The Archbishop of Canterbury Reads Dostoevsky

By John Murphy

Posted 10/2/08 at 5:13 AM


Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has recently written a book about Fyodor Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. The book—Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction—has drawn some controversy, not so much for its content, but for the question of whether it should have been written in the first place. Some object to Williams taking time off his duties as Archbishop (when the Church of England faces difficulties on its home turf) to pen his reflections on a long-dead Russian writer. Why bother about old books when there are more pressing concerns?

Those who turn to great literature for spiritual nourishment and guidance know better. When times are difficult, re-reading the prophetic words of a profound thinker like Dostoevsky is not only recommended, it’s necessary. In an interview with the Telegraph, The Archbishop said, “I think it is some part of this job to try and keep stirring the cultural pot, even in a very limited way, and to say: when we are having all these debates about faith and atheism and science and so on, don’t let’s forget what lives of faith actually look like imaginatively, in ways that really serious writers and artists portray them, because if your view of religion is confined to a few fundamentalist platitudes, there’s no debate there.”