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Conference on "The Occult in 20th Century Russia"

  • 2007-03-11
  • 2007-03-12
  • Berlin, Germany
The Occult in 20th Century Russia - Since the fall of communism, there has been a marked return of religion in post-Soviet Rus¬sia. This trend coincides with the revival of religious factors in international relations, espe¬cial¬ly after 9-11, when what Huntington has called “the clash of civilizations” has become a vital issue. The return of interest in religion can be seen in the sense of a reverence for the great established religions, but also in a wide range of quests for spiritual new orientations. This yearning has been manifested on all levels of society (in high culture as well as a year¬ning for the spiritual in popular culture and everyday life, expressed often in an interest in unconventional religious practices, in the humanities as well as in the natural and social scien¬ces and politics). The search for some form of spirituality has become a vital issue for individuals as well as larger groups, both in private and public spheres. It reaches far beyond the institutionalized churches and established religions. One of the most fast-growing areas involved on all social levels, is an immersion in the ideas and practices of the occult and esoteric. - Soviet civilization, its claims to “scientific atheism” notwithstanding, was from the very beginning influenced by religion. It defined itself as a purely rational ideocratic society, a society based on work, on science, and an empirical knowledge, yet its cult of the rational was taken to such an extreme that one could talk in terms of a “rationalistic religion”. - Since the 1960 and 1970s, there has been a marked reaction against this “cult of the Rational” and countervailing concepts became popular both in artistic practice and in everyday life. Expressions of reaction against Soviet speak (such as the playful undermining of the official rituals of political self-representation by the Mos¬cow conceptualists; neopagan underground circles; mystical sects and communes in the two capitals and in the ‘provinces’; a revival of eastern religious concepts and philosophy; expe¬ri¬ments with drugs and transcendental practices that expand consciousness). - The main issue to be discussed at the conference is, if or how far today’s rejection of the ra¬tional and reference to irrational and antirational sources represents a radical break with the rational past of Soviet society or to what extent it represents a continuation of the anti-rational reaction to it, and thus a continuation or an intensification of elements in Soviet civi¬li¬zation. Questions will include: In which areas and along which lines of conflict does a break occur? What are the effects of the specific Russian idiosyn¬cra¬tic ex¬pressions of reac¬tions against the Soviet order and reality (to be found in such cults as an ob¬session with trash)? Should we view the current “cult of nihilism” that is becoming wi¬de¬spread as purely a negative reaction against the Soviet “cult of humanism”? Where can one pinpoint con¬nections, and where breaks, between the “old (Soviet) cults and the various new ones”? How have the borders between established religions, such as ortho¬dox Chri¬sti¬a¬nity, Buddhism/ Hinduism, Judaism and unconventional religious practices to be found in Shamanism and other esoteric beliefs, shifted in this recent turn to the religions? - The conference will bring together scholars from different countries (Germany, Russia, Fran¬¬ce, America) and different disciplines (anthropology, history, literary scholarship, me¬dicine) to explore relational metaphysical aspects of Soviet and post-Soviet society, while also attempting to put its findings in a comparative context, by comparing trends in the West. The aim is to produce a book based on the conference material which will address this complex topic. - It is quite remarkable the extent to which little concretely is known about spiritual and occult practices and thought in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Hence at the conference itself a cru¬cial aspect will be the sheer collection of information and exchange of ideas between