Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness

Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness

Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness

Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness

Synopsis

During the waning years of Soviet power, glasnost laid bare the distress of people trapped in a system they despised but felt powerless to change. The reexamination of values that began then continues today in the search for a new Russian culture, one rooted in the pre-Soviet past but dynamic and evolving, enabling Russians to meet the challenges they face in the contemporary world. Multi-textual, polyphonic, and contradictory, the current Russian cultural discourse is richly reflected in these essays by a diverse group of authors from Russian and American academic and cultural circles. Each chapter focuses on a particular cultural domain, surveying the historical origins of Russian beliefs and behaviors, exploring their Soviet and post-Soviet permutations, and highlighting the range of choices that Russians are facing at this critical juncture. The decisions they make will shape their society and culture for generations to come. Illuminating the universal significance of the Soviet experience, this volume raises provocative questions about the social, political, and economic sources of cultural change.

Excerpt

This project on Russian culture goes back to the spring of 1990, when several American and Russian scholars met at the Russian Research Center at Harvard University and decided to join forces in a study of the changes sweeping the Soviet Union. From the start, the participants agreed that they would not try to chase fast breaking news from Russia-- a hopeless task, given the pace of recent changes--but rather would focus on the continuity and change in Russian culture, on the long-term social forces that compel the Russian people to reexamine their values and reevaluate old ways.

We divided the labor so that each participant could explore a single cultural domain--religious, artistic, intellectual, political, economic, and so on. The borders demarcating each domain are not sharp, and the map of Russian culture we have drawn is admittedly arbitrary; but our survey is comprehensive enough to give the reader some insight into Russian culture, the key junctures in its historical development, and the momentous transformations it has been undergoing in recent years.

Our interdisciplinary project drew on the resources of both the humanities and the social sciences, which allowed for a cross-pollination of ideas. Our team of authors included historians, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and literary and film critics. The participants used a wide range of methods to explore their subjects, including personal interviews, analysis of Soviet literature, film, and fine arts, and opinion surveys. We proceeded on the assumptions that humanists and social scientists can learn much from each other, that sociological surveys illuminate relationships crying out for fresh interpretations, and that humanistic insights open new vistas inviting further sociological probing.

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