Poetic Justice: Exploring Dostoevsky's Russia


Russia is where the most beautiful dreams – and ugliest nightmares – of other places come true. There the doctrines of Christianity, Marxism, and now free-market capitalism, born elsewhere, have developed in fantastic ways, and artistic forms associated with Europe, from the novel to the ballet, have reached a new level and scale. Writing and reading are bound up in Russia with the urge to transform the self, to gain wings that could carry you into another, better world.  At the same time, text and image work to warn believers about the limitations of their own ambitions for reform of the self and the community.

This course focuses on Fedor Dostoevsky’s greatest philosophical novel, The Brothers Karamazov. To understand it in its context, we learn as well about the Eastern Orthodox Christian art that inspired it, the writers who were Dostoevsky’s contemporaries, and the turbulent history that he and his readers experienced. We ask questions such as the following:

  • How can secular art, such as the novel, relate to sacred art, such as the icon?
  • Can a novel really represent more than one point of view?
  • Do people need religion to be moral?
  • Is murder ever justified?
  • How does the legal story-telling at a trial relate to the story-telling in a novel?