scho¬lars of different countries and disciplines in the aim of advancing this area of knowledge. There are four main topics which the conference will address: - Material related to spiritual practices in late Soviet society (1960 - late 1980s); - Influences of neopagan and esoteric concepts in literature and art and their function both within the works, themselves, and in society; - The role and function of mystical, spiritual and occult ideas in the development of political ideologies; - The impact of this thought on various sciences (astrophysics, cosmotechnology, eastern and oriental studies, medicine, (para-)psychology etc.). Conference-Program. March 11-13, 2007, Berlin, European Academy The Occult in 20th Century Russia / Оккультизм в России Metaphysical Roots of Soviet Civilization Sunday, March 11,2007 3:00 -3:30 pm Coffee 3:30 - 4:00 pm Opening (Birgit Menzel) Panel 1: Historical Roots of the Occult in 20th Century Russia 4:00 - 5:00 pm Key note Speech Bernice Rosenthal (Fordham University, New York, History) Occultism in Fashion: A Historical Perspective 5:00 - 5:45 pm Renata von Maydell (Universität Bochum/Heidelberg, Lit.&Cultural Studies) Anthroposophy in Early Soviet Russia 5:45 – 6:30 pm Andrej Arkhipov (Stanford University, CA.) Glottosophy of the Russian Avant-garde 7:00 pm Dinner 8:00 – 9:00 pm Film on Georgij Gurdjieff (?) Monday, March 12, 2007 Panel 2: Esoteric Aspects of Soviet Intelligentsia I. (Philosophy, Art and Politics) 9:00 - 9:45 am Mikhail Epstejn (Emory University, Atlanta) Maternye korni sovetskogo materializma 9:45 – 10:30 am Michael Eskin (Harriman-Institute, New York) Soul and Spirit: The Case of Bakhtin 10:30 -11:00 am Coffee 11:00 – 11:45 am Markus Osterrieder (München) From Synarchy to Shambala. Political Occultism and Social Messianism in the Dealings of Nicolai Roerikh 11:45 – 12:30 am Oleg Shishkin (Moskau) Nachalo okkul’tnogo i paranormal’nogo proekta sovetskikh spetssluzhb: dekabr’ 1924 – avgust 1925 goda 1:00 – 2:00 pm Lunch Panel 3: Esoteric Aspects of Soviet Intelligentsia II. (Science, Fiction and the Occult) 2:00 - 2:45 pm Michael Hagemeister (Universität Frankfurt/Oder, History) The Occult Sources of Soviet Space Travel 2:45 - 3:30 pm Matthias Schwartz (Freie Universität Berlin; Lit.&Cultural Studies) Guests from Outer Space. Science Fiction in the Thaw and its Impact on the Post-Soviet Present 3:30 - 4:00 pm Coffee 4:00 - 4:45 pm Annett Jubara (Universität Mainz/Germersheim, Philosophy) Hermetism and spiritual exclusiveness as communicative structures of post-Stalinist Soviet Science 4:45 – 5:30 pm Rebecca Jane Stanton (Columbia University, New York) Magical Discourses in Soviet Literature to the Thaw 6:00 pm Dinner Tuesday, March 13, 2007 Panel 4: Religion and the Occult in Late Soviet Intelligentsia 9:00 - 9:45 am Valentin Nikitin (Moscow) Ezotericheskie kruzhki i sekty ( v okrainosti pravoslavnoi cerkvi) 9:45 – 10:30 am Arkady Rovner (Moscow) The Gurdjieffian Circles in Moscow – a Participant’s Recollections and Analysis 10:30 – 11:00 am Coffee Panel 5: The Occult in Post Soviet Russia I. (Psychology and Popular Culture) 11:00– 11:45 am Tatyana Meira-Kochetkova (University of Nijmegen/Netherlands; Philosophy) Parapsychology and Transpersonal Psychology in Russia and in the West 11:45 – 12:30 am Eliot Borenstein (New York University, New York, Literary & Cultural Studies) The Porous Self: New Age Subjectivity in Post-Soviet Popular Culture 1:15 – 2:30 pm Lunch Panel 6: The Occult in Post Soviet Russia II. (Politics, Neopaganism, Shamanism) 2:30 – 3:15 pm Mark Sedgwick (American University, Cairo; History of Religion) Soviet Dissident Culture under Putin: Alexander Dugin 3:15 – 4:00 pm Marlene Laruelle (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris, History) Occultism in the Russian Neo-Pagan Movements: In Search of a National and a Natural Spirituality 4:00 – 4:30 pm Coffee 4:30 – 5:15 pm Natalja Zhukovskaia (RAN, Moscow; Anthropology and Ethnology) Shamanizm v srede rossiiskoi intelligentsii (postsovetskoe vremia i prostranstvo) 5:15 – 5:45 pm Catha¬rine Nepomnyashchy (Harriman-Institute, New York) ClosingRemarks 5:45 – 6:30 pm Plenary Discussion

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