Study Guide

The Brothers Karamazov Religion

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is an extended reflection on religion, specifically Russian Orthodoxy, not only as a guide for individual morality but as a force in human history. Ivan's poetic fantasy "The Grand Inquisitor" has often been cited as a powerful argument for skepticism and doubt and against religious faith. It presents a view of human beings as essentially weak and frail, eager to give up the terrible burden of free will to a higher, despotic authority. Christianity is simply a mask for this authority. In contrast, many characters endorse an opposing view of the Russian Orthodox religion as one that honors the potential for good in man. In contrast to other religions (most notably Catholicism), the Russian Orthodox Church is presented as a religion firmly grounded in the Russian people, a religion that embraces all of Russia, and potentially the world, in its vision of universal love and humility.

Questions About Religion

  1. Take a close look at Zosima's teachings, primarily in Book 5, Chapter 3, "From the Talks and Homilies of Father Zosima." What are the main features of Russian Orthodox faith according to Zosima? For example, how does he explain such ideas as faith, love, redemption, and paradise?
  2. Ivan's Grand Inquisitor takes a pessimistic attitude toward human nature, claiming that man is essentially weak and needs to be controlled through "miracle, mystery, and authority" (5.5.11). How does the novel debunk each of these three claims?
  3. Dostoevsky's novel focuses on the Russian Orthodox faith as a specifically Russian religion. How does the novel draw attention to the close link between the Russian Orthodox faith and the Russian people?

Chew on This

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov tests the idea that to attain paradise, we must only recognize that we have already attained it in our lives here on earth.

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov pits faith against skepticism; it is unclear which side wins because both sides presented in equally compelling ways.

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