Centre Russkii Mir opened at Durham University

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On April 23 2013 at Durham University in Northeast England a new Russian Center was officially opened at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. The Center in Durham was named after Sergei Averintsev, the distinguished Russian philologist and cultural historian. Professor Mikhail Epstein shared his recollections about Mr. Averintsev and assessed his contribution to the humanities.

On April 23 2013 at Durham University in Northeast England a new Russian Center was officially opened at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

The Russian Center in Durham was named after Sergei Averintsev, the distinguished Russian philologist and cultural historian. Professor Mikhail Epstein shared his recollections about Mr. Averintsev and assessed his contribution to the humanities.

Mikhail Epstein on Sergei Averintsev:

The task of Russkii mir is to open Russia to the world. The name of Sergei Averintsev is the perfect symbol of such an openness, a symbol of the spiritual synthesis where the best of the West and the best of the East share both their Christian legacy and their aspiration for a humanistic and democratic future. 

Sergey Sergeevich Averintsev (1937 – 2004) was an outstanding Russian philologist, specialist in literary history and theory. For several decades, from the 1970s to the mid–1990s, he served as a senior researcher at the Institute of World Literature in Moscow. From the mid-1990s to his death he was a professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Vienna.

But who really was Sergei Averintsev? It would be easier to say who he was not. In the field of the humanities he was almost everything that a person can be: a philologist, a philosopher, a theologian, a cultural historian, a literary theorist, a translator, and a poet. He was a man of encyclopedic erudition that covered Greek and Roman antiquity, the New Testament, Middle East, Byzantium, European Middle Ages, classical Russian literature and philosophy, Russian Silver Age, and 20th c. Western literature and religious thought. He was a philosopher in the deepest dense, a seeker and lover of wisdom. As probably nobody in Russian humanities he interpreted cultural phenomena in multiplicity of their intertextual and intersdisciplinary projections. He was a most broadly thinking humanist but with a very firm standing in humanistic and religious foundations of Russian and European culture. His thinking was opposed to totalitarianism of any kind, be it communism or fascism, religious fundamentalism or technocratic pragmatism. His credo was a combination of faith and freedom. He could repeat after St. Augustine: “Believe in God and do what you want”.

Averintsev was born in 1937, in the year when Stalin planned to exterminate completely religion in the USSR and tens of thousands of priests were killed and tens of thousands of churches destroyed or turned into warehouses. Averintsev has done more than any other Russian intellectual to restore the connection of our contemporaries with the spirituality of the past thus opening the way to the spirituality of the future. Since the late 1960s, with publication of his articles in the five volume Phiolosophical Encyclopedia and his book The Poetics of Early Byzantine Literature(1977), he established himself, as they say in Russia, as vlastitel’ dum, the ruler of the minds of Russian intelligentsia. He reversed the relation between politics and culture in the minds of many intellectuals. Under Soviet regime, culture was believed to be a tool of politics. For Averintsev, politics was only one small segment of culture, inscribed in larger and spiritually more rich segments, such as literature and language, philosophy and theology. He can be considered, along with Mikhail Bakhtin, who belonged to a previous generation and whom Averintsev admired, a founder of Soviet and post–Soviet culturology, an integrative, multidisciplinary approach to culture.

Once Averintsev said: “The present is so important because through it the mysterious depth of the past and the mysterious breadth of the future reveal themselves through an encounter with one another”. Let this Averintsevian openness to the past and the future through the medium of the present be our guide in all our scholarly and teaching endeavors.

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