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Humanities PhD student Cristina Plamadeala tackles the biggest mystery of all, human behaviour

Plamadeala's research uses philosophy and theology to explore collaboration with and resistance against the Romanian secret police
November 9, 2018
By Taylor Tower

Cristina Plamadeala: "I have always been curious about the human mind." Photo by Aristofanis Soulikias.

Cristina Plamadeala has always been interested in mysteries, particularly the complex human characters at their core. A student in Concordia’s Humanities interdisciplinary PhD program, she is using theology and philosophy to explore the phenomenon of collaboration with, and resistance against, the Securitate, Romania’s secret police during its communist period (1948-89).

And she’s doing it at two universities in two countries with supervisors of her choice through Concordia’s cotutelle program, which allows students to pursue doctoral research at two universities and earn a joint PhD.

As a full-time doctoral student, Plamadeala is working in collaboration with faculty from Concordia and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris to answer complicated questions about why people chose to collaborate with or resist the Romanian secret police: what were their motivations? How did they feel about their choices and how did they justify their actions?

“I have always been curious about the human mind and concepts such as free will,” she says. “I am convinced that one can’t understand a human being’s actions without seeing that person as both a mind and a soul.”

In her research, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Plamadeala looks at this historical phenomenon from a theological and philosophical perspective. Her Concordia supervisors are Lucian Turcescu, professor in the Department of Theological Studies and Elena Razlogova, associate professor in the Department of History. Pierre-Henri Castel is her supervisor at EHESS in Paris.

“My research has greatly benefited from working with three great supervisors,” says Plamadeala. “In the cotutelle program, you are given a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn, travel and meet new and interesting scholars.”

How did you first hear about Romania’s secret police and what made you want to dig deeper into that particular mystery?

Cristina Plamadeala: I heard about the Securitate while writing my MA thesis at Concordia on the life of Romanian theologian Antonie Plamadeala and his experience with the Securitate. From there, I became interested in the Securitate and Romanians' relationship with it during communism.

But it was my actual experience with Securitate files back in 2014 and 2016, when I was doing field research at Romania’s Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) that sealed the deal for me. As a result of these two research trips to Bucharest at CNSAS, I became interested in telling the story of the people mentioned in these files.

What is it like to read the Securitate files?

CP: It is a humbling experience. I remind myself a lot that the people they mention lived in very, very hard times and I can’t possibly understand everything they experienced. Still, my hope is to comprehend as much as I can about these people’s circumstances and to do that, I find myself at the mercy of the files to tell a story. My task is to put all the evidence together like pieces of a puzzle with the hope of getting as close to the truth as I can. But I ask myself, what is the truth? In this question, one can begin to see how interpreting these files is an intricate process.

How did you first hear about the cotutelle option at Concordia? Tell us a bit about your experience as a student at both Concordia and at EHESS in Paris.

CP: I heard about the cotutelle option from one of my colleagues in the Humanities interdisciplinary doctorate program. I knew of Pierre-Henri Castel’s work and very much hoped to work under his supervision. His writings on human behaviour, human psychology, the nature of evil and human action resonate with my own research interests. When I contacted him and inquired whether he would be interested in serving as my doctoral supervisor, he welcomed the idea with enthusiasm. This academic year I will be in Paris, pursuing my studies in Philosophy at EHESS under his guidance.

How have you and your research benefited from the cotutelle option? Would you recommend it to others?

CP: My joint PhD studies have been a great experience. I tend to think of one’s doctoral studies as a long, arduous run towards a much desired finish line. Your supervisors are like your coaches - they give you the advice, guidance and support you need to pace yourself and get to that finish line. And I could not have asked for better coaches.

As far as recommending the cotutelle option, it’s a firm yes.

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