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Enlightenment and Religion in Russian Education in the Reign of Tsar Alexander I

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Franklin A. Walker*
Loyola University of Chicago


Contemporaries saw the educational legislation of Tsar Alexander I (1801–25) as a sign that the new emperor intended to raise the cultural and material well-being of his countrymen. The establishment in 1802 of a ministry of public education and the division of the country into six great educational districts to administer a network of schools—elementary, intermediate, secondary, and university—extended the initial reforms of Catherine II (1762–96). Her grandson Alexander employed some of her advisers and looked to other reformers, who shared the two monarchs' interest in the intellectual fashions of the Enlightenment. Russian educators, who reflected the ideals of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and their followers, saw public education as a means whereby advanced European thought would contribute to native virtues and lead to national progress. If the creation of schools did not match the publicity for public education, there was at least no doubt that the government encouraged the formation of an educated population. However, that mood changed after the Napoleonic wars when, in fear of revolution, educational authorities saw the school system primarily as a means for inculcating obedience and Christian pietism. Obscurantism decimated the staffs of universities and darkened schools on every level.

Copyright © 1992 by the History of Education Society 

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1 Alston, Patrick L., Education and the State in Tsarist Russia (Stanford, 1969), 2025; Walker, Franklin A., “Popular Response to Public Education in the Reign of Tsar Alexander I, 1801–1825,” History of Education Quarterly 24 (Winter 1984): 527–43; McClelland, James C. in Autocrats and Academics: Education, Culture, and Society in Tsarist Russia (Chicago, 1979), 11, links the repressive policies in the latter half of Alexander's reign with later fears that “Western” ideas in the schools contributed to subversion.

2 The Enlightenment in Western Europe itself was a complex phenomenon. The Enlightenment included the “secularization” aim, of which Collingwood spoke; the “remaking of man,” as Crocker pointed out; critical thought, the struggle for intellectual freedom, and humanitarianism which Gay described. Yet as Cassirer showed, the Enlightenment in its German version strove not for the dissolution of religion but for its “‘transcendental’ justification and foundation.” Collingwood, R. G., The Idea of History (New York, 1956), 76; Crocker, Lester G., Nature and Culture: Ethical Thought in the French Enlightenment (Baltimore, 1963), 492; Gay, Peter, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, 2 vols. (New York, 1967–69); Cassirer, Ernst, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment , trans. Koelln, Fritz C. A. and Pettegrove, James P. (Princeton, N.J., 1951), 136. For an analysis of the complexities of Enlightenment thought, see Wade, Ira O., The Structure and Form of the French Enlightenment, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1977).

3 For a general discussion of intellectual currents in this period, see Billington, James H., The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretative History of Russian Culture (New York, 1968), 220300. Also see Raeff, Marc, “The Enlightenment in Russia and Russian Thought in the Enlightenment,” in The Eighteenth Century in Russia , ed. Garrard, J. G. (Oxford, 1973), 25–47, and the two special issues which Griffiths, David M. edited of Canadian-American Slavic Studies 14 (Fall 1980) and 16 (Fall–Winter 1982) on “The Russian Enlightenment.”

4 Too much should not be made of the supposed “rationalism” of Catherine's reign. She confiscated church lands and corresponded with leading members of the Enlightenment, but her educational reforms were more in the spirit of state control over the church, as in the rule of the Emperor Joseph II of Austria (1780–90) (“Josephinism”) than of atheistic determinism. She depended in part upon ecclesiastical institutions to provide students, and religion was an important part of the curriculum. Most teachers were former seminarians. de Madariaga, Isabel, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (New Haven, Conn., 1981), 488502; Okenfuss, Max J., “Education and Empire: School Reform in Enlightened Russia,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 27 (1979): 41–61; Rozhdestvenskii, S. V. preface to Opisanie del arkhiva Ministerstva Narodnago Prosveshcheniia [A Description of the Materials in the Archives of the Ministry of Public Education], eds. Platonoy, S. F. and Nikolaev, A. S., 2 vols. (Petrograd, 1917–21), 1: xlii–xliii, and documents on 157–58.

