Veneta Todorova Ivanova is a historian of modern Europe focusing on cultural and social developments in Eastern Europe (including Russia) and the Balkans, with research interests in comparative socialism, the history of science and religion, global utopias, and theories and philosophies of modernity. Her current research centres on the interplay between socialism, occultism, religion, science and utopia in twentieth-century Europe.
The book manuscript that she intends to complete while a Max Weber Fellow, titled ‘Occult Communism: Culture, Science and Spirituality in Late Socialist Bulgaria,’ explores the unlikely infusion of state-sponsored spiritualism into the materialist ideology of Bulgarian late communism. In the 1970s, the Minister of Culture and daughter of party leader Lyudmila Zhivkova initiated grandiose state programmes to inject the “occult” into Bulgaria’s national culture, art, science and even political philosophy. Veneta examines three realms of what she terms ‘occult communism:’ Zhivkova’s domestic and international cultural initiatives; occult religiosity and the mystical movement known as the White Brotherhood; and occult science as embodied by the Scientific Institute of Suggestology. Using the lens of occult communism, her book problematizes the relationship between communism, modernity, science, and religion in the global 1970s and 1980s.
At the University of Illinois Veneta designed and taught both specialized upper-division undergraduate courses such as Cultural History of Eastern Europe: The Most Important Novels and Films and The Modern Balkans, and introductory classes such as Global History. In addition she led a number of discussion sections for large lecture classes from Western Civilization (both from Antiquity to 1660; and from 1660 to the Present), to the History of the Islamic Middle East, and Global History.
She obtained her PhD in history in 2017 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.