Reading Russian Philosophy in the Age of Putin


04:00 - 05:30 pm  
Reading Russian Philosophy in the Age of Putin: Florensky and Rozanov
Joint Lecture with Diana Dukhanova and Christoph Schneider

Some academics and popular commentators have argued that we have entered a post-truth era. Has the loss of a metaphysical conception of truth also undermined our ability to recognize ‘factual truths’ of everyday life? Drawing on the Russian religious thinker Pavel Florensky, Christoph Schneider gave an outline of a notion of truth that avoids the shortcomings of both modernity and postmodernity. Florensky’s starting point is epistemology and he argues that Enlightenment approaches like empiricism, rationalism, and Kantianism cannot serve as the foundation for a philosophically convincing idea of truth. His labyrinthine argument then leads the reader, via radical scepticism, to existential questions, and finally to a notion of truth that integrates temporal contingency and synchronic difference – ideas that later came to dominate postmodern philosophy. Yet Florensky does not embrace relativism, fideism, and perspectivism, but articulates a Trinitarian, personalist idea of Truth that entails its own, ‘higher form’ of rationality.   

Vasily V. Rozanov (1856-1919) and Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), both prominent and controversial figures in the Russian Religious Renaissance, maintained a years-long correspondence starting in 1908 and lasting until Rozanov’s death. Their letters show the evolution of a complex intellectual and personal friendship between Father Florensky and Rozanov, who was accused throughout his lifetime of apostasy from the Russian Orthodox Church, revealing deep and often unexpected commonalities in their theology, philosophy, and social views particularly as it concerns marriage and family. Sharing messianic visions of holy Russia and fears about the decline of the Russian family, the two thinkers devoted a significant portion of their letters to the discussion of one of Rozanov’s key concerns: the role of the Jews in Russian history and society and their alleged contribution to the decline of Russian civilization, as well as the instructive elements of their family lives as examples of national self-preservation. This presentation explored the role of antisemitism and Judeophilia in Rozanov and Florensky’s correspondence, linking it to the wider role of antisemitism in historical and contemporary Russian messianism. 

Diana Dukhanova is Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of the Holy Cross in the US.

Christoph Schneider is the Academic Director at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge. 

05:30 pm Break

06:00 pm 
Reading Russian Philosophy in the Age of Putin: Dostoevsky and Putinism
Lecture by George Pattison

In his Valdai conference in Autumn 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin made two explicit references to Dostoevsky and possibly one implied reference. In one case, he cited the cancellation of a lecture course on Dostoevsky as evidence of the ‘cancel culture’ of the West and the attempt to obliterate Russian culture from the world. In the other he cited the speech of Shigalev (The Possessed) as illustrative of the destructive ideology directing Western policy, a total democratization that leads to total authoritarianism. Implicitly, he may also have alluded to Dostoevsky’s idea of Russian culture as capable of entering and affirming a pluralism of European cultures. It is not surprising that the Russian President uses Dostoevsky in this way, since Dostoevsky’s writings, fictional and non-fictional, are strongly nationalistic. The paper continues by exploring Dostoevsky’s Russian exceptionalism, with particular reference to The Diary of a Writer, Shatov’s speech (The Possessed) and the 2014 television adaptation that spun the God-building theme in the context of Russia-Ukraine tensions, and the homilies of the Elder Zosima. The paper argues that despite the prima facie plausibility of using Dostoevsky in support of Russian World ideology, a more spiritual reading of the ‘Light from the East’ theme remains, as realized in the writings of V. S. Solovyov.

George Pattison, Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Glasgow, formerly Prof. in Divinity at Oxford.

The evening was moderated by Clemena Antonova, Research Director at the IWM - The World in Pieces.

A recording of the lecture by George Pattison is available below.


This symposium is part of the lecture series "Reading Russian Philosophy in the Age of Putin".