5 For example, see Born, I. M. in Periodicheskoe izdanie Vol'nago Obshchestva liubitelei slovesnosti, nauk i khudozhestv [Periodical Publication of the Free Society of the Lovers of Literature, Science and the Arts] (1804), 136–38; Terlaich, G. I., Kratkoe rukovodstvo k sistematicheskomu poznaniiu grazhdanskago chastnago prava Rossii [A Short Guide to a Systematic Knowledge of Russian Private Civil Law] 2 parts (St. Petersburg, 1810), 1: 11, 18; Biaudet, Jean Charles and Nichol, Françoise, eds., Correspondance de Fredéric-César de La Harpe et Alexandre Ier, 3 vols. (Neuchâtel, 1978–80), 1: 72, 90, 316, 372, and (1979), 2: 230, 235.

6 Ancillon, Frederic, Tableau des révolutions du système politique de l'Europe depuis la fin du quinzième siècle, 4 vols. (Berlin, 1803–5), 1: intro., xxxix; law 20.407, 8 Sep. 1802, Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii s 1649 goda [Complete Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire] (hereafter cited as PSZ) (St. Petersburg, 1830), 27: 240; Korifei [Coryphaeus] 1 (no. 2, 1802): 187; Stéphanie Genlis, Comtesse de, afterwards Marquise de Sillery (1746–1830), Adèle et Théodore ou lettres sur l'éducation, 2d ed., 3 vols. (Paris, 1782), 1: 233–37, 2: 74–81, 3: 90–91; Jakob, Ludwig Heinrich, Grundsätze der Policeygesetzgebung und der Policeyanstalten, 2 vols. (Kharkov, 1809), 1: 257–62.

7 Volkov, G. N., Egorov, S. F., Kopylov, A. N., eds., Antologiia pedagogicheskoi mysli Rossii XVIII v. [An Anthology of Pedagogical Thought in Russia in the Eighteenth Century] (Moscow, 1985), 150, 153; law 21.501, 5 Nov. 1804, PSZ, 28: 640; Sbornik postanovlenii po Ministerstvu Narodnago Prosveshcheniia [A Collection of Decrees of the Ministry of Public Education] (St. Petersburg, 1864), 1: 313.

8 Rechi, proiznesennyia v torzhestvennykh sobraniiakh Imperatorskago Moskovskago Universiteta russkimi professorami onago … [Addresses, Delivered at Solemn Assemblies of Imperial Moscow University by Its Russian Professors] (Moscow, 1821), 3: 68, 78–79 (henceforth cited as Rechi [Addresses]); Periodicheskoe sochinenie o uspekhakh narodnago prosveshcheniia [Periodical Writings on the Successes of Public Education] 13 (1805): 202–12 (hereafter Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings]; Litsei [The Lyceum] 2 (1806): 9; Ulei [The Bee-hive] 1 (Apr. 1811): 296.

9 Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings] 13 (1805): 107–9; Kanarovskii-Sokhovich (initials not given) in Ulei [The Bee-hive] 3 (Mar. 1812): 188. Since the reign of Catherine II, speakers had identified Russian Christianity with Enlightenment concepts, while voicing horror of the medieval Catholic church. The theologian, philosopher, and historian Kh. A. Chebotarev in 1779 contrasted “pure and practical” Christianity with both “godlessness” and “superstition.” Rechi [Addresses] (1819), 1: 343, 347. The physicist P. I. Strakhov declared in 1788 that the kind of religious persecution associated with the Inquisition opposed “the laws of religion and humanity” and was contrary to Russian traditions of Enlightenment. Ibid. (1820), 2: 228–42.

10 Vasilii Sokolov of the St. Petersburg Pedagogical Institute, Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings] 29 (1811): 652–58; Buhle, Jean-Gottlieb, Histoire de la philosophic moderne, 6 vols. (Paris, 1816), 6: 61; Severnyi vestnik [The Northern Messenger] 1 (1804): 1–12, esp. 2–3, 5, 6, 8, 10.

