Religious aspects of Russia's non-religious philosophy



 In the nineteenth century Russia started to take its place among those nations which were the producers, or at least, the bearers of philosophers. The phenomenon of philosophical flourishing in Russia is, in fact, almost limited to this particular century, with a few seventeenth century precursors, and with an overflow into the twentieth century, consisting largely of the ideologies, theories and thoughts of men who were natives of the nineteenth century.

 The question that concerns this work is the relationship between these philosophies (and the various russian schools of philosophy) and religion.  

Obstacles in treating of philosophy, religion and relations

 One of the obstacles that can be encountered in treating themes of 'religion', 'philosophy' and 'relations' is the meaning that is applied to these words. In different authors and different systems the conception in mind can be quite varied.

 In this work, therefore, the words 'philosophy', and 'philosophical', are used in the wide sense of including not just philosophical systems, theories and ideas, but also political plans and ideologies. In this way the usage of the word will tend to be very western. At the same time, it is important to recognize that this word has a wider meaning than is usually attributed to it in the western schools of philosophy.

 Accordingly one can note that between the typical or original eastern approach to thought, thinking and wisdom, and that approach common in the West there lies a great contrast and some essential differences. In the West, there is little doubt that the philosophical approach, has always tended to be very intellect-centered, whether that be in its christian or non-christian forms. In the East the philosophical method is much less intellect-centered, in fact it might be described as being heart-centered, due to its mystical characteristic, of trying to grasp (feel at home with) that with which it is concerned, rather than trying to systematically understand and explain, that with which it is confronted. Thus, within the context of russian religious philosophy, one finds that thought is often accompanied by and based upon elements of faith, of religious ideas and themes; this causes a problem for the western mind with respect to distinguishing the philosophical from the theological.

Thus, the basis for philosophy, or the reasons for philosophizing, can be very varied as is the case between East and West. Philosophy, therefore, can find its inspiration in religious faith, in mystical and non-mystical experiences, in emotional needs or desires, in ethical needs, in metaphysical questions, in social contexts and so forth.

 Further still, the philosophy of life tends to be very different from one ambient to another and while one can say that great thinkers like Scotus, Heidigger or Sartre were philosophers (who systematized a philosophy), writers like Pu?kin, Cicero and Shakespeare must also be accredited with having a philosophy (which is non-systematic, but literary), and the intuition of a mystic or an icon painter is also a philosophy (neither systematic nor literary, but mystical and symbolic, touching the heart with a meaning of life, maybe even the simplest), and sometimes it is the simplest of peasants who have grasped the meaning of life, even more so than the learned and the intellectual.

 In the course of the present work, for the sake of clarity, the word ‘philosophy’ will limit itself to the scientific and logical meaning rather than to the mystical or intuitive, not with regards to the original inspiration behind the various philosophers, but rather with respect to the evolution of their thought and beliefs. There is little doubt however, that the religious philosophy of Russia tends to be very different in its dynamics, not only from the non-religious philosophy of Russia, but also from western philosophy, in that it asks different questions, searches along different ways, and comes up with a different type of conclusion.

The non-religious russian philosophers were greatly influenced by western thinkers, nearly all of whom have written after René Descartes (1596-1650). The religious philosophy of Russia in its earlier forms tended to the mystical and was very dependent upon the church Fathers. The latter religious philosophers tried to answer contemporary questions using this earlier type of model. It is also important to note that the western and post-cartesian philosophers were living, thinking and writing in a world that had a different relation to God and religion, a world in which, due to rationalism, idealism and illuminism, it was necessary to assert the existence of God, as well as the right of religion and the right of the Church to exist. These no longer were stable and unshakable foundations, but had by now become questions. In the East this foundation remained until much latter in the present millennium than in the West, however, the ideas borrowed from the West, by philosophers of the last century had a foundation of critical doubt. There is, thus, a major difference with regards to the metaphysical conviction to be found in the East and in the West.

 Similarly, in using the words 'religion' and 'religious', various concepts such as 'Church', 'theology', 'God', 'spiritual experiences' and 'spiritual life' will be included. Thus, in this wider sense, the word 'religion' and 'religious' is used more in its philosophical-culturological sense rather than in the theological.

 Finally, the word 'relation' can have various meanings. It can imply dependence on, being caused by another, but it can also have the meaning of promoting, or of controlling the other. In the context of this work, the meaning of the word in question will also include the sense of influence and opinion.

 Sources and limitations

 The basis for this work are the writings of many of the philosophers of the period under consideration, as well as several histories of russian philosophy and various encyclopedias.

Using these resources religious dimensions of russian non-religious philosophy will be examined primarily, from the perspective of philosophy in its various disciplines: political, social, anthropological etc. The extension of this examination will be principally directed to more general trends rather than to a strict inquiry regarding each individual philosophy or philosopher.

 Consequently in the flow of this work a picture of the philosophical-religious context of russian history will be portrayed, thus, allowing for the possibility of evaluating the mutual influence and inter-relation of religion on and to philosophy, and therefore also, to anthropology, cosmology, sociology, aesthetics, metaphysics and finally theology in both its natural and supernatural aspects.

