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«January 2018»

Fellow Seminar

11 January 2018

Dr. Iva Manova will present her research proposal on the topic: "History of Philosophy and National Identities During the Communist Regime: Studies on Avicenna and al-Fārābī in the Soviet Union (1950s-1980s)" on 11 January 2018 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS Conference Hall.


When approaching Soviet production in the field of history of philosophy, it is immediately evident that the earliest studies on the history of medieval philosophy (be it Western European, Arabic, or Byzantine) appeared much later than respective studies on other historical periods. The first comprehensive Soviet account of the history of medieval philosophy (with the emphasis put on the thirteenth-fourteenth century Western European developments) was published as late as in 1957 (Orest Traxtenberg's Očerki...) and was very much welcomed and defined as "rather timely" in Soviet reviews.

Within the official Soviet historiographical scheme, which was in force during the 1950s-60s, medieval philosophy was referred to as "philosophy in feudal society" and denounced for being mainly idealistic and subordinate to theology, ie. to the ideology of the Church, which had to serve the interests of the ruling class of secular and ecclesiastical feudal lords. Yet, at the same time, a definitive rejection of the medieval philosophical tradition as being mainly idealistic was indirectly questioned by another theoretical principle of Soviet history of philosophy: indeed, the Soviet historians of philosophy had been explicitly assigned the task to elaborate a new, authentically scientific, reading of the entire history of philosophy from antiquity to the twentieth century, without ignoring any people, any culture or any of the six inhabited continents. For this reason, notwithstanding the basic denunciation of the medieval philosophical tradition as being subordinate to theology, the "scientific" account of the history of philosophy had to embrace, at least for the sake of unity and consistency, the ten centuries of the Middle Ages.

Starting from the 1950s, and in contrast with the difficult rise and problematic development of Soviet philosophical Mediaevistik in general, the studies on the medieval Arabic philosophers Avicenna (c. 930-1037) and al-Fārābī (872-950/951) experienced vigorous growth in the Soviet Union. In the space of the four decades between 1950 and the end of the 1980s, hundreds of both popular and scholarly works on the life and thought of Avicenna, al-Fārābī and other Central Asian authors were published in the Soviet Union, mainly in the Russian, Uzbek, and Tajik languages.

In this perspective, the aim of my lecture shall be to shed light on the tangled play among the divergent philosophical and non-philosophical factors which conditioned the striking disparity between these two neighbouring fields in the Soviet history of philosophy.

By means of analyzing the Soviet studies on Avicenna and al-Fārābī, I aim to test the conjecture according to which, in the specific case of these two Central Asian thinkers, the standard criteria for the evaluation of philosophical doctrines (such as materialistic/idealistic; progressive/reactionary etc.) were temporary laid aside and replaced by others, such as the need to show the equal importance and value of European and non-European philosophy, or the need to accommodate the patriotic feelings of certain Soviet peoples.


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