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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: March 2012

ESSAY III - Remodelling Religious Consciousness in Dostoevsky's Fiction: The Death and Resurrection of Orthodoxy

Summary

The previous two essays should have made a number of things clear. The first is that religious experiences and images of very diverse kinds play a very important role in Dostoevsky's life and work. The second is that, to do full justice to Dostoevsky's vision, we must extend the meaning of ‘religious experience’ to cover the whole spectrum from the fullness of belief to the desolation of unbelief, which itself has a mystical quality, and we must accept that these two extremes, though at first sight they may seem to be located at opposite poles of a continuum, often exist on each other's doorstep. This at least was Dostoevsky's own experience and, in different degrees, it is frequently replicated in the experience of his fictional characters. A third conclusion is that whatever certainty Dostoevsky might have longed for, and at times thought he had found, in the bosom of the Russian Orthodox Church, to read his text exclusively through the lens of the Orthodox faith creates as many problems for the reader as it solves. Moreover, Dostoevsky actually banishes many central features of the Orthodox tradition to the very margins of his text. It is as if, at the level of ideal author, his text is telling us that a situation has arisen out of the conflict between belief and unbelief in the modern age in which the richness of that Tradition has to be put aside in order that personal faith may be allowed to blossom again.

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