IOCS International Conference 2021 – ‘Pavel Florensky for the 21st Century’

15 – 17 September 2021

Speakers will include:

  • Prof John Milbank (University of Nottingham)
  • Prof Andrew Louth (Durham University) (to be confirmed)
  • Prof Bruce Foltz (co-organiser, Eckerd College, FL)
  • Prof Paul Gavrilyuk (University of St Thomas, MN)
  • Dr Ksenia Ermishina (tbc) (Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Culture at the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Center for Russians Abroad)
  • Dr Avril Pyman (Durham University)
  • Dr Anke Niederbudde (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
  • Dr Clemena Antonova (Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna)
  • Dr Alexei Nesteruk (University of Portsmouth)
  • Dr Christoph Schneider (IOCS)

Conference organisers: IOCS with Prof Bruce Foltz (Eckerd College, FL).

Conference Abstract

The conference will explore the significance of Pavel A. Florensky’s work for both thought and life in the twenty-first century. In 1904, at the age of twenty-two, he wrote that his aim was ”to establish a synthesis of ecclesiality (tserkovnost’) and worldly culture” and ”to honestly embrace all the positive teaching of the Church and the scientific-philosophical worldview together with the arts, etc.“ A decade later, in his early magnum opus, he begins by prescribing what he calls “living religious experience”—accessible through ascetic practice—as the “sole legitimate” path to retrieve the treasures of Christian knowledge. These statements by the young Florensky capture the main thrust of his intellectual oeuvre. His thought is characterized by a bold and extraordinary cross-fertilization among philosophy, mathematics, science, art, and a wide range of other disciplines that is rooted in a theological vision of the world.

Trained in mathematics and physics, Florensky employed the scientific and mathematical paradigm changes that occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century to articulate his integral Christian worldview and to set out his understanding of reality, knowledge, cult and human culture. Human existence, he believed, unfolds at the boundary of immanence and transcendence, and the one-sided, post-Kantian attempt to investigate the world sub specie finiti has ran its course with little to show for its efforts. Florensky, however, was convinced that both these revolutionary scientific discoveries and the direct experience of spiritual realities served to undermine the anti-metaphysical and positivist orientation that dominated the second half of the nineteenth century, paving the way for what he would later call a “concrete metaphysics”.

Much of his work remains under-researched, especially in the West where his writings are only beginning to be translated, and the conference seeks to help overcome this gap. The main aim will be to investigate the fruitfulness of his ideas for the task of thinking in the twenty-first century. Speakers are invited to analyse any aspect of Florensky’s work. For instance, how far can Florensky’s notion of “living religious experience” be grasped as a reinterpretation, or development, of the noetic illumination of Byzantine mysticism? To what extent does his understanding of “experience” resonate with the phenomenological reduction that originated in Western Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century? Can Florensky’s “concrete metaphysics” be read as a metacritique of the post-metaphysical orientation that dominates—in the wake of Wittgenstein and Heidegger—contemporary philosophy? Are there affinities between Florensky’s “concrete metaphysics” and William Desmond’s metaxology and his notion of the “intimate universal”? How valuable are Florensky’s theological reflections on sacrament and liturgy articulated in his lesser-known anthropodicy? How are we to (re)interpret Florensky’s work within the horizon of contemporary thought? And not least, to what extent does Florensky’s appeal to “immediate experience,” as purified through asceticism, help to “pass a damp sponge over the ancient writings” that the Church has treasured, unlocking the riches of patristic spirituality for contemporary life?

(A programme of the conference will follow in due time).

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