11 Severnyi vestnik [The Northern Messenger] 1 (1804): 4344, 3: 342–50, 4: 205, 5 (1805): 42; Cherniavskii, N. in ibid. 5 (1805): 35–38, 40.

12 Sbornik postanovlenii [A Collection of Decrees], 1: 54, 141, 264, 268, 334–36; law 21.501, 5 Nov. 1804, PSZ, 28: 628; Medynskii, E. N., Istoriia russkoi pedagogiki do velikoi Oktiabr'skoi revoliutsii [The History of Russian Pedagogy until the Great October Revolution], 2d ed. (Moscow, 1938), 110; Sbornik materialov dlia istorii prosveshcheniia v Rossii [A Collection of Materials for the History of Education in Russia], ed. Kornilov, Ivan (St. Petersburg, 1893), 1: 330; Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 17 (Oct. 1804): 223–29; Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings] 21 (1808): 451–63.

13 Sanktpeterburgskaia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 36 (30 May 1804): 1112, 76 (21 Sep. 1806): 857, and 84 (17 Oct. 1807): announcement; Severnaia pochta [The Northern Post] 89 (21 Sep. 1810), and 51 (26 June 1812); law 21.675, 21 Mar. 1805, PSZ, 28: 906; law 22.208, 13 July 1806, PSZ, 29: 462; Voronov, A., Istoriko-Statitichesksoe obozrenie uchebnykh zavedenii St. Peterburgskago uchebnago okruga s 1715 po 1818 vkliuchitel'no [An Historical-Statistical Review of Educational Institutions of the St. Petersburg Educational District from 1715 to 1828 Inclusive] (St. Petersburg, 1849), 215.

14 Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 47 (10 June 1804): 1390–91, 86 (27 Oct. 1805): 985, 39 (8 May 1808): 552, 95 (26 Nov. 1807): 1198, 24 (23 Mar. 1809): 293, and 38 (11 May 1809): 483; Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 21 (Sep. 1814): 46–57; Sbornik materialov dlia istorii prosveshcheniia v Rossii [A Collection of Materials for the History of Education in Russia] (St. Petersburg, 1898): Litsei [The Lyceum] 3 (no. 2, 1806): 94; Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings] 16 (1806): 429–30.

15 For Rizhskii, speech, Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings] 16 (1806): 457–67, esp. 458, 463, 466; for biography, see Russkii biograficheskii slovar' [Russian Biographical Dictionary] (St. Petersburg, 1913), 16: 192–95; for Kudritskii, , Periodicheskoe sochinenie [Periodical Writings] (1806), 14: 178–87.

16 Gorodchaninov, G. N., Sochineniia v stikakh i proze [Writings in Verse and Prose] (Kazan, 1816), 52, 57–58.

17 The French reactionary writer Count de Maistre tried to influence Russian educational leaders to pursue a more religiously oriented program. Edwards, David W., “Count Joseph Marie de Maistre and Russian Educational Policy, 1803–1828,” Slavic Review 36 (Mar. 1977): 5475. For a balanced summary of Alexander's reign, see McConnell, Allen, Tsar Alexander 1, Paternalistic Reformer (New York, 1970); on foreign policy, Grimsted, Patricia Kennedy, The Foreign Ministers of Alexander I: Political Attitudes and the Conduct of Russian Diplomacy, 1801–1825 (Berkeley, Calif., 1969).

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18 Rogger, Hans, National Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Russia (Cambridge, Mass., 1960). See “Dobryi otets,” [“A Good Father”] Russkii vestnik [The Russian Messenger] 7 (Sep. 1809): 297–342, for one among many examples of chauvinistic-religious assertions. Also see Al'tshuller, Mark, Predtechi slavianofil'stva v russkoi literature (Obshchestvo “Beseda liubitelei russkogo slova”) [The Forerunners of Slavophilism in Russian Literature (The Society of the “Colloquy of the Lovers of Russian Speech”)] (Ann Arbor, 1984); Walker, Franklin A., “Patriotic Rhetoric, Public Education, and Language Choice in the Russia of Tsar Alexander I,” Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism 12 (Autumn 1985): 261–71.

