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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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The Terrorist “Tigrych” versus the Monarchist Lev Tikhomirov: Why did Tikhomirov “Stop Being a Revolutionary”?

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The fate and personality of Lev Tikhomirov is of enormous interest in the context of the discussion about “Russian conversions”. Tikhomirov was a major figure in the Russian revolutionary movement of the late nineteenth century. On the one hand he was one of the leaders of the terrorist organization “Narodnaia Volia” (“People’s Will”) and on the other hand he was a “revolutionary apostate”. He left the party. And the peculiarity of his conversion was that he took the opposite side; he became a monarchist and a supporter of official Orthodoxy. Tikhomirov changed his beliefs to the opposite side of the political and ideological spectrum in the mid-1880s. Former comrades considered him a traitor. Right-wing politicians have used his “sermon” to strengthen the regime of monarchism. But we cannot say that his ideas and especially his personality were fully understood by both parties.

Tikhomirov’s Fate and Conversion

Tikhomirov became interested in revolutionary ideas as early as in high school. In 1871 he became a member of “the circle” of Chaikovskii (“kruzhok Chaikovskogo”) – organized by revolutionary populists in St Petersburg; one of the leaders was Nikolai Chaikovskii. It was the first party to carry out mass agitation among the workers and peasants in Russia. The so-called “Chaikovtsy” were the most significant organization among the early “Narodniki”. The “Narodniki” called for a revolution, and proclaimed socialist ideas. The “Chaikovtsy” counted about 60 active members; almost all of them later became leaders of the party “Narodnaia Volia”. In...

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