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Sergei S. Horujy, Practices of ...



Sergei S. Horujy, Practices of the Self and Spiritual Practices: Michel Foucault and Eastern Christian Discourse . Edited with an introduction by Kristina Stoeckl, translated by Boris Jakim. Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015, 207 pp.
Stoyan Tanev (University of Southern Denmark)
translated from Bulgarian by Blagoja Petrovski

Sergey Sergeevich Horujy is perhaps one of the most famous
Christian philosophers in Russia today. Born in 1941, he studied physics
at Moscow State University and became a doctor of physics and mathe-
matics in 1977. After that, he became a professor of mathematical phys-
ics at the Steklov Mathematical Institute at the Russian Academy of
Sciences, where he worked until 2006. During his scientific career he
published numerous articles and books in the field of mathematical
physics. During his scientific career, he never accepted the terms of the
anti-religious Soviet communist regime. In the 1970s he engaged with
Russian Orthodox religious philosophy and theology, becoming part of
the dissident circles of religious intellectuals in Moscow. He wrote a
number of philosophical works, none of which appeared publicly before
1991. In addition, Horujy was actively involved in literary criticism and
translation, being, for example, the first translator of James Joyce into
Russian. After the democratic changes in Russia, Horujy emerged as one
of the leading figures in the process of renewal of religious philosophy
in post-Soviet Russia. In fact, one can say that it was Horujy who initi-
ated an “anthropological” turn in Russian religious philosophy. Today ,
he is a professor of philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy of the Rus-
sian Academy of Sciences, as well as founder and director of the Insti-
tute of Synergistic Anthropology.(1) Sergey Horujy travels frequently and

(1) http://synergia-isa.ru/ )

lectures both in Russia and abroad. Many of his philosophical essays
have been translated into English. His book Practices of the Self and
Spiritual Practices: Michel Foucault and Eastern Christian Discourse is
his first book-length publication in English.
There is but one Big Theme of modern reflection on man and his
situation: profound tectonic shifts that take place in the human being, in
structures of his personality and his relation to himself, in his position
and strategies in social, technological, environmental reality, and so on.
These shifts represent a strong challenge to this reflection: they
generate the crisis of old anthropological theories and imply the
necessity to create new ones. The whole fund of old anthropological
views, ideas, and conceptions needs global revision and reappraisal.
One should answer the question: How should man apprehend his
present self and his situation, which has changed radically and
continues to change? How should he act and how can he achieve his full
self-realization in this situation?(2)
These are the questions posed by Sergey Horujy in the preface to
his book in English, which is actually a translation of the latter part of
one of his most significant works published in 2010 in Russian, The
Lantern of Diogenes: A Critical Retrospective Review of European
Anthropology. (3) In this new English edition, Horujy provides an in-depth
comparative analysis of his own understanding of spiritual practice in
the Orthodox ascetic tradition of Hesychasm and Michel Foucault’s the-
ory of the practices of the self, looking for similarities between these
two radical approaches to contemporary anthropology. In what way, ac-
cording to Horujy, does this radicalism appear?
Horujy distances himself from the canon of Russian religious phi-
losophy and discovers the insights of the neo-patristic synthesis of twen-
tieth-century Orthodox theology. “Neo-patristic synthesis” is a term in-
troduced by Georges Florovsky, who emphasizes the need to restore the
patristic theological legacy and rediscover the spiritual and existential

(2) Practices of the Self and Spiritual Practices: Michel Foucault and Eastern Christian Discourse, xvi.)
(3) С. С. Хоружий. Фонарь Диогена. Критическая ретроспектива европейс-кой антропологии. М.: Институт философии, теологии и истории св. Фомы, 2010, 688 с.)