 As in the case of many philosophical and theological works of scientific nature there is often the possibility to use the fruits in other and various aspects of human life and society. It is felt that this portrayal of the relation between religion and philosophy, in the russian historical context, might be a stepping-stone for arriving at a more profound knowledge and acquaintance of the russian cultural, political and religious milieu. It is a sincere hope, that one of the fruits of this work or, at least of the study involved in its preparation might be of help to further development in the ecumenical field and in the pastoral dynamic that is necessary for the people and the peoples of Russia.

 Exclusion, extension and problematics of the theme

 One of the characteristics of many histories of russian philosophy is to limit largely the theme of religion-philosophy in Russia to russian religious philosophy, as is found in the writings of men like Vladimir Solovyov, Sergej Bulgakov, Leo ?estov etc. However studies which treat of religious dimensions of the non-religious philosophers are certainly more scarce.

 The relation of religion and philosophy, as this thesis seeks to argue, is to be found, not just, in the 'religious philosophers', but also in the non-religious and even the anti-religious philosophies of men like Nikolaj Èerny?evskij and Lenin. In the decades of russian philosophical history, there is yet another phenomenon, that of the semi-religious philosophers, who relate to religion in either positive or negative ways, whether they be the great literary authors or an Aleksej Chomjakov, an Alexander Radishchev or even a Nikolaj Michajlovskij.

 a) Categorization of various philosophical authors

One of the major hindrances in exposing this extension of the relation of religion and philosophy is that many of the Russian philosophers may be classified as being religious, or semi-religious, or of being anti-religious or semi-religious only with great difficulty. As regards those who might be considered to be semi-religious the question arrises concerning the criteria upon which to evaluate both the various thinkers and their philosophies: the criteria can accordingly be of many different types, moral, social, spiritual, metaphysical, psychological, emotive and so forth.

In treating of the topic of the 'religious dimensions of russian non-religious philosophy', the primary purpose will be to attempt to make a clear sketch of the relation between these two aspects of russian history. In evaluating different philosophers, critical judgements will only be made if felt necessary, for it is often very unclear and maybe impossible to decide if the relation of various philosophies to religion is of a positive or a negative quality.

 A further difficulty in the evaluation of the relation of various philosophers and philosophies to religion has to do with the problem of the principles or viewpoints from which one evaluates this type of relation. Thus, while for instance, a philosophical materialist might judge, the relation of the thoughts of the writer Lev Tolstoj to religion as a positive development in the history of the development of russian thought, the same writer's ideas would be considered to be a negative development from a traditional orthodox conception of the relation of religion and philosophy. If it is necessary to make any judgments regarding this relation in any particular context, then the criteria employed in making such an evaluation concerning the positive or negative role that particular ideas or systems of thought have played in this particular context will be based on the way that they have contributed to philosophical development, whether that contribution itself be negative (condemnatory) or positive (assertive). At the same time, while trying to avoid making moral judgments, it would certainly be beneficial to keep in mind, as far as possible, the anthropological, moral, cultural and socio-political forces that were at play in throughout russian history.

 One of the aspects to be noted in the definition of this work, concerns the contrast between religious and non-religious philosophy, a contrast that begs the question regarding the difference between the two and, above all, regarding the exclusion of religious philosophy and philosophers within the following presentation.

 To treat of all russian philosophy and thus of both religious and non-religious philosophy would more than likely lead to a great deal of repetition of other authors in the present work, something which is obviously quite undesirable. Likewise it is felt that such an inclusion (of the element of religious philosophy) would distract the attention from what is considered to be important and greatly underdeveloped, that is the religious dimension of non-religious philosophy, which in itself can certainly be considered to be a work apart, and whose meaning and importance when confounded with the religious philosophy becomes lost in the contrast with Russia's overwhelming religious philosophy. Similarly, it does not make sense to speak about the religious dimension of russian religious philosophy, which one would be compelled to do in following the structural division upon which this work has being prepared and written. Another fascinating area of research, both philosophically and theologically, would undoubtedly consist in examining the influences of the religious dimensions of russian non-religious philosophy and russian culture and history, upon russian religious philosophy, a task that goes beyond the purpose of this present work.

 Finally I feel that it is somewhat important to mention those philosophers who are not included in this thesis because they are considered to be religious philosophers: Georgij Skovoroda, Vasilij Rozanov, Nikolaj Fyodorov, Sergej Bulgakov, Vladimir Solovyov, and Nikolaj Berdjaev. Semi-religious philosophers such as Pyotr Struve and Simeon Frank, will be mentioned in passing. Although the latter played an important role in the development of the legal marxists, neither of the two is considered to be of great importance as a religious philosopher. Similarly the literary intelligentsia of the last century, such as Tolstoj, Dostoevskij, Gogol, Pushkin and Turgyenyev, will not be treated, While the first two, in particular, had a great deal to say regarding religion, they were writers rather than philosophers. However, if Tolstoj is to be considered a philosopher because of his ethics, he ought to be considered a religious philosopher due precisely to the spiritual dimension of his ethics.

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