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CREES Noon Lecture. “Sin and Salvation in the History of Russian Spirituality.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

Victor Zhivov, professor of Slavic languages and literatures, University of California, Berkeley and Institut russkogo iazyka, Akademiia nauk. Sponsor: CREES.

East Slavic society was Christianized in the eleventh century and from that moment started to work out a penitential discipline based on peculiar notions of sin and salvation. Though dependent in its conceptualizations on Byzantine and partly also on Western models, Russian (East Slavic) spirituality followed a path of its own. There was no regular confession until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Notions of sin, transgression and trespass were much more vague than in Byzantium and there was nothing comparable to the widespread movement of religious culpabilization that characterized Western religious developments from the seventh century on. Conceptualizations of salvation corresponded to the laxity of penitential discipline. Salvation had to come through the general transfiguration of this world into the Kingdom of Heaven; this transfiguration did not depend on individual efforts and was foreshadowed by liturgy, not by private devotion. Sins did not preclude salvation even if unrepented; rather they stimulated the mercifulness of God. These conceptualizations profoundly influenced the construction of the self in Russian cultural practices and were one of the reasons why the disciplinary revolution in Russia was a failure. Their impact can be detected in Russian religious thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They can partly explain the peculiarities of the representation of the self in the Russian literature of the nineteenth century (in Gogol’s and Dostoevsky’s writing), the specificity of the Russian religious quest, and other important cultural phenomena.

Victor Zhivov divides his time between UC Berkeley and Akademiia nauk, Moscow. He received his PhD in Linguistics at Moscow University. His teaching and research interests include the history of the Russian language and Slavic literary languages, East Slavic and Byzantine cultural history, Old and 18th century Russian literature. His most recent books include Ocherki istoricheskoi morfologii russkogo iazyka XVII - XVIII veka and Razyskaniia v oblasti istorii i predystorii russkoi kul’tury. In addition to his current project from which this lecture is drawn, he is also researching the emergence of Russian nationalism as seen in Karamzin and Rostopchin, as well as a project related to syntax and rhetorical strategies in medieval and early modern Russian texts.