commitment of Orthodox theology. The term has a certain polemical
overtone that reflects the reaction by Fr. Georges Florovsky and Vladi-
mir Lossky against some of the key features of the Russian religious re-
vival of the 1930s, which culminated in the critique of the Sophiology of
Sergei Bulgakov and the accusation of heresy by the Moscow Patriarch.
The program of the neo-patristic synthesis aimed to help Orthodox the-
ology to recover from the “pseudomorphosis” of Orthodox thought in
Russia and in general to escape its “Babylonian captivity” by Western
scholastic theology associated with the influence of Vladimir Solovyov. (4)
According to Florovsky, the road to recovery is one of a “prayerful entry
into the Church, fidelity to Revelation, a return to the Fathers, a free en-
counter with the West ...“ (5)
The neo-patristic synthesis is also associated with the rediscovery of
the themes of the personal and existential nature of the experience of God
and Deification in modern Orthodox theology. According to Horujy, the
main intellectual achievement of the Russian diaspora after the first thirty
years of the twentieth century (mainly the contributions of Fr. Georges
Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky and Fr. John Meyendorff) should be examined
in the context of theology and, in particular, in the context of the rediscov-
ery of the existential dimensions of the theology of St. Gregory Palamas
and Hesychasm, which enabled the emergence of a new discourse that was
different from the one used in Russian religious philosophy. (6) This new dis-
course is based on the dogmatic insights and the practical spiritual and as-
cetic experience of Eastern Christianity. A large part of the work of Horujy
after his career in the natural sciences is devoted precisely to the anthropo-
logical, spiritual and ascetic aspects of Hesychasm.

(4 ) Andrew Louth, “The Patristic Revival and its Protagonists,” in The Cambridge
Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, ed. Mary B. Cunningham
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 188-202.
(5) Archpriest Georgii Florovsky, The Ways of Russian Theology (Paris:
YMCA Press, 1937). The most recent Russian edition is: Флоровский, Г.
Пути русского богословия (Париж: YMCA Press, 1981).
(6) S. Tanev, Thou, Who Art Everywhere Present and Fillest All Things: Essence
and Energy in Orthodox Theology and Physics (Sofia: Sofia University Press,
2013). (In Bulgarian: С. Танев, Ти, който си навсякъде и всичко изпълваш:
същност и енергия в Православното богословие и във физиката, София,
Университетско издателство „Св. Климент Охридски“, 2013).

In his book Horujy presents the ideas of Michel Foucault, and then
analyzes them critically in the light of the anthropological and ascetic
teachings of the Hesychastic tradition. Here, by "anthropology" should
be understood philosophical anthropology and, in this sense, in the
words of Horujy, his monograph provides a critical retrospective of the
development of philosophical thought from the first more systematic
understanding of man in Aristotle to the theory of practices of the per-
sonal self in Michel Foucault. After a brief discussion of the earlier
stages of European anthropology, the book focuses on discussing "anti-
anthropomorphism" in the classical metaphysics of Descartes and Kant,
namely, the transformation of philosophical discourse in a way that ex-
cludes the direct presence of the human person. In the light of this per-
spective, Hegel's philosophical system represents an extreme position
with respect to the philosophy of his opponent, Soren Kierkegaard, who
enabled a reversal of the trend by advocating a necessary return to man.
The anthropological perspective proposed by Michel Foucault in his
Hermeneutics of the Subject (7) appears to offer the highest expression of
the new anthropological trend. That is why it occupies such an important
part in Horujy’s book.
Horujy focuses on the last four years of Foucault’s life and work,
where he discerns the emergence of a new philosophical project with a
distinct alternative to the classic anthropological model. A careful reading
of The Hermeneutics of the Subject would demonstrate how Foucault
shifted his focus from the practices of power to the practices of the self. (8}
Foucault actually talks about four types of practices or technologies: (9 )