19 Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 18 (Sep. 1814): 83105; Evgenov, I., “Ob istinnom prosveshchenii” [“On True Enlightenment”], ibid. 105 (May 1819): 85–103, esp. 88–89, 101–3. Evgenov is not identified. Presumably he was a senior student who reflected the views of a teacher.

20 Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 17 (27 Feb. 1814): 167, 47 (13 June 1819): 527–28, and 48 (17 June 1819): 539–40; Stepan P. Shevyrev's poem in Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 123 (Mar. 1822): 57; the journalist and minor finance ministry bureaucrat D. M. Kniazhevich in Blagonamerennyi [The Well-intentioned] 13 (Jan. 1821): 49–50, 58; Engalychev, Parofenii, O fizicheskom i nravstvennom vospitanii [On Physical and Moral Education] (St. Petersburg, 1824), 3–4, 39–41, 47, 206–11, 42; the priest Vivilianskii of the Imperial Orphans' Home, 10 May 1817, Syn Otechestva [The Son of the Fatherland] 38 (no. 22, 1817): 81–88.

21 Le conservateur impartial 63 (8 Aug. 1816): 333–34; Severnaia pochta [The Northern Post] 44 (3 June 1814), and 67 (19 Aug. 1816); Lancaster, Joseph, Improvements in Education, as it respects the industrious classes of the community …, 3d ed. (London, 1805), intro., viii–xi; Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 96 (Nov. 1817): 26–33; Russkii invalid [The Russian Veteran] 2 (Jan. 1819): 3; Syn Otechestva [The Son of the Fatherland] 53 (no. 13, 1819): 3–16; Opisaniie sposoba vzaimnago obucheniia po sistemam Bella, Lankastera i drugikh … Sochinenie Nadvornago Sovetnika, Doktora Meditsiny Iosifa Gamelia [Descriptions of the Methods of Mutual Instruction According to the Systems of Bell, Lancaster and others … The Work of Court Counsellor and Doctor of Medicine Joseph Gamel'] (St Petersburg, 1820), intro., 1–2; Zacek, Judith Cohen, “The Lancastrian School Movement in Russia,” The Slavonic and East European Review 45 (July 1967): 343–37.

22 For example, Severnaia pochta [The Northern Post] 62 (3 Aug. 1818); and Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 86 (25 Oct. 1818): 978. Zacek, J. C., “The Russian Bible Society and the Russian Orthodox Church,” Church History 35 (Dec. 1966): 411–37; Tomkins, Stuart R., “The Russian Bible Society—a Case of Religious Xenophobia,” The American Slavic and East European Review 7 (Oct. 1948): 251–68.

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23 Russkii invalid [The Russian Veteran] 42 (19 Feb. 1819): 168–70; Syn Otechestva [The Son of the Fatherland] 52 (no. 7, 1819): 3–9, 53 (no. 14, 1819): 89–92; Life of William Allen: With Selections from His Correspondence, 3 vols. (London, 1846–47), 1: 439–40, 447–49, and 2: 12–15, 22–29; Pypin, A. N., Religioznyia dvizheniia pri Aleksandre I [The Religious Movement under Alexander I] (Petrograd, 1916), 148; Geiger, Max, Aufklärung und Erweckung: Beiträge zur Erforschung Johann Heinrich Jung-Stillings und der Erweckungstheologie (Zurich, 1963), 384–85; there were special sections of the Golitsyn ministry to handle non-Orthodox and even non-Christian faiths, Zhurnal Departamenta Narodnago Prosveshcheniia [The Journal of the Department of Public Education] (Jan. 1821), 9.

