Remembering Sergey Sergeevich Horujy (1941-2020)

by Kristina Stoeckl | Русский

Sergey Sergeevich Horujy

A towering intellectual voice in Russian Orthodoxy is no longer. Sergey Sergeevich Horujy passed away in Moscow on September 22, 2020. I write this note with great sadness and full of gratitude to a friend, teacher, and intellectual guide.  

I first met Sergey Horujy in 2005 during the research for my doctoral dissertation. He received me in his old apartment at Rechnoy Vokzal, in a room stacked full with books up to the ceiling. I wanted to talk to him about the vicissitudes of Russian religious philosophy in the Soviet period; he wanted to talk to me about his own philosophical project, synergic anthropology. I still see him climbing up the sofa to take a small book from high-up in the book-shelf. It was Who Comes after the Subject? by Jean-Luc Nancy, Eduardo Cadava, and Peter Connor (1991). “This,” he said, “is my question.”

His favorite image for this question during the last years of his life was Diogenes’ lantern: Fonar’ Diogena. Diogenes’ “search for man” became the title of several publications and of a journal he published. Horujy’s goal was a philosophy of man through the lens of Orthodox theology, more precisely through the lens of the theology of Orthodox mysticism, hesychasm. He was an extremely prolific writer, who worked tirelessly on his texts and was full of plans for lectures and publications for the future. Most of these publications can be accessed easily in Russian, and many have been translated into English by himself.

Born in 1941, Horujy studied physics at Lomonosov State University in Moscow, received his PhD in physico-mathematical sciences in 1977 and served as professor of mathematical physics at the Steklov Mathematical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences until 2006. He published numerous works in this discipline, both in Russian and in English. But besides his career in the natural sciences, an unsuspected profession under the anti-religious Soviet Communist regime, Horujy was a clandestine, tireless student of Russian religious philosophy and Orthodox theology. He became a member of Moscow’s underground religious intelligentsia of the 1970s and 1980s and wrote a number of philosophical works, all of which could appear in print only after 1991. To add to this already impressive body of scholarship, he also engaged in literary criticism and translation, becoming the translator of James Joyce’s Ulysses into Russian. After the end of communism, Horujy emerged as the leading figure of the renewal of religious philosophy in post-Soviet Russia, to which he gave his original “anthropological” twist. During the last decades, he was a research associate at the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences and directed the Institute of Synergic Anthropology. This Institute is the first place now to which to turn for the preservation and continuation of his legacy.

After our first meeting in 2005, I dedicated an entire chapter of my dissertation to Horujy’s work, and have since felt a strong commitment to making his work known outside the small circle of philosophers and scholars of Russian religious philosophy. Admittedly, his headstrong attitude and the nature of his texts did not always make this an easy task. The book Practices of the Self and Spiritual Pratices (Eerdmans, 2015) appeared in Boris Jakim’s excellent translation and, to some extent, despite Sergey Sergeevich’s insistent attempts to rewrite the English. The interview with Sergey Horujy, and the special issue edited by Marina F. Bykova in Russian Studies in Philosophy (Vol. 57, issue 1) in 2019, are good places to start exploring his works in English. Horujy’s work is characterized by a degree of erudition, richness, and intellectual curiosity that can safely be judged as unparalleled in contemporary Russian Orthodox thought.

For me, Sergey Sergeevich was a compass in the daunting maze of Russian Orthodox church- and intellectual life. I trusted his judgment and respected him for his choices, for example when he resigned from the Russian Orthodox Church’s Biblical-Theological Commission in 2016. He had a very fine radar for moral and intellectual corruption inside the church, as expressed in this essay, written for the opening conference of the Postsecular Conflicts project: “Lack of intellectual scruple, faking, stylization, mystification, and often obscure roots and total fantasy—all this likens traditionalism typologically and epistemologically to such phenomena as occultism, theosophy, anthroposophy, and the New Age subculture. They all share a common quality—lack of disciplined thought and cognition, lack of elementary methodological culture and, as a consequence, intellectual second-ratism.” His outspokenness, no doubt, antagonized. I have seen him bitter and angry over developments inside the Russian Orthodox Church. These developments for him were always personal; they were the result of people’s intentions and choices.

Sergey Sergeevich died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was at home, in his study, working on his texts and amidst his books. To know this is a consolation; he deserved to go that way. In the next days and weeks, obituaries and essays will be written about him. They will open doors to the intellectual universe that Sergey Horujy leaves behind and to his life’s story that exemplifies the hardships and fateful turns of twentieth century Russia. I wish that from the mourning and remembering of this great Russian thinker there will emerge a community of scholars to keep his legacy alive.

Kristina Stoeckl is professor of sociology and leader of the project Postsecular Conflicts at the University of Innsbruck.