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Doubt, Atheism, and the Nineteenth-Century Russian Intelligentsia

Victoria Frede

Publication Year: 2011

The autocratic rule of both tsar and church in imperial Russia gave rise not only to a revolutionary movement in the nineteenth century but also to a crisis of meaning among members of the intelligentsia. Personal faith became the subject of intense scrutiny as individuals debated the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, debates reflected in the best-known novels of the day. Friendships were formed and broken in exchanges over the status of the eternal. The salvation of the entire country, not just of each individual, seemed to depend on the answers to questions about belief.
    Victoria Frede looks at how and why atheism took on such importance among several generations of Russian intellectuals from the 1820s to the 1860s, drawing on meticulous and extensive research of both published and archival documents, including letters, poetry, philosophical tracts, police files, fiction, and literary criticism. She argues that young Russians were less concerned about theology and the Bible than they were about the moral, political, and social status of the individual person. They sought to maintain their integrity against the pressures exerted by an autocratic state and rigidly hierarchical society. As individuals sought to shape their own destinies and searched for truths that would give meaning to their lives, they came to question the legitimacy both of the tsar and of Russia’s highest authority, God.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Members of the imperial Russian intelligentsia lived their lives in conversation, arguing or just exchanging their thoughts in drawing rooms, stairways, streets, and taverns, as well as in letters . . .

Note on Transliteration and Translation

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pp. xiii-xiii

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pp. 3-18

Youngsters like us,” Ivan Karamazov tells his brother Alesha, “must first and foremost resolve the eternal questions; that is our concern. The youth of Russia speaks of nothing but those timeless . . .

Part 1. Doubt

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1 Forbidden Fruit: The Wisdom Lovers

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pp. 21-53

Alexander Koshelev could not remember a more joyful time in his life than the night he spent in the late 1820s in St. Petersburg with Aleksei Khomiakov and . . .

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2 Providence and Doubt: Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Ogarev, and Their Friends

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pp. 54-86

I have a special demon—doubt; that is the wound of my soul.”1 In 1832, when Alexander Herzen addressed these words to his intimate friend Nikolai Ogarev, he was . . .

Part 2. Atheism

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3 Atheists of 1849: Katenev’s Tobacco Store Circle and Petrashevsky’s “Fridays”

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pp. 89-119

One Thursday night in the spring of 1849, at the Golden Anchor tavern in St. Petersburg, a young man named Vasilii Katenev began arguing with another customer and . . .

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4 Atheism as the Predicate for Salvation: Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Nikolai Dobroliubov

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pp. 120-149

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, two priests’ sons, Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Nikolai Dobroliubov, became Russia’s two most influential journalists. They were also the first to claim in print . . .

Part 3. Two Modes of Living without God

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5 Atheism and Apocalypse: Revolutionariesin the Provinces, 1856–1863

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pp. 153-180

In provincial towns of the Russian Empire, from Kharkov and Kazan to Viatka and Perm, a revolutionary movement developed with extraordinary rapidity during the late 1850s and . . .

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6 Doubt after Atheism: Dmitrii Pisarev

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pp. 181-208

Dmitrii Pisarev is remembered for the enormous influence his writings exerted over succeeding generations of Russian youths from the 1860s on. His articles, said to have been . . .

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pp. 209-213

The October Revolution of 1917 cast a long shadow backward, flattening the intellectual landscape of nineteenth-century Russia and draining it of its more nuanced colors. Amid all . . .


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pp. 215-265


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pp. 267-292


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pp. 293-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780299284435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299284442

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 779881505
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Doubt, Atheism, and the Nineteenth-Century Russian Intelligentsia

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Subject Headings

  • Atheism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Russia -- Religion -- History -- 19th century.
  • Anti-clericalism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Intellectuals -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
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