Women Philosophers and Russia – Женщины-философы и Россия

Online conference, August 29-31, 2022

Call for Papers

We invite submissions for the following international on-line conference, to be held August 29-31, 2022:

Women Philosophers and Russia

The barriers that women have faced in philosophy are no secret to specialists in the field. As Immanuel Kant said, “A woman who has a head full of Greek, like Mme Dacier, or carries on fundamental controversies about mechanics, like the Marquise de Chatelet, might as well have a beard” (Observations II, 230). In recent decades, scholars have begun to publish with increasing frequency on the philosophical work of Émilie du Châtelet, Christine de Pizan, Elisabeth of the Palatinate, and others—this, in spite of the almost complete absence of serious consideration of these thinkers in certain philosophical contexts. Up until the 20th century, in fact, it was nearly impossible for women to integrate themselves into philosophical life in any widespread sense. An example in this regard is Harriet Taylor Mill, who was unable to publish her own work independently, but who collaborated closely with her husband, a relationship that remains up for debate to this day. In John Stuart Mill’s own words on this kind of collaboration: “When two persons … arrive at their conclusions by processes pursued jointly, it is of little consequence … which of them holds the pen; the one who contributes least to the composition may contribute most to the thought; the writings which result are the joint product of both, and it must often be impossible to disentangle their respective parts, and affirm that this belongs to one and that to the other” (J. S. Mill, Autobiography, 251).

In Russia, the question of gender in philosophy remains pertinent and has not yet been adequately addressed: yes, women hold important posts at major philosophical institutions across the country and were integrated into the academic system during the Soviet period, but at the same time these same thinkers are rarely represented in the scholarly mechanisms that claim and record the “history of philosophy” for posterity. We might look at two recent book series on philosophy in Russia in the 20th century–“Philosophy in Russia in the First Half of the 20th Century” (2008-2017) and “Philosophy of Russia in the Second Half of the 20th Century” (2009-2019) — neither of which includes a single volume dedicated to a female philosopher. In the context of Russian history, thus, we should also consider those structural realities that have allowed women to hold influential positions in the philosophical system (to chair departments, etc.) while also keeping them from being fully included in the history of the discipline. In other words: if women have indeed been fully integrated into the philosophical process in Russia since at least the early 20th century, then why do we not see them represented in those publications that claim to capture the history of an era?

This conference follows in the footsteps of recent reevaluations of the epistemological foundations of scholarship in the history of philosophy, including regarding the guiding names and texts that comprise its canon. In particular, we are interested in raising and reevaluating questions regarding women philosophers and their role(s) in philosophy in Russia. We are also interested in addressing the very idea of “women philosophers”: Why has the discipline of philosophy in Russia been so reluctant to take up this question? What is lost and what is gained by looking specifically at the contributions of women to the field? Here we understand “Russia” in a very broad sense of the term (a place, a language, a culture, an intellectual tradition), so as to include thinkers living within Russia, the former Russian Empire, and Soviet/post-Soviet space, as well as those thinkers living elsewhere but writing in Russian and/or engaging with or connected to Russian-language sources/traditions in some way.

Recent work in this vein includes research on Belarusian-born Jewish philosopher and mathematician Sofya Yanovskaya (1896–1966). Although she participated in 1930s-era Soviet criticism of “bourgeois science,” Yanovskaya also made important contributions to the development of the history and philosophy of mathematics for the analytic tradition of philosophy in Russia. We might also turn to Teresa Obolevich’s work on Myrrha Lot-Borodine (1882–1957), a Russian-born French scholar who is considered the first female Orthodox theologian. Other figures worthy of consideration include: Mariya Bezobrazova (1857–1914), Lyubov Akselrod (1868–1946), Olga Freidenberg (1890–1955), and the many female scholars who worked alongside male philosophers and assisted them in their work, thereby playing a critical role in the development of philosophical ideas and/or the discipline. Here we could also add many more recent names, including the female philosophers working and publishing in the late Soviet period, the post-Soviet period, and our own contemporary moment.

The papers in this conference will address these and other questions, as we seek to investigate the roles and contributions of women to Russian philosophy, as well as to interrogate the very benefits and limitations of the title “women philosopher” itself. Examples of possible paper topics include, but are not limited to:

  • women philosophers in Russia since 1991;
  • women philosophers in the Soviet Union and Russian empire;
  • women philosophers writing in Russian outside Russia;
  • the role of women in universities and in the philosophical infrastructure of Russia (philosophy departments, journals, kruzhki, and support networks in philosophy, etc.);
  • women working within the tradition of Russian religious philosophy and theology;
  • links to Russian philosophy abroad (archival material, correspondence, etc.);
  • the reception and influence of women philosophers in and on Russian philosophical thought, including of western thinkers on Russian thought;
  • questions of gender in Russia’s philosophical tradition and problems connected with the very term “woman philosopher”;
  • and other relevant topics.

How to Submit:

Conference languages: English and Russian 

Interested participants should send abstracts (300-500 words) by email to: womenphilosophersrussia@gmail.com by January, 15 2022. Please, include a short professional bio with your abstract. The committee will review abstracts after January 15 and decisions regarding the final conference program will be announced by April 1.

Organizing committee:

  • Alyssa DeBlasio, Associate Professor and John B. Parsons Chair in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dickinson College (USA)
  • Oksana Goncharko, Associate Professor, ITMO University, and researcher, Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities (St. Petersburg, Russia)
  • Tatiana Levina, Fellow of The Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) (Essen, Germany)