Tolstoy and Spirituality


APRIL 21-22, 2017

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), best known for his books including “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” succumbed to a severe spiritual crisis around his 50th birthday, which he resolved by rediscovering Christianity. However, Tolstoy’s re-reading of the faith was considered highly controversial. Tolstoy had a highly original, almost paradoxical view of Christianity. He defended the moralizing mission of Christianity, while also maintaining the innocence of nature. Instead of blaming our ‘fallen’ nature for our sins, Tolstoy put the blame squarely on social institutions, such as the State and Church.

In this conference, an international slate of authors and scholars of Tolstoy's writings analyze his works of fiction and non-fiction to assess the viability and fruitfulness of his approach to Christianity.

See photos, video and the conference program below.

A performance of the Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky's In Memory of a Great Artist was offered in concert with the conference. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata is said to have inspired Tolstoy to write his most controversial piece, the novella “The Kreutzer Sonata.” The performance features Victor Santiago Asuncion on piano, Markus Placci on violin, and Jan Müller-Szeraws on cello. View the concert program.

This conference was organized by Predrag Cicovacki, professor of philosophy, and Olga Partan, associate professor of Russian, at the College of the Holy Cross. It is presented by the McFarland Center and funded by the Rehm Family Fund.

Publication Now Available

Tolstoy and Spirituality
Edited by Predrag Cicovacki and Heidi Nada Grek
November 2018, Academic Studies Press

Tolstoy and Spirituality


FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2017

10-10:15 a.m.: Opening Ceremony
Thomas M. Landy, Director, McFarland Center
Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., College President
Predrag Cicovacki, Professor of Philosophy

Mikhail Shishkin10:15-11:15 a.m.: But to Continue the Life – For What Purpose?
Mikhail Shishkin
Acclaimed Russian writer, author of "Montreux-Missolunghi-Astapovo, in the Steps of Byron and Tolstoy" (2002), "Maidenhair" (2005), and "The Light and the Dark" (2013)
Watch the video below»


Liza Knapp11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Tolstoy’s Unorthodox Catechesis: Novels
Liza Knapp
Professor of Slavic languages at Columbia University, author of “Anna Karenina and Others: Tolstoy’s Labyrinth of Plots” (2016) and editor of critical companions to Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" and Dostoevsky's "The Idiot"

12:30-2:30 p.m.: Lunch

Donna Tussing Orwin2:30-3:30 p.m.: What Is the Good According to Tolstoy, and How Good Can I Be?
Donna Tussing Orwin
Professor of Russian literature and chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto, author of “Tolstoy's Art and Thought, 1847-1880” (1993) and “Consequences of Consciousness: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy” (2007)

Vladimir Pistalo3:45-4:45 p.m.: Tolstoy’s Resurrection — the First Existentialist Novel
Vladimir Pištalo
Professor of liberal arts at Becker College, author of the novels “Venice” (2011) and “Tesla, Portrait Among Masks” (2008)


Alexandra Smith5:00 -6:00 p.m.: Tolstoy’s Re-Evaluation of Beethoven in The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) in the Context of the History of Reception of Beethoven’s Music in Imperial Russia
Alexandra Smith
Reader in Russian Studies at the University of Edinburgh and author of “Montaging Pushkin: Pushkin and Visions of Modernity in Russian 20th-century Poetry” (2006) and “The Song of the Mockingbird: Pushkin in the Work of Marina Tsvetaeva” (1994)

6:00-8:00 p.m.: Dinner Break

8 p.m.: Concert: Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky's In Memory of a Great Artist
Featuring Victor Santiago Asuncion, piano; Markus Placci, violin; and Jan Müller-Szeraws, cello
Brooks Concert Hall


Predrag Cicovacki10-11 a.m.: Tolstoy’s Divine Madness:An Analysis of The Kreutzer Sonata
Predrag Cicovacki
Professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross, author of “Dostoevsky and the Affirmation of Life” (2014) and “Gandhi’s Footprints” (2015)


Robert L. Holmes11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Tolstoy’s Spiritual Nonviolence
Robert L. Holmes
Emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester, and author of "The Ethics of Nonviolence: Essays by Robert L. Holmes," edited by Predrag Cicovocki (2013)

12:15-2 p.m.: Lunch Break

Ilya Vinitsky2-3 p.m.: Tolstoy’s Tears: Theology of Crying in War and Peace
Ilya Vinitsky
Professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Princeton University, co-author of “A Cultural History of Russian Literature” (2009) and author of “Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism” (2009) and "Vasily Zhukovsky's Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia" (2015)

Rosamund Bartless3:15-4:15 p.m.: Tolstoy’s Fiction: Its Spiritual Legacy
Rosamund Bartlett
Tolstoy biographer, author of "Tolstoy: A Russian Life" (2010) and Chekhov: Scenes from a Life (2004), co-author of Literary Russia: A Guide (1997), and translator of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (2014).

4:15-4:30 p.m.: Concluding Ceremony