Swinburne: On His Ministry to Russia
Dr. Richard Swinburne discusses his work translating philosophy of religion texts into the Russian language.
Richard, you’re involved in a project, as I understand it right now, of helping to translate in to the Russian language, I think it’s nine books in philosophy of religion. Explain a little bit about that project, and why is it important to get philosophy of religion in to the Russian language?
Yes, I’ve been involved with Russia quite a bit over the past 10, 15 years, since the end of the Cold War. The reason for that, I suppose, is two-fold. First, because I spent two years of my life doing little else except learning the Russian language. Before I was an Undergraduate, my military service was devoted to learning the Russian language, and therefore, I, certainly at that time, spoke very fluently. I’m not quite as fluent as I was, but at any rate, I have a great command of it.
And also, I belong to the Orthodox church, which is, of course, the national church of Russia. And for these reasons, when the Cold War ended, I thought I might be able to help Russia intellectually a bit, and I’ve been involved since. But, recently, the Templeton Foundation gave a large sum of money to the Society for Christian Philosophers for this kind of work, and, there were three parts to it; conferences with Russian philosophers and theologians, we ran a graduate school, a summer school, three week summer school for graduates and faculty from Russia, and also, there is this project for translating nine books of Anglo-American type philosophy of religion in to Russian, and I’ve been involved in supervising this project.
Why is this important? Well, it’s important the message, as if it’s a good message, should get to every country, but I happen to have particular connections with that country, and that country is a big country and an influential country in the modern world. Therefore, it’s important the message should get there.
But it’s especially important perhaps, the message should get there, because after all, for 70 years, Atheism was the national, I won’t say religion, but at any rate, ideology. Christians had no chance to learn much about their religion. Seminaries were closed, churches were closed. The church was very lucky to survive, and so it had really no intellectual resources when the Cold War ended, and it was looking around for them. And here is an opportunity.
The Orthodox church, in recent centuries, has sort of emphasized the importance of religious experience, and the mystery of God, rather than rigorous arguments, but it does revere various Christian thinkers of the past, who have gone in for arguments in quite a big way. It’s a little hobby of mine to, hobby, it’s an important thing, but to try and persuade them that serious arguments on this matter, or persuade religious people that serious arguments on this matter would be of use to the church in the modern world. And I think some influential people in the Russian church have now got this message, and are supporting this work.