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Unit information: Anticipating the End: Russian Thought in the Shadow of Revolution (1890-1917) in 2018/19

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Unit name Anticipating the End: Russian Thought in the Shadow of Revolution (1890-1917)
Unit code RUSS30059
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Coates
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Russian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will explore and analyse developments in Russian thought from about 1890 to the October Revolution of 1917, a period commonly referred to as the Silver Age. Despite the continuing and increasing impact of socialist and materialist ideologies, notably Marxism, on Russian politics and culture in the decades preceding the Revolution, the Silver Age is defined rather by a parallel resurgence of interest in metaphysics, and a range of religious/spiritual responses to the uncertainties of the age: it is the philosophical expression of these which will form the basis of the course. The course is constructed around the notion of the anticipation of the end, a feature of early modernism that received particular attention in Russia due to its unique political situation in the years preceding the Bolshevik Revolution. The material, to consist largely of primary texts, will be delivered under four sub-themes: ‘living with uncertainty’, ‘love and death: routes to immortality’, ‘constructing the past, predicting the future’, and ‘apocalypse: articulating the end’. Thinkers to be covered include Vladimir Solov’ev, Dmitrii Merezhkovskii, Vasilii Rozanov, Lev Shestov, Pavel Florenskii, and Sergei Bulgakov.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will have become acquainted with key thinkers of the late imperial period. They will have an understanding of the social and cultural changes that gave rise to early modernism and of the latter’s central features. They will know what was distinctive about Russian early modernism and the reasons for its distinctiveness. They will be able to identify the key themes of Russian thought of the period and show how these are expressed in a range of texts. They will gain an insight into the relationship between religion, philosophy, the arts, and politics in late imperial Russia. They will be able to place the Russian Revolution of 1917 into a broader cultural context.

Teaching details

Lecture-seminar format, with students to give one, non-assessed presentation of between 20 and 30 minutes during the course.

Assessment Details

An essay of 3000 words (60%) A 2-hour exam (40%)

Each assessment will allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of modernist literature and history. They will be required to analyse closely a selection of the primary material studied and locate this material in its relevant historical and cultural context..

Reading and References

  1. Copleston, F. Russian Religious Philosophy: Selected Aspects (Tunbridge Wells: Search Press, 1988)
  2. Glatzer Rosenthal, B., and M. Bohachevsky Chomiak (eds.), A Revolution of the Spirit: Crisis of Values in Russia, 1890-1924 (New York: Fordham University Press,1990)
  3. Hamburg, G. M. and Randall A. Poole (eds.). A History of Russian Philosophy, 1830-1930: Faith, Reason, and the Defense of Human Dignity (Cambridge: CUP, 2010)
  4. Kelly, C., and D. Shepherd (eds.) Constructing Russian Culture in the Age of Revolution: 1881-1940 (1998)
  5. Matich, Olga. Erotic Utopia: The Decadent Imagination in Russia’s Fin de Siecle (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005)
  6. Read, C. Religion, Revolution, and the Russian Intelligentsia 1900-1912: the Vekhi Debate and its Intellectual Background (London: Macmillan, 1979)