24 Sinel, Allen, The Classroom and the Chancellery: State Educational Reform in Russia under Count Dmitry Tolstoi (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), 10; Magnitskii letter to the tsar, 7 Nov. 1823, Sbornik istoricheskikh materialov, izvlechenykh iz arhiva pervago otdeleniia sobstvennoi ego Imperatorskago Velichestva kantseliarii [A Collection of Historical Materials Extracted from the Archives of the First Section of His Imperial Majesty's Own Chancellery] (St. Petersburg, 1876) 1: 367–74; Sawatsky, Walter William, “Prince Alexander N. Golitsyn, 1773–1844: Tsarist Minister of Piety” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1976). For an excellent study of the universities, including an objective analysis of the repressions, see Flynn, James T., The University Reform of Tsar Alexander I, 1802–1835 (Washington, D. C., 1988). For an example of the antipathy to the ministry's religious program on the part of a future Decembrist, see Shteingel, V. I., Sochineniia i pis'ma [Writings and Letters], 2 vols. (Irkutsk, 1985), “Zapiski” [“Memoirs”], 1: 166, and letter to Pisarev, A. A., 17 Apr. 1818, 1: 189. On attitude of the educated public, see Eidel'man, N., Pushkin i dekabristy: Iz istorii vzaimootnoshenii [Pushkin and the Decembrists: The History of Their Mutual Relationships] (Moscow, 1979), 116–19.

25 Orlov, M. F., Kapituliatsiia Parizha: Politicheskie sochineniia: Pis'ma [The Capitulation of Paris: Political Writings: Letters], ed. Borovoi, I. I. and Gillel'son, M. I. (Moscow, 1963), 4552. Russkii invalid [The Russian Veteran] 178 (2 Aug. 1819): 711–13, depicted the army Lancastrian schools under Orlov's jurisdiction as carrying out an enlightenment activity similar to that of St. Vladimir in establishing Christianity at Kiev, but some of his schools imparted the symbolism of revolution. See Bazanov, V. G., Vladimir Fedoseevich Raevskii: Novye materialy [Vladimir Fedoseevich Raevskii: New Materials] (Moscow-Leningrad, 1949), 98–99.

26 Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 14 (18 Feb. 1819): 141; Blagonamerennyi [The Well-Intentioned] 12 (Nov. 1820): 259–62; Rashkov, N., Nevskii zritel' [The Neva Observer] 1 (Jan. 1820): 170–79.

27 Severnaia pochta [The Northern Post] (3 July 1812), (18 Aug. 1815); Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 5 (16 Jan. 1817): appendix; Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 90 (Dec. 1816): 297, and 91 (Jan. 1817): 3–13.

28 Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 65 (15 Aug. 1822): 834–35, and 67 (22 Aug. 1822): 862–63; Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 97 (Jan. 1818): 81–86.

29 Whittaker, Cynthia H., The Origins of Modern Russian Education: An Intellectual Biography of Count Sergei Uvarov, 1786–1855 (DeKalb, Ill., 1984), 8283; Flynn, , University Reform, 80–157; Blackwell, William L., The Beginnings of Russian Industrialization, 1800–1860 (Princeton, N.J., 1968), appendix 2, pt. 5, Table A; Zhurnal Departamenta Narodnago Prosveshcheniia] The Journal of the Department of Public Education] (Feb. 1821), 154–61.

30 Blagonamerennyi [The Well-intentioned] 18 (no. 22, 1822): 356–61; Syn Otechestva [The Son of the Fatherland] 68 inn. 18, 1821: 6; Vestnik Evropy [The Messenger of Europe] 97 Feb. 1818]: 161–69.

31 Zhurnal Departamenta Narodnago Prosveshcheniia [The Journal of the Department of Public Education] (May 1821), 5658, and (Oct. 1821), 242–43; Sanktpeterburgskiia Vedomosti [The St. Petersburg News] 68 (25 Aug. 1822): 880.

32 See the constitution of the Union of Welfare which linked education to the virtue which was “the support of states,” Izbrannye sotsial'no-politicheskie i filosofskie proizvedeniia dekabristov [Selected Social-Political and Philosophical Writings of the Decembrists] ed. Shchipanov, I. Ia., 3 vols. (Moscow, 1951) 1: 240–41, 244; on Christian influences on the Decembrists, see Walker, Franklin A., “Christianity, the Service Ethic, and Decembrist Thought,” in Church, Nation, and State in Russia and Ukraine, ed. Hosking, Geoffrey A. (Basingstoke, 1991), 79–95.

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