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

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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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Between Schlegel and Baader: Stepan Shevyrev’s Conversion to Orthodox Literary Science in the European Cultural Context

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Among the few examples of conversion in the Russian culture of the first half of the nineteenth century, the case of Stepan Petrovich Shevyrev (1806–64) is both little known and little researched. On the one hand, this is due to the marginality of Shevyrev (philosopher, critic, poet, literary historian, and professor at Moscow University) in the modern cultural pantheon; on the other hand, it is connected with the obvious lack of investigation into the interaction between religion and the public sphere in Russia in the 1820s–40s. As the protagonist of this article played a very important role in the intellectual life of Russia in this period, a discussion of the transformation of his worldview is, by definition, a discussion about an entire generation of Russian Slavophiles who, like Ivan Kireevskii, lived through the transition from the earnest Westernization of the 1820s to the even more earnest Slavophilia of the 1840s.

However, my attention will be focused not on any actual religious conversion by Shevyrev (he was always an Orthodox Christian), but rather on his transformation from an adept of the strictly scientific, antireligious study of literary history to an adherent of a new science based on faith and Christian philosophy. Since the conflict between religion (faith) and science (knowledge) was one of the most-discussed problems in European and Russian philosophy and journalism of the 1820s and 30s, the case of Shevyrev provides the perfect opportunity to follow the results of the search for an...

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