possibility of getting ill? This paper draws on informal online and in-person conversations with Roma that took place during the summer and autumn of 2020 and reflects on religion and communal prayer as a strategy of coping with the heightened uncertainty brought by the pandemic. It argues that participating in religious meetings where people jointly pray for others, both those who present and those who are absent, is an intangible form of care that helps to forge, shape, and maintain social relationships and creates a sense of belonging and continuity. In addition, praying is an embodied expression of one’s relationship to a transcendental entity, Jesus, and of placing oneself into the caring hands of God and Jesus. Lastly, the Church provides material support for members who are in a difficult financial situation. Participating in Church activities like prayer meetings is an expression of belonging to a religious collectivity and can help gain access to this material help in situations when access to state-provided care and material support is limited or absent, thus opening for church members the possibility of tangible forms of care. The paper looks at the role of religion in dealing with the uncertainty that Roma migrants experience when dealing with the state and going about their everyday lives and the upheaval and increased uncertainty brought by the pandemic.

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