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Nikolai Berdyaev

1874-1948. Religious philosopher. Born in Kiev, he was early attracted to Marxism, and although he never repudiated his commitment, he was also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was brought to trial by the church in 1914 for his nonconformist position in religious matters, and was saved from sentencing only by the onset of the Russian Revolution. Like other intellectuals during the early purges, he was expelled from his post as a professor of philosophy at Moscow University, and from the USSR in 1922, He went first to Berlin and then to Paris (1924) where he founded an academy for the study of philosophical problems.

Although not a systematic thinker or philosopher, he was a prolific writer. In more than twenty books and many articles, Berdyaev emphasizes freedom, creativity, and the reality of the transcendent. He is often referred to as a “Christian existentialist” (see Existentialism). In his thinking, the truth is a gleam of light which penetrates the objective world from the transcendent realm of the spirit. Man's glory is in his ability to appropriate this order of the spirit and to become creative; man's deterioration comes about through the loss of these capabilities. He was indebted for some of his ideas to Jakob Boehme,* Kant,* Nietzsche,* and Dostoevsky.* Among his books are Freedom and the Spirit (1935), The Destiny of Man (1937), and The Beginning and the End (1952). Though he was not sympathetic to Marxist materialism and denounced Soviet terrorism, he hoped that the true Russian spirit would ultimately emerge in the new state.