Russian culture: Keys to Understanding


S.B. Koroleva


Keys to Understanding Russian Culture


Russian culture is an important phenomenon in the history of human civilisation. The term “Russian culture” here first and foremost refers to the Russian language, folk art and fine arts such as literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, theatre and cinema. It seems that the worth and uniqueness of Russian culture will become evident as soon as one sees, hears and reads enough about it, in other words, accumulates the necessary amount of knowledge about the culture. It may be so. However, one should understand the nature of different cultural phenomena and inner connections between them, what they tell of Russian culture on the whole, not merely learn facts about it. It means to understand the spiritual foundations of the Russian civilisation.

Different Views and Approaches

 The stances on spiritual foundations of Russian culture have been different at different times. The tradition of studying the peculiarities of national cultures originated from comparative linguistics in the first half of the 19th century. In the works by J. Herder, F. Schelling, W. von Humboldt an attempt was made to study the nature of nationality, and such terms as “national character”, “national spirit”, “soul of the nation” were being developed. National characters were studied in a similar way both in the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century (R.W. Emerson, M. Arnold, N.Y. Danilevsky).

However, at the turn of the 20th century a new idea emerged, claiming that this approach was subjective (e.g. S.L. Frank). In contemporary works on nationality it is emphasised that there is some extent of conventionalism in attributing traits to the “spirit of the nation” or the “national character”; that these ideas were influenced by an artificial construct (B. Anderson, H. Dyserinck).

There exists another point of view: a real unity is found between a national culture and objective general concepts of the people, i.e. their values, ideas and standards of behaviour (E. Gellner, E. Hobsbawm, V.A. Tishkov, N.M. Lebedeva). We shall assume the latter point of view and shall associate the spiritual foundations of Russian culture with fundamental values and peculiarities of social archetypes – the invariant forms of relations within a society (in our case – the Russian society).[1]

[1] Plyusnin. Y.M. Kontseptsiya sotsialnogo arkhetipa. [Concept of a Social Archetype. Novosibirsk: Institute for Philosophy and Law of the Siberian Branch of the RAS] 1991. 30 p. P. 4.

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