(7) Michel Foucault. The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de
France 1981—1982, ed. Frédéric Gros, trans. Graham Burchell (New York:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
(8) Recently I had to discuss this topic with engineering students in my classes
on the theories of technological innovation. The idea was to find definitions
of technology that would enable an understanding of technology that would
go beyond the science and engineering domains. In the discussion we used an
article by David Rooney, “A Contextualising, Socio-technical Definition of
Technology: Learning from Ancient Greece and Foucault,” Prometheus:
Critical Studies in Innovation 15:3 (1997), 399-407.
(9) Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self" in Technologies of the Self: A
Seminar with Michel Foucault, ed. Luther H. Martin, Huch Gutman, Patrick

technologies of production, technologies of sign systems or semiotic tech-
nologies, technologies of power and technologies of the self. Horujy fo-
cuses on the practices or technologies of the self. Foucault wonders
whether there are other possible forms of human existence in addition to
Descartes’ way of the subject as sovereign master of his words, thoughts
and life. He finds such forms of existence in the ancient Greek philosophy
of Plato and Epicurus, in the Stoics, and also in early Christianity. Ac-
cording to Foucault, however, there is a gradual abandonment of spiritual
practices as the process of knowing the truth, resulting in a situation in
which modern philosophy and theology have detached themselves from
real life concerns to become merely speculative activities:
The work of disconnecting, on the one hand, the principle of an access to
truth accomplished in terms of the knowing subject alone from, on the
other, the spiritual necessity of the subject's work on himself, of his self-
transformation and expectation of enlightenment and transfiguration from
the truth, was underway long before. (10)
It is true that theology in the medieval universities became a prac-
tice of acquiring knowledge of God often completely separated from the
context of spiritual practices. The emphasis on this fact, however, does
not reflect the insights of the religious and spiritual experience in East-
ern Christianity, which has never lost its deeply personal spiritual and
practical approach to the Truth. ”I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me,“ says Jesus Christ in the
Gospel of John (14:6). The human relationship with the Father through
the Son is the foundation of Christian anthropological ontology. The
only image of the Father is the image of His Son, and we are created in
God's image, i.e. the image of the image of the Father. So, human an-
thropology acquires its authentic meaning only in the light of the person
of the God-Man Christ. According to Berdyaev, a proper hermeneutics
of personality can follow only from an authentic Christian theology.
Horujy clearly shows the shortcomings of Foucault in his reconstruc-
tion of the Christian ascetic model. For Foucault, the Christian practices of

(10) H. Hutton (London: Tavistock Publications, 1988), 16-49.
Michel Foucault. The Hermeneutics of the Subject. Lectures at the College de France, 1981-82, op. cit., 26. )

the self do not really offer any alternative or any way out of the crisis of the
European understanding of the subject. According to Horujy, Foucault sim-
ply remains captive to the Hellenistic model of man which preaches the aes-
thetics of existence. (11) And this is because, on the one hand, Foucault appar-
ently did not have a chance to touch on some of the authentic sources and
anthropological insights of Christian theology and, on the other hand, failed
to see this difference between the spirituality of the Christian East and the
Christian West. The inability to see the difference is a typical problem for
many intellectuals in the West who, when speaking of religion and theol-
ogy, understand only Catholicism or Protestantism. Furthermore, in Fou-
cault there is a certain multi-faciality or multi-imagery of the subject be-
cause its uniqueness emerges virtually as a function of discourse, which is a
manifestation of power and has its own characteristic modes of relationship
between power and knowledge. (12) For Foucault, the subject is not a stable
and universal formation but a function of discourse which constructs and
constitutes it. In this sense, Foucault is similar to Lyotard for whom “the re-
lationship with the other is not just a meeting and discourse involving two
autonomous and free subjects, but a movement in the infinite diversity of
language games, and because they are endless, unstable and internally en-
capsulated, they tend to generate multiple identities. So, language games
turn the Self into a player with multiple faces.” (13) Independently of this ex-
ternal multiplication of personal being, Foucault sets the stage for a new
kind of philosophical anthropology, which gives meaning to the human sub-
ject not just as an abstract essence or substance, but in terms of its actual
contextual practices. The awareness of these dynamics of the subject pro-
vides a parallel that helps Horujy to outline the boundaries of his own phi-
losophical project focusing on synergistic anthropology.
Synergistic anthropology provides a real alternative to Descartes’
subject because the spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition, i.e.
the experience of Deification or Theosis, remains inaccessible to Carte-
sian metaphysics. This experience is described in the ascetic literature of

