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The Orthodox Wanderer, Folklore Studies, and Russian Writers of the 19th Century

An online lecture by Dr. Charles Arndt  

“The [Orthodox] wanderer (strannik) as a type is so characteristic of Russia and so beautiful,” asserts religious philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev in 1918. This statement was made just four years following the end of the “long 19th century.” It could have just as easily been uttered by a number of writers of Russia’s Golden Age, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchredrin, Nikolai Nekrasov, and Nikolai Leskov, all of whom incorporated wandering figures prominently in their work.

But who is this “wanderer” and why is he considered indicative of Russian spirituality? In his lecture, Dr. Charles Arndt will explain the terms for wandering in the Russian language and review the religious milieu which gave rise to this particular type of Orthodox Christian asceticism. The lecture will investigate why Russian authors of the 19th century took such an interest in this religious figure. In fact, the attractiveness of the wanderer on the part of Russian intellectuals is inextricably connected with the boom in Russian ethnographic and folklore studies, which gained momentum in the mid-to-late 19th century.
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About the Speaker

Charles Arndt is an Assistant Professor of Russian Language and Literature at Vassar College. He received his PhD from Brown University, where he defended his dissertation “Dostoevsky’s Engagement of Russian Intellectuals in the Question of Russia and Europe: From ‘Winter Notes on Summer Impressions’ to The Devils.” He has written articles on Dostoevsky’s literary relationship to the work and persona of Nikolai Karamzin and Denis Fonvizin, on religious wandering (strannichestvo) in Dostoevsky’s novel The Adolescent, as well as on wanderers in the works of several other 19th-century Russian authors. Professor Arndt has also written on Nikolai Leskov’s use of hagiographical devices in the short-story “The Cadet Monastery” and co-authored an article on one of Russia’s first illustrated journals published for pilgrims. His latest project is a full-length manuscript on wanderers in 19th century Russian literature, titled “‘Our Common People Are a Vagrant Before Anything’: Wanderer-Pilgrims in the Nineteenth-Century Russian Literary Landscape,” which has been accepted by Slavica Publishers and is due to come out in November.

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This virtual lecture is presented live via Zoom. Registered users will be emailed a link to join this Zoom program. To get started, please download Zoom on your chosen device and explore the Frequently Asked Questions.

This program will be recorded and posted to the museum’s YouTube channel.

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