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


Edited By 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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The Place of the Religious-Philosophical Seminar # 37 in the Witnessing of the Orthodox Christian Conception of “Anthropos” in Soviet Society


In later days the meetings of our seminar always took place on Sunday. We met in our church for worship, made our confessions. Received the Eucharist and then went to someone’s home. We soon stopped having a fixed place, but changed the place where we met, so as not to expose those who lived there to any danger. In matters like this KGB thinking runs along stereotyped materialist lines: … The person living there could lose his job, could be refused permission to live in Leningrad. In a state which is involved in everything and covers everything there are many ways of ruining a person’s life.1

Tat’iana Goricheva

In 1973, the Religious-Philosophical Seminar #37, one of the two best known unofficial Orthodox2 Christian seminars was established among young nonconformist intellectuals in Leningrad. The other Orthodox Christian seminar Obshchina3 (Commune) was founded in Moscow one year later. The initial idea for the creation of both seminars was an attempt to present alternative views within Soviet society in the 1970s. Participants in the seminars based their ideas and positions on interrelated religious, philosophical and cultural experiences. One of the important themes for the nonconformist Soviet intellectuals who led these seminars, was anthropos, in all that the ← 211 | 212 → concept entails.4 Some Soviet intellectuals could not accept an understanding of humanity based on the Soviet interpretation of Marxism and dialectical materialism, in which a man/woman was seen as a biological and material being without any spiritual attributes. As...

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