(11) Kristina Stoeckl, “Introduction,” in Sergey S. Horujy. Practices of the Self
and Spiritual Practices,. xii.
(12) A. Doncheva, The Self and the Other in 20th Century Western European Culture
(Sofia: Iztok-Zapad, 2014), 208. (In Bulgarian: А. Дончева, Азът и другият в
Западноевропейската култура на ХХ в. София: Изток-Запад, 2014).
(13) Ibid.

the Church Fathers and acquires its highest expression in the theology of
Hesychasm. Horujy describes in detail the nature, the specifics and the
different levels of this experience, as well as the reasons for the need of
a new anthropological discourse. Unfortunately, the purpose and scope
of this review do not allow us to enter more deeply into the details of his
reasoning. According to Horujy, however, the key element of this ex-
perience is “the understanding that man exists vis-а-vis another form of
being and that a transformation of human being in view of this ‘Other-
being’ is possible.” (14) Horujy repeatedly emphasizes that assuming the
anthropological reality of mystical experiences and spiritual practices
will inevitably require a revision of the classical anthropological para-
digm of man as autonomous, self-centered subject. Man is not just a dis-
tinct essence or center of action, but an energetic constellation and a be-
ing with multiple existential horizons endowed with multiple open bor-
ders. The main points here are, first, that these borders are not closed
and, second, they interfere in a way that forms the interface enabling the
interaction with the “Other-being.” Horujy calls the process of human
interaction with the energies of the Other “unlocking” (размыкание).
Thus, there is a shift from an “anthropology of the border” to an “an-
thropology of unlocking,” or a synergistic anthropology.
Kristina Stoeckl, the author of the introduction to the book, and
who pressed for its publication in English, emphasizes that the real con-
tribution of Horujy is actually a philosophical anthropology that is open
to, but not limited to, the ascetic-spiritual experience. According to her,
this is a philosophical anthropology in which there is room for religious
experience, but it is not in itself a religious anthropology. For Stoeckl
this is probably the most important yet most difficult moment for under-
standing Horujy’s project: synergistic anthropology emerged and was
articulated on the basis of a deeper understanding of the Eastern Chris-
tian Hesychastic tradition, but at some point, due to its understanding of
the virtually open borders of interaction with “the other,” it actually sur-
passed that tradition and became a universal anthropological model.
This universalization can be seen as an attempt to radicalize the Hesy-
chastic tradition. This might be the reason for the sometimes contradic-
tory receptions of Horujy’s anthropology in Orthodox philosophical and

(14) Kristina Stoeckl, “Introduction,” op. cit., xiii. )

theological circles. The reservations regarding his philosophical and
theological ideas might be connected to the fragile or rather unarticu-
lated relation between nature and person – a relation that has been inten-
sively discussed by Orthodox theologians over the last twenty years.
This fragility shows up, for example, in Horujy’s understanding of the
human subject as a constellation of actions and energies on the basis of
which the emergence of personhood could be seen as resulting from a
kind of constructive interference of the different nodes in the network
formed by the multiple natural actions and energetic manifestations of
the human being. This understanding, although original, has no direct
analogue in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It looks at the person not in
terms of essence, but in terms of manifestations, as energy and potential-
ity vis-а-vis an “Other.” (15) Nevertheless, with his synergistic anthropol-
ogy, Sergey Horujy has contributed significantly to the discovery of the
interdisciplinary potential of Eastern Christian philosophical theology.

(15) Ibid., xiv. )