International Scientific Conference – Russia & the Gnosis (15-17 Oct | Moscow) 2

This week Ritman library founder Joost R. Ritman and his wife Rachel Ritman were together with library director Esther Oosterwijk-Ritman special guest at the International Scientific Conference:

Russia and the Gnosis: The Fates of the Religious-Philosophical Searches of Nikolai Novikov and his Circle’

The conference took place in Moscow, Russia from October 15th until 17th and celebrated the 90th anniversary of the M.I. Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature (VGBIL). It was co-organized with the Scientific Research Department for Religious Literature and The Scientific Research Centre ‘The Free Philosophical Society’ and with participation of the Foundation Sobranie and charitable foundation Delphis.

The Ritman library’s policy of seeking cooperation with other libraries and related institutions has resulted in a number of successful joint (inter)national exhibitions in the past.  In 1992 for example a joint effort by the library and the Russian Rudomino Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow to call attention to the fate of collections of books looted in World War II, which were transported to Russia in the post-war period, resulted in the return of a number of books to the Netherlands (September 1992) when they were officially presented to the Amsterdam University Library. Some books with known provenance could subsequently be returned to the owners or their heirs. A catalogue of the books, including an index on provenance, was compiled by staff of the Rudomino Library. Special relations with the VGBIL continue to exist: in 1999 the Ritman library donated some 300 modern (post-1800) books on Hermeticism, Alchemy and related fields. An annotated catalogue of this donation Catalogue of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica donation was compiled in Russian by the Rudomino’s Religious Department curator Ms Tatiana Vsehsviatskaia. Cooperation with the VGBIL furthermore resulted in a major exhibition, first in Moscow, subsequently in St Petersburg in 1993. In 2006, finally, a cooperation agreement was signed between the VGBIL and the Ritman library.

The picture is taken in The Religious Department of the M.I. Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature and shows the collection part donated by the Ritman Library.

From left to right:

      • Yuriy Leonidovich Khalturin (Russia), PhD.
      • George Dergachev (Chairman of the Scientific Enlightenment Centre ‘The Free Philosophical Society)
      • Alexander Leonidovich Rychkov (Russia)
      • Dr. Henrik Bogdan (Sweden)
      • Darya Dmitriyevna Lotareva (Russia)
      • Esther Oosterwijk-Ritman (Director Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica,Amsterdam)
      • Rachel Ritman (The Netherlands)
      • Joost R. Ritman (Founder Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam)
      • Prof. Dr. Birgit Menzel (University of Mainz)

Portrait of Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov by Dmitri Grigor'evich Levitsky (1797).

A central position in the conference ‘Russia and the Gnosis’ took the discussion of the spiritual enlightenment of Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov and his circle and their return into the cultural turnover. Implementing these ideas during the whole period of their work, Novikov and his associates incessantly familiarized the Russian readers with the creative work of European writers: the philosophic and esoteric ideas of the world and the classical authors of Western Mysticism. The activities of these innovative thinkers undoubtedly furthered the formation of an environment characterized by religious tolerance, indulgence and the liberty of conscience conception, that are so indispensable for the contemporary globalized society.

Book cover of the collection of articles N.I. Novikov’s Morning Light (2012) edited by the Rudomino Book Centre (Центр книги Рудомино).

As a continuity symbol of Nikolai Novikov’s spiritually-educational work, on the last conference day a bust of Nikolai Novikov was presented and solemnly opened in the Atrium of the Library for Foreign Literature. It was accompanied by a presentation of the collection of articles N.I. Novikov’s Morning Light (2012), edited by the Rudomino Book Centre (Центр книги Рудомино), ISBN 978-5-905626-54-8.

The disclosure of the Novikov statue during the conference designed by sculptur Ivan Korzhev.

From left to right:

  • Ekatarina Yurievna Genieva (General Director Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow)
  • Joost R. Ritman (Founder Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam)
  • Alexander Victorovich Nefedov (Russia)
  • Rachel Ritman (The Netherlands)
  • Sergei Korostelev (sponsor of the Novikov bust)
  • Ivan Korzhev (scultpur of the Novikov bust)


The statue of Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov with sculptur Ivan Korzhev.

The Novikov statue standing on three works symbolizing the oeuvre of Jacob Bohme, Johann Valentin Andreae (The Rosicrucian Manifestos) and Novikov himself.

During the conference, participants got the opportunity to discuss in the frame of the panels the work of N.I. Novikov as both an outstanding figure of the Russian culture in general and at the same time as one of the most well known Russian Freemasons and Rosicrucians. In his work he tried to connect the rational and the mystical, the ideals of Enlightenment and Esotericism, the secular and the religious, the universal human values and national values. He hereby attempted to break the confessional framework of Christian Mysticism and anticipated in this way several development lines of Russian cultural and religious-philosophical thought. From this viewpoint the attempts of N. Novikov and his circle are still far from being comprehended, though may be of value for understanding the break-down of frameworks in present-day Western society.

Lopukhin, Ivan Vladimirovich (1791), 'The Spiritual Knight or Searching for Wisdom' (Духовный рыцарь или ищущий премудрости). N.I. Novikov was introduced to Masonry and Rosicrucianism by Lopukhin.

Masonry, being an arterial phenomenon of the Russian and world culture, still remains a marginal topic of scientific research. It has resulted in the fact that the lack of scientific research is filled in by myths, stereotypes and ideologems that obstruct an unblessed analysis and understanding of the role of Masonry in society and culture. Undoubtedly, this is connected with the reputation of Masonry as a secret, esoteric, initiative organization and with the fact that ‘full’ knowledge about it cannot be shared with an ‘uninitiated’. So-called ‘full’ knowledge can only be integrated by experience and revelation, apparent as well in view of other orders and societies.

Ekatarina Yurievna Genieva (General Director Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow), George Dergachev (Chairman of the Scientific Enlightenment Centre 'The Free Philosophical Society) and Alexander Georgievich Petrov (Executive Director Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow).

Nevertheless, an academic, scientific discource could create a space for a dialogue that is necessary for drawing near to an adequate understanding of Masonry as a distinctive cultural phenomenon. Secondly, when taking into account the scientific research spirit, the exploration of cultural phenomena, Masonry forms a research field which is still very much uninvestigated, though having been and still being of influence to the shaping of Western society. In the history of Russian science several attempts were made to unite scientists for a complex research of the Masonry phenomenon and those attempts should be continued, because such a complex and multifaceted phenomenon can be investigated to an in-depth extent only by concerted efforts.

Prof. Dr. Birgit Menzel (University of Mainz), new and first female board member of ESSWE, The European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism, which advances the academic study of the various manifestations of Western Esotericism

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