Purpose of Evolution
The Struggle for Existence in the Russian-Jewish Press 1860-1900

Stockholm Slavic Studies, No. 37

By Joakim Philipson
December 2008
Stockholm University Press
Distributed by Coronet Books Inc.
ISBN: 9789186071028
408 pages
$125.00 Paper Original

In late 19th century Russia, Darwinism was viewed as a measuring-rod of modernity. Thus, the Jewish reception of Darwinism may serve as an indicator of the extent to which the Jews in Russia were part of the modernization of Russian society. But the Darwinian concept of evolution of species through natural selection is considered incompatible with a teleological worldview, including a God-given plan for creation.

This thesis addresses a twofold problem. One concerns the difficulties ofreconciling Darwinism with Judaism and its traditional view of a God-given purpose in creation. The other problem is to explain the possible motives of the Jewish intellectuals for using Darwinian concepts such as the 'struggle for existence' in journal articles in the emerging Russian-Jewish press. The study employs discourse analysis, and the concept of isomorphism from institutional theory, for the examination ofkey concepts, citations, implied readers and purposes in a selection of journal articles from the Russian-Jewish press of the period 1860-1900.

Contrasting with the lively general Russian debate on Darwinism, the results show that the Jews in Russia were rather reluctant to discuss Darwinism in the Russian-Jewish press. Censorship, other constraints and imminent problems facing the Jews, such as defence against growing anti-Semitism, are indicated as possible causes of the minimal evidence of a Jewish reception of Darwinism that was found.

It was only to·the extent that Darwinian concepts such as the 'struggle for existence' could be employed to address these more pressing issues that they were they found useful in a Jewish context. The results further imply that the integration between Russian and Jewish intellectuals during this period was weak, as reflected by the insignificant number of references to Russian sources in the selection of Jewish journal articles that were examined.


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