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Romanoslavica, volume LIX issue 1 / 2023

Tradition and progress in Slavic Cultures


Deadline for sending contributions: July 31, 2023. 5,000 to 7,000 words for papers, 2,000 to 3,000 words for reviews. The editorial norms can be found here. Contact: romanoslavica@gmail.com

17th century philosophers believed that reason was capable of providing universal answers to problems posed by human nature. This led European civilization towards universalism, abstractness, theorization, and standardization. Reason as a bedrock of progress promised European civilization a bright future. Nevertheless, opponents of this belief did not hesitate to respond. In the early stages of the Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau posited that science and arts do not contribute to the purification of mores, but to their corruption. In his address to the Academy in Dijon, which had launched a competition on this topic, he says:

While government and law provide for the security and well-being of people in their collective life, the sciences, letters, and arts—less despotic though perhaps more powerful—wrap garlands of flowers around the chains that weigh people down. They stifle the sense of freedom that people once had and for which they sensed that they were born, making them love their own servitude, and turning them into what is called a civilized people. Need erected thrones; the sciences and arts consolidated them. Let the Powers that rule the earth cherish all talents and protect those who practice them! Civilized peoples, cultivate your talents! Happy slaves, you are indebted to them for the delicate, exquisite tastes you are so proud of, that sweetness of disposition and urbanity of manners that make social relations so easy and pleasant—in short, the appearance of all the virtues without the possession of a single one (Rousseau 2002: 48-49).

A similar ambivalence towards progress makes itself felt on the other side of Europe. Beginning in the 18th century, Russia was going through a period of rapid modernization, initiated by Peter I, who wished to reign over a European country. His attempt to civilize the empire was met with a strong opposition from the aristocracy. In his work O povrezhdenii nravov v Rossii ( On the Corruption of Mores in Russia, 1786–1787), Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov denounces the modernization of Russia, initiated by Peter I and resumed by Catherine II. His arguments were rooted in the same ambivalence towards progress as Rousseau's:

I can truly say that if, after entering later than other nations upon the path of enlightenment, nothing more remained for us than to follow prudently in the steps of nations previously enlightened, then indeed, in sociability and in various other things, it may be said that we have made wonderful progress and have taken gigantic steps to correct our outward appearance. But at the same time, with much greater speed, we have hastened to corrupt our morals, and have even come to this: that faith and God's Law have been extinguished in our hearts, Divine mysteries have fallen into disrepute and civil laws have become objects of scorn (Shcherbatov 1969: 113).

Such ambivalent attitudes towards modernity and progress manifested themselves all over the Slavic world. The forthcoming issue of Romanoslavica invites contributions that reflect upon the relation between tradition and innovation, tradition and progress, tradition and modernity in Slavic cultures from al historical periods, with a focus on literary studies, cultural studies, identity studies. We are interested in articles that discuss the impact of an ideology, giving voice to both sides of an ideological conflict, and highlight the contradictions between ideas and the stakes of the parties involved in the dispute.

Suggested topics:

• models and stereotypes of thought, action and behavior;

• religious and social practices;

• family and its models;

• intergenerational relations;

• “passéisme” (nostalgia for the past) v. “presentism” (disregard of the past);

• continuity and resistance to innovation;

• conservative institutions and beliefs in the modern society;

• traditional moral values v. progressive attitudes;

• tradition vs progress in the cultural/political life of the Slavic world as compared to other cultural/political areas;

• old Slavic cultures and their continuity;

• social progress and doctrines of progress;

• laws of history: cyclicity v. linearity;

• reform and revolt;

• cultural revolutions;

• conservatism v. liberalism in culture;

• technological progress and spiritual decline;

• advantages and disadvantages of progress;

• limits of progress;

• progress and “errors of the past”;

• traditional v. modern methods of linguistic investigation;

• prescriptive v. descriptive linguistic models;

• traditional v. modern linguistics;

• historical linguistics;

• linguistic evolution;

• tradition and innovation in foreign language acquisition;

• linguistic change from a historical perspective.


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 2002, The social contract and The first and second discourses, edited and with an introduction by Susan Dunn; with essays by Gita May... et al., New Haven and London: New Haven and London, 48-49.

Shcherbatov, M. M., 1969, On the Corruption of Morals in Russia, edited and translated with an introduction and notes by A. Lentin, Cambridge University Press.

Selective Bibliography

Andrew, Joe, 2007, Narrative, Space and Gender in Russian Fiction, 1846-1903, Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Bauman, Zygmunt, 2000, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Boucot, Arthur J., Saul, John M., Southard, John B., 2021, Some Thoughts About the Evolution of Human Behavior: A Literature Survey, Oxford: Archaeopress.

Brouwer, Sander (ed.), 2016, Contested Interpretations of the Past in Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian Film: Screen as Battlefield, Leiden: Brill.

Brower, Daniel R., 1990, The Russian City between Tradition and Modernity, 1850-1900, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Carroll, Joseph, 2004, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature, London: Routlege.

Călinescu, Matei, 1987, Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism, Durham: Duke University Press.

Delanty, Gerard, 2007, „Modernity”, in George Ritzer (ed.), Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology , 11 vols., Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing.

Elias, Norbert, 2000, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, translated by Edmund Jephcott, edited by Uric Dunning, Johan Goudsblom and Stephen Mennell, Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing.

Epstein, Mikhail, Vladiv-Glover, Slobodanka, Genis, Aleksandr, 2016, Russian postmodernism. New perspectives on late Soviet and post-Soviet culture, New York: Berghahn.

Löve, Katharina Hansen, 1994, The Evolution of Space in Russian Literature: A Spatial Reading of 19-th and 20-th Century Narrative Literature, Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Sadowski, Piotr, 2009, From Interaction to Symbol: A systems view of the evolution of signs and communication (Iconicity in Language and Literature), Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Swirski, Peter, 2013, From Literature to Biterature: Lem, Turing, Darwin, and Explorations in Computer Literature, Philosophy of Mind, and Cultural Evolution, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Swirski, Piotr, 2006, Of Literature and Knowledge: Explorations in Narrative Thought Experiments, Evolution, and Game Theory, London: Routlege.

Toulmin, Stephen Edelston, 1990, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, New York: Free Press.

Weinbrot, Howard D., 2013, Religion, and the Evolution of Culture, 1660-1780, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Zywiczynski, Przemyslaw, Wacewicz, Slawomir, 2019, The Evolution of Language: Towards Gestural Hypotheses, Berna: Peter Lang.













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