Monday, September 26, 2011

Religion in War and Peace

Pierre was criticized for being an atheist by the freemasons in book 5.  In Russia, in the 1800's it was expected that everyone would be a devout catholic, but it seems that religion doesn't play much of a role in the novel.  I wonder what Tolstoy thinks of atheism. So far as we've read, we don't see any religious ceremonies except the last rights of Pierre's father.  I wonder if Tolstoy assumes we understand where he is coming from, and has little to no comment on religion, or if he has other views that he has not yet expressed. Wikipedia says that he eventually came to the idea of non-violence and finding religious satisfaction by searching within yourself, but it appears that he didn't come to these conclusions until after he finished War and Peace.  How should we view the characters's religious views?


  1. I believe that the book is partly an internal dialogue that Tolstoy has with himself about what he believes. One instance of this is when Pierre and the Prince are discussing their personal outlooks on life. Tolstoy uses the characters in his novel to help him figure out his own beliefs.

  2. I think that through the absence of religion in War and Peace Tolstoy shows the absence of religion in himself. The only religion shown in depth is the Freemasons through Pierres connection with them. Although Pierre is at first enamored by the ideas of the Freemasons he quickly starts to question the execution of their practices. Maybe this is Tolstoy recognizing spirituality but commenting on the flaws of organized religion. Maybe it is Tolstoy shooting down religion all together. Either way it Tolstoy has not painted organized religion in a good light and it will be interesting to see if any type of religion plays a bigger part later in the book.

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  3. I completely agree with Jen. I feel like Tolstoy is using his life experience and his own incertitude about how he should act as a member of the upper classes of society to create certain traits of the characters in War and Peace. Now that I find out more and more about him, I can better understand some of the themes used in Anna Karenina. There is a certain man in that book, Levin, who is trying to find his way in life through religion. The description of this journey of finding himself is, as I can understand now, a more elaborate description of Pierre's, and implicitly Tolstoy's inner turmoil. I think that this author tends to use recurring themes in his novels and if we analyze the chronology of his works, we will probably be able to see reflections of what he believed at a certain moment in his life in the characters he developed during that time.

  4. I, too, agree with Iulia and Jen. I definitely feel like this is an internal dialogue that Tolstoy is having with himself. Looking at Tolstoy's life, at this point he is trying to find his view on religion. Pierre especially shows this. As Iulia points out, Levin in Anna Karenina more fully shows Tolstoy's evolving ideas on religion.

  5. I agree that Tolstoy's own views on religion show up in the text, but I think Tolstoy leaves enough room for the reader to develop their own perspective by observing how the characters embrace religion. Tolstoy's attitudes about religion can be subtle, so the reader can gain historical knowledge on a particular religion, such as Freemasonry, in the context of a work of literature