Boris Paramonov


Dmitri N. Shalin

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In examining Russia’s cultural history one encounters an incontestable fact: the literary nature of its spirituality. At the same time, Russian literature is distinguished by its high caliber. If one examines Russia’s cultural significance in the context of the Western world, or generally attempts to evaluate the nation’s achievements on a Western European scale, one finds that Russian literature stands out with particular distinction. The West places Leo Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky on a par with Shakespeare, while Chekhov’s plays enjoy a popularity comparable with the Bard’s in the sheer number of theatrical performances, even in England, where Chekhov’s Western renown initially blossomed. Even second-rate Russian writers, such as Maxim Gorky, are remembered and cherished in the West to this day; today’s Russian would be surprised to learn that his play The Summer People -- a work utterly forgotten in Russia itself--was being staged on Broadway. This is not simply a matter of aesthetic admiration, of purely intellectual homage which Westerners pay to Russian literary culture; it is possible to observe Russian literature’s direct, “real life” influence on certain Western phenomena, a sociological effect. The emergence of a Western intelligentsia in the specifically Russian sense of the word followed these same Russian models. Interestingly enough, the aforementioned play by Gorky concerns the intelligentsia and its much-vaunted complex of “guilt before the people”--a theme quite familiar in the West today. Of course, such an influence would be impossible without some spiritual ground shared by Russia and the West, most readily characterized by Christianity. Russian literature was a Christian phenomenon, and this mutually influential interplay between Christianity and Russian culture will form the basis of my discussion.


Christianity and literature; Culture; Intellectual life; Religion and literature; Russian literature – History and criticism


Arts and Humanities | Cultural History | History | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Slavic Languages and Societies