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Writing the Name: Sergii Bulgakov and the Discipline of Speculation



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Heath, Joshua 


This thesis is a critical exposition of the work of Russian philosopher-theologian Sergii Bulgakov (1871-1944). It provides a much-needed account of his work that illuminates his centrality within twentieth-century Russian philosophy of language, and reveals his capacity to revitalise conversations in Western metaphysics and philosophy of language. The work of Bulgakov has been the object of increasing attention in Christian theology, fuelled by the recent translation of Bulgakov’s major theological works into English. Yet the focus of scholarly attention remains largely restricted to the texts produced in the last decade of Bulgakov’s life and confined to theological circles. There has been little attempt to read Bulgakov for what his work can offer to other disciplines, despite the fact that Bulgakov was, for much of life, principally engaged in economics, political theory and philosophy.

My thesis addresses this twofold restriction. It takes Bulgakov’s texts about language, subjectivity and the doctrine of the Trinity, written in the 1920s, as the interpretive key to Bulgakov’s œuvre: they mark the culmination of his preceding work and provide the fundamental conceptual basis for his subsequent theological works. In particular, my thesis shows how the whole of Bulgakov’s corpus represents a continuous engagement with the perennial philosophical concept of unity. I show how Bulgakov is continually preoccupied with the unity of the subject with the world (a theme bequeathed by German Idealism), the unity of the subject with other subjects (within the Russian sobornost’ tradition), the unity of the world with God and, finally, the unity of God with God (Christian theology). Bulgakov’s lifelong project is the pursuit of a metaphysics, or account of reality, that will integrate these various kinds of unity. With the turn to language, this thesis argues, Bulgakov finds the means for doing so, as the complex unity of the grammatical proposition (subject-copula-predicate) becomes the paradigm for understanding the unities that fascinate him.

The argument of this thesis has two strands. First, it articulates – on the basis of close analysis of Bulgakov’s texts on language – what I call Bulgakov’s ‘linguistic metaphysics’, i.e., Bulgakov’s account of language as fundamental to reality. Through this account of Bulgakov’s metaphysics, the thesis arrives at its second aim: an account of Bulgakov’s understanding of the nature of intellectual activity. This thesis maintains that Bulgakov’s picture of language as unifying leads to a reading of Bulgakov’s own texts as a unifying effort. In particular, I show in the second half of the thesis how Bulgakov’s work is a practice of reading and writing that attempts to overcome the tragedies of diremption and loss that characterise Russian history and, within that, his own life. His writing on the death of his son, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the generation of the Son by the Father within the Trinity are as many exercises in discerning unity and coherence within instances of apparently irredeemable division. These exercises in reading and writing thus have as their end a renewed capacity for action within a history that previously appeared to be a movement of inexorable fragmentation.

In doing so, my thesis breaks new ground on several fronts. It counters a prevailing view of Bulgakov’s work in linguistic philosophy as ‘incidental’, whose significance is wholly explained by the discussions surrounding the Name of God (the imiaslavie controversy) that animated the Russian Orthodox Church in 1910-1918. Instead, I show how Bulgakov’s linguistic philosophy reveals the profound coherence of his œuvre. This focus on his linguistic philosophy also enables a considerably wider reception of his work. Appreciation of Bulgakov’s intellectual achievements has been hampered by his apparent esotericism, particularly in his emphasis on the ‘Divine Wisdom’. My thesis interprets Bulgakov’s writing on the ‘Divine Wisdom’ within his concern with unity and particularly the unity of history. I thus show how Bulgakov’s ‘Sophiology’ is not idle speculation, but an existential engagement with the possibilities for human action. In this way, his work is a model of a metaphysical thinking whose stakes are always a renewed engagement with the present.





Williams, Rowan
Pickstock, Catherine


Christian Theology, Imiaslavie, Personalism, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Religion, Russian Religious Philosophy, Sergius Bulgakov, Silver Age


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (2102197)
AHRC Cambridge DTP