About the Editors:
Dr. Andreas Önnerfors is Director of the CRFF and Senior Lecturer at the Department of History. His principal area of research is the intellectual history of the European Enlightenment with an emphasis on scientific culture, the press and secret societies.
Dr.Robert Collins is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the CRFF and the Russian and East European Department at the University of Sheffield. His main area of research focuses on Petrine Russia, particularly on the influence of religion and esotericism at the court of the tsar.
The second volume in the Sheffield Lectures on the History of Freemasonry and Fraternalism series is the first ever collection of essays by academics on freemasonry in Russia in the eighteenth century and represents an excellent contribution towards breaking new ground in the field. The collection stems from a series of lectures that took place at the University of Sheffield between March-May 2009, which included eminent guest speakers from Russia, Sweden, the United States and Britain.
Ernest Zitser's paper 'A Mason- Tsar? Freemasonry and Fraternalism at the Court of Peter the Great' opens this volume with a fascinating analysis of esoteric symbolism in use at the Petrine court. Based upon a new reading of A.F. Zubov's famous engraving of Peter the Great's second wedding in 1712, Zitser explores it as a symbol of the Petrine "cultural revolution"; as a complex visual summary of the new dynastic scenario enacted during the royal nuptials of Peter and Catherine. Taking a close look at the imagery of the engraving it emerges that elements of fraternalism and esotericism form an underlying topic of the pictorial message. The tsar as a mediator in the road to perfection made use of both elements in order to consolidate his rule and his ambition to transform Russia.
Robert Collis argues in 'Hewing the Rough Stone: Masonic Influence in Peter the Great's Russia, 1689-1725' that freemasonry formed a significant part in the imagination of Peter's reign. Analysing the Emperor's personal seal that displays a mason-king hewing a feminine, regal figure, replete with orb and sceptre, from a rough stone, it emerges that Peter might have seen a similarity in building the Russian empire and perfecting a masonic work. Collis traces this potential masonic influence to Peter's obsession with fraternities and convivial associations, and to the fact that many people in his service belonged to a Jacobite network in which quasi-masonic forms of fraternalism played a significant role from a very early point in his reign.
Tatiana Artemyeva explores 'Utopian Spaces of Russian Masons in the Enlightenment' in her paper, focusing on the conceptual dimensions of Russian freemasonry and its implications for a better understanding of the Russian history of ideas. Defining various forms of utopian thought, Artemyeva convincingly argues that freemasonry played a significant role in the formulation of wide-ranging and sometimes overlapping utopias: pedagogical, moral, epistemological, socio-political, legal, theological and technological. These utopias enabled the Russian elite to connect to the intellectual currents of Europe and deeply influenced Russian culture and society of the time.
Anthony Cross's paper on 'Anglo-Russian Contacts in the Reign of Catherine the Great' clearly demonstrates that the borders of British freemasonry stretched over the entire continent, and thus it is an impressive example of how counterproductive it would be to delimit the scope of research into the fraternity. To a large extent based upon English sources. Cross is able to reconstruct the complicated power-play between various masonic obediences during the latter half of the eighteenth century and how Russian elites as well as the Empress herself responded to the challenges. The paper offers a fascinating overview of the actions of the main representatives of various lodges and masonic bodies and enhances our comprehension of the complicated situation of the time. His investigation proves that Russian freemasons were fully integrated into European networks and developments of the period.
Finally, Natalie Bayer's contribution 'The "Societe Antiabsurde"; Catherine the Great and Freemasonry' sheds light upon the cultural perception of freemasonry during the late eighteenth century. There is no doubt that Russian freemasonry played an important role in the promotion of sciences, culture, education and hence societal reform. These activities were broadly tolerated by Catherine II. However, around 1780 Russian freemasonry became increasingly influenced by esoteric ideas introduced from abroad, such as mysticism, magnetism and Martinism. It was in this environment that the Empress wrote four plays against freemasonry that mocked the rituals, spirit and ideas of freemasonry.