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.
Sergei Bulgakov: The Potentiality of Conversion
From a superficial point of view, Sergei Bulgakov could be looked upon as one of the prototypes for personal conversion or reconversion in Russian cultural history. His “conversional” biography may be quickly told: he was a preacher’s son who lost faith in God by the “awakening” of his critical mind, and while again losing faith in positivist solutions to contemporary problems found his way back “to his father’s house”, returning to the Christian faith and even becoming an Orthodox priest himself.
There would be much to tell about this way back, his visions and “miraculous revelations” leading to his reconversion, but this is not the point here. Although conversion plays a huge role in Bulgakov’s personal life, it is – surprisingly enough – not present in his own anthropological system or is present only in a hidden way. Looking for a reason for this, I came to the following conclusion. One of the central features of Bulgakov’s anthropological system is his concern for all non-converted people, all the lost sheep, the lost sons of humanity, the Ivan Karamazovs and Stavrogins. Reading his eschatological writings about divine judgment and hell, “one hears in Bulgakov’s interpretation an echo of elder Zosima’s words in The Brothers Karamazov: ‘What is hell? I think that it is the suffering of that which can no longer be loved’” (Gavrilyuk, 2006: 121).
In fact, Bulgakov’s sophiology is all about the justification and salvation of humankind beyond individual conversions and despite modern blindness in...
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