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Models of Personal Conversion in Russian cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries

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Jens Herlth and Christian Zehnder

This volume offers a view of modern Russian intellectual culture as shaped by the dynamic of conversions. The individual contributions examine a rich variety of personal conversions occurring in a culture in which the written word enjoyed a privileged status and, historically, was closely linked to the sacred. However, the essays presented go beyond the original meaning of conversion as a change of religious beliefs. They address shifts in style, aesthetic outlooks, and mindsets, political and ideological transfigurations as well as religious conversions in the true sense of the term.
Whether at the level of culture, society or biography, the study of conversions opens the way to profound reflections about questions of identity, cultural ruptures, and continuity. The awareness of former conversions and the possible «convertibility» of one’s own ideological, spiritual or social stance has been among the central traits of Russian intellectual culture during the last two centuries.
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Leonid Borodin’s Rasstavanie: Orthodoxy and the Moscow Intelligentsia in the 1970s

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Leonid Borodin (1938–2011) was a well-known prose writer and laureate of many prestigious literary awards, both Russian and international, including the French PEN Club Freedom Prize (1982), an award by the Italian PEN club, awards by the Mayor of Moscow and the journals Iunost’ (Youth), Nash sovremennik (Our Contemporary) and Roman-gazeta (Novel-Newspaper), as well as the Premiia Aleksandra Solzhenitsyna in 2002. Alongside his novels and short stories he has also written numerous essays on social and political topics. He was known for his longstanding involvement with the conservative literary journal Moskva, whose mission statement, “the principle of non-involvement with political forces of any colour and its orientation towards Orthodoxy and statehood”,1 can safely be assumed to reflect its former director’s worldview.

An establishment figure during the last decades of his life, Borodin began his “career” in the underground in the 1960s–70s. In the underground he was active in precisely the fields he has been pursuing “officially” since the fall of the Soviet Union: he was a prolific author of fiction and wrote numerous essays on social and political topics, although he remained virtually unpublished until Perestroika. In addition he was involved with several samizdat journals, chiefly Veche (Popular Assembly) and Moskovskii sbornik (Moscow Collection), as a commentator and editor.

Orthodox Christianity was a motivating force behind Borodin’s literary and editorial ambitions from the very beginning. A large number of essays and interviews throw light on the centrality of Orthodoxy to Borodin’s...

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