08 September 2014

A week in Cambridge looking at the relevance of
Russian religious philosophy to the world today

Strolling past Sidney Sussex College in the heart of Cambridge earlier this summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

As Western Europe continues to drift further and further from Russia, isolating itself from Russian social, economic, political and intellectual life, I am back in Cambridge this morning [8 September 2014] and spending the next week thinking about the way Byzantine thought was modified and developed by Russian philosophy, what role Western philosophy played in this process, the relevance of Russian religious philosophy to the contemporary world and the universal scope of Russian religious philosophy.

This is my third time back in Cambridge this year, and I am staying in Sidney Sussex College, where I am taking part in the annual conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. The conference opens this morning and continues until Wednesday evening [10 September 2014.

This year’s conference is addressing the topic: “Logos – Cosmos – Eros: Horizons and Limitations of Russian Religious Philosophy.”

The aim of the conference is twofold. First, it aims to discuss and evaluate the reception of Byzantine theology and philosophy by Russian religious thinkers in the 19th and 20th century. The conference investigates the way Byzantine thought was modified and developed by Russian philosophy, and what role Western philosophy played in this process.

It also addresses the question of how far the contribution of Russian thinkers can be regarded as a philosophically and theologically convincing continuation and development of the Byzantine tradition. One of the main tasks in this respect will be to establish the precise relationship between the sophiological tradition and the Byzantine essence-energy distinction.

Secondly, the conference will examine the relevance of Russian religious philosophy to the contemporary world. The characteristic features of this tradition are: all-unity (всеединство, vseedinstvo), epistemological realism, catholicity (собо́рность, sobornost’) and integral knowledge (цельное знание, tsel’noe znanie). These ideas are employed to envisage the transformation of the world towards its ultimate end and constitute a challenge to both modern and post-modern thought.

Russian religious philosophy is of universal scope. It not only joins theology with philosophy, but also emphasises the porosity between theology and all other academic disciplines such as cosmology, metaphysics, aesthetics, linguistics, anthropology, ethics, and the sciences.

The conference is expected to explore how far these vast but largely untapped intellectual resources can help us construct a genuinely Christian vision of God, of the world and of the self in the 21st century.

After registration and coffee, the opening speaker this morning is Professor Evert van der Zweerde of Radboud University, Nijmegen, who is speaking on “Sobornst between Theocracy and Democracy.”

In the afternoon, Professor Artur Mrówczynski-Van Allen, of the Institute of Philosophy Edith Stein, ICSCO, Theological Institute Lumen Gentium, Granada, is speaking on “The Body of Freedom. Theology of the Body as Political Philosophy. Modernity through Saint Ephrem the Syrian and Vladimir Solovyov.”

Later in the afternoon, the Russian theologian and philosopher, Dr Natalia Vaganova of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Moscow, will lecture in Russian on “Russian Sophiology as religio-philosophical synthesis of culture noveau.

The speakers tomorrow are: the Revd Professor Andrew Louth (University of Durham), Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia, the Revd Prof Nikolaos Loudovikos (University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki), and the Revd Tikhon Vasilyev (University of Oxford).

On Wednesday, the speakers are: Dr Ruth Coates (University of Bristol), Dr Clemena Antonova (Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna), and Dr Christoph Schneider (IOCS).

The conference comes to an end on Thursday morning with the annual visit to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.

Outside Sidney Sussex College in Sidney Street, Cambridge, earlier this summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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