Prof-iles: From one frontier of Eastern Christianity to another

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After attending university in Budapest, Medeia Csoba DeHass moved to Alaska to conduct research on Eastern Christianity. As part of her PhD research, she has studied how Eastern Christianity and Alaska Native culture existed together in the community of Nanwalek. Photo credit: Young Kim

Born in Hungary during the communist regime, UAA professor Medeia Csoba DeHass, grew up cognizant about her religion. Before 1989, when the Communist system collapsed, religion was repressed. For Csoba DeHass, religion was a huge part of her life growing up — her grandfather was a priest of Eastern Christianity —and after 1989 a new Democratic system of government allowed her to be more open about her religion. After attending university in Budapest, she moved to Alaska to do research on Eastern Christianity.

“I was interested [in] looking at Eastern Christianity in Alaska, especially that was so displayed in Alaska Native communities,” Csoba DeHass said. “People are so proud of it, and yet I grew up in an era when you couldn’t talk about it, you had to hide it. If someone asked you, you couldn’t tell the truth about it. That was interesting to me, and I wanted to know more about it — when people are still Russian Orthodox in Alaska, today, even though the Treaty of Cession happened a long time ago.”

Csoba DeHass is currently an assistant professor of Anthropology and Alaska Native Studies. For her Ph.D. research, she lived in Nanwalek, a single denomination Russian Orthodox community, to understand the way Eastern Christianity and Alaska Native culture grew together. Not only did she live in Nanwalek, but Csoba DeHass was also a Postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth, where she was able to work with one of the most prominent scholars in ethnohistory. Csoba DeHass has been able to immerse herself in Alaska Native culture, and she believes that coming at the subject from a different perspective has helped her continue to learn.

“I do have this very immersive experience in this one area of Alaska, and I started such projects with other areas, but I think the key is you’re learning just as much in class,” Csoba DeHass said. “It doesn’t matter what class, but you are learning as much as your students are learning… I think it is more along the lines of sharing experiences.”

For Csoba DeHass, her experiences with Alaska have centered around her religion, and studying that religion in different contexts.

“If you look at the world, Hungary is here and Alaska is almost totally opposite,” Csoba DeHass said. “If you are looking at Russia, Eastern Christianity is totally prevalent there, the other half is more Western Christianity, so we are the two ends: Hungary and Alaska. We’re frontiers in that way when it comes to religion…It just interested me, people having very similar things in Alaska.”

Her passion for ethnohistory has kept in her Alaska for 15 years on and off, and she is currently working on a collaborative pilot project that looks at 3-D modeling of Alaska Native artifacts for heritage preservation. She hopes the project will restore knowledge to Alaska Native communities about artifacts that can only be found in museums today.

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“Now this piece that was sitting in a museum, nobody knew what it was, nobody knew about it in the community where it came from, [but] all of a sudden we can add knowledge back into the origin community because we know we can share 3-D models,” Csoba DeHass said. “That’s going to change how people think about themselves… maybe there are some artists who say, ‘Hey in a museum I saw this and this, and I think I’m going to try that.’”

In the future, Csoba DeHass hopes to continue working on 3-D modeling, and one day she would like to find a new research area, one that deals with the Finno-Ugric language group and heritage.