Intuition and the Irrational in Early Twentieth-Century Russia: The Case of Theosophy

 [The Congress on Women’s Education’s] Exhibition Panel Extracurricular Education from Trudy 1-go Vserossiiskogo s”ezda po obrazovaniiu zhenshchin, organizovannogo Rossiiskoi ligoi ravnopraviia zhenshchin v Sankt-Peterburge: T. 2. St. Petersburg: Rossiiskaya liga ravnopraviya zhenshchin, n.d.

by Aleksandra Bessonova

The early twentieth century was a time of increased rationalization and modernization in Europe and beyond. At the same time, many intellectuals were turning to alternative, irrational forms of cognition. Among these was intuition, broadly defined as the ability to perceive higher truths not grasped by the intellect. The perceived irrationality of intuition was often linked to notions of womanhood as opposed to scientific rationality, gendered male. Philosophers attempted to conceptualize intuition in their work, and another tradition preoccupied with the irrational was esotericism. In Russia, theosophy was among the most influential esoteric movements, and its followers criticized excessive reliance on the intellect and expressed an overall dissatisfaction with modernity. In my paper, I focus on the concept of intuition and its relationship to the irrational in theosophy in pre-revolutionary Russia. I also examine how the concept of intuition informed theosophical projects of social and educational reform, presented at the Congress on Women’s Education in 1912-1913. The range of possible definitions and terms for intuition and related phenomena was quite broad: intuition, wisdom, conscience, the voice of one’s heart, and, finally, the higher nature or essence. It is, however, important to note that for theosophists themselves intuition and related phenomena were not constituted as irrational.

The video presentation will be featured here.

Author’s bio: Aleksandra Bessonova is currently a PhD student at the European University in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, she works on the conceptual history of intuition in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. 

Registered attendees will receive access to the video on June 18. Attendees are invited to share questions and comments below.


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