Date of Award
Doctor of Arts (DA)
Nicholas Alexsandrovich Berdyaev, 1874–1948, was part of the historic events that changed the course of Russian history. He lived through them and wrote about them for his entire adult life. Berdyaev not only pondered the agony of Russia's past, but he contemplated the possibilities of Russia's future.
Berdyaev was a deeply Russian thinker, and like Russia, he presented the world with a paradox. Outside of Russia he was perhaps the best known and the most widely read of Russian philosophers, but inside of Russia seldom read and little known. The paradox of Berdyaev extended to his life, his writings, and even his significance for intellectual study. He was at various times a political activist, literary expositor and religious philosopher.
Although Berdyaev was born a privileged member of the landed gentry, he began his intellectual life as a Marxist Due to his political activism during his days as a university student, he was imprisoned and exiled to Vologda by the Tsarist regime. In the early 1900's he moved away from revolutionary Marxism and became a leader in the intellectual circle that criticized the radicalism of the Bolsheviks. In 1923 he was exiled from Russia by the Soviet government. He never returned to Russia, but for the rest of his life he thought, wrote and dreamed about Russia.
There was one great passion in Berdyaev's life. He called it the “the mystery” of individual freedom. Even though Berdyaev said that his thoughts had no consistency, there was a link holding all his ideas together. The link was the theory of “opposition and resistance.” This theory holds that freedom creates, allows, even demands, a struggle between opposing forces. Freedom is a state of resistance to any form of determinism or autocracy. Thus throughout his life Berdyaev rebelled against all forms of authoritarianism, universal systems or utopian ideologies either from the “right” or the “left.” He opposed any authority, including nationalistic movements, which claimed primacy over the freedom of the spirit.
Byman, Marianna Westbrook, "Nicolas Berdyaev: An Intellectual Journey" (1999). Theses and Dissertations. 802.