Professor Conducts Research in Romania

Robert Egbert concludes six years of gypsy studies

By: Becky St. Clair

A Rom family at home.

A good-natured Rom couple poses in front of their home.

In early 2008, Robert Egbert, professor of psychology and education at WWU, completed a six-year study on Romanian gypsies, known as Rom.  His focus was two-fold.  The first was on prejudice and intolerance, the second on the motivation for belonging to fundamentalist churches in Romania, such as Seventh-day Adventist, Pentacostal, and others.

Egbert’s interest was piqued on several visits to Romania.  His abiding interest in social and cultural anthropology drew him to the people, and after getting to know the Rom, he found himself fascinated.

His research included traveling to Romania, reading the few books there are on the Rom and religion, interviews, and collaboration with colleagues in Romania.  Together, Egbert and his Romanian colleagues developed a questionnaire in their language, making it easier to conduct surveys and interviews. 

One conclusion Egbert drew from his research was that there is a heightened degree of overt intolerance in Romania, beyond what is usually experienced.  Communist restrictions have been lifted and people are making individual decisions to be less accepting.

“The Rom has for generations been a pariah in a variety of countries,” says Egbert.  “Hitler even tried to have them extinguished.  Now that they have their freedom, the Romanian people are claiming their freedom to be intolerant.”

Egbert also found that the intolerance levels have dropped recently.  This is due in part to the Rom trying to integrate into the general community rather than live in ghettos.  The role of church membership appeared to play a role in the assimilation of the Rom.

After interviewing several families that belong to churches, Egbert found that to some extent the Rom are using church membership to facilitate integration into the community.  However, he also discovered that there were some who truly believed in what the churches they were members of stood for.

“I have been amazed at the resilience of the Rom families, in spite of all that they have been through,” says Egbert.  “Through the genocides, burnings, killings, and otherwise difficult life experiences, they have persevered.  They thrive in the face of enormous prejudicial behavior."

Egbert will present more on his research findings at a Brown Bag session on Tuesday, November 11, at 12 p.m. in the WWU Church Youth Room.  For more information on Brown Bag sessions, call 509-527-2431.

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