The Numinous Experience of Ego Transcendence in Dostoevsky
This paper responds to recently debated questions of “reading Dostoevsky religiously” by investigating themes of personal transformation and ego transcendence in his works. They are seen as the writer’s chief response to the crisis of modernity. Contrary to conventional wisdom that sees a uniquely Russian derivation of his religious ideas, recent studies argue that motifs of Eastern Orthodoxy are occasional, and mostly peripheral in his novels. The present essay concurs that religious ideas in Dostoevsky have a syncretic foundation, and argues that his religious themes center on the idea of authentic self, elements of which emanate from sources familiar to Dostoevsky in syncretic philosophy of German Romanticism and Neoplatonism. Instances of visionary experience, epiphany, and personal insight in Dostoevsky’s narratives posit the reality of transcendent awareness where authentic self is aligned with primary consciousness beyond the ego or apparent self. Prince Myshkin, Elder Zosima, and Alyosha Karamazov are discussed as examples of inwardly illumined characters, who typify embodiments of the authentic self revealed by insight of a numinous quality. These works and selected nonfiction writings are cited to show that the focal point of Dostoevsky’s critique of modern secular reason and so-called rational egoism is the pre-modern idea that authentic self is revealed by a moral and aesthetic vision emanating from a transcendent order of being.