23rd German-Russian Encounters at the Francke Foundations in connection with the 10th Anniversary Conference of the International Georg Wilhelm Steller Society

Halle (Saale), Germany | 11–15 October 2017 | Venue: Franckesche Stiftungen zu Halle

Organizers: Dr. Anna-Elisabeth Hintzsche, Friederike Lippold M.A., Dr. Han F. Vermeulen, Prof. Dr. Holger Zaunstöck


On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation, the 23rd German-Russian Encounters in Halle (Germany) addresses the issue of how Lutherans were active in eighteenth-century Russia and Siberia. Of central concern will be the expeditions to Siberia dispatched by the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg and the participation of Pietists from Halle in these research travels. The conference focuses on the tensions between piety, scholarship, and culture. Special attention will be given to the learning and application of the Russian language during the early eighteenth century.

At the end of the 17th century August Hermann Francke (1663–1727) became aware of evangelical Lutheran Germans living in Russia. In correspondence with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) and in close contact with Heinrich Wilhelm Ludolf (1655–1712), this region became an important subject for Pietism developing in Halle. In 1696 Francke sent his first emissary from Halle to Russia, Justus Samuel Scharschmidt (1664–1724), who was to work there as a preacher and a teacher in order to spread Pietist ideas among the Lutherans and to found schools. In the course of the eighteenth century young university graduates from Central Germany, who had come into contact with Halle Pietism during their studies, or represented it, worked as teachers and priests or as scholars in Russia. After the Battle of Poltava (1709), Swedish prisoners of war stationed in Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia, played a special role as well. They founded a Lutheran church, an orphanage, and a school based on the example set by Halle. The conference inquires into the specific situation of the Lutheran and Pietist travelers: how did their piousness find expression during their journeys; how did the interreligious contact between the local population and the traveling Lutherans and Pietists develop; how did the inner-Lutheran ambiance within the groups of research travelers evolve?


Renowned explorers such as Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt (1685–1735), Johann Christian Buxbaum (1693–1730) and Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709–1746) studied medicine, theology and natural history at the University of Halle and came in close contact with Halle Pietism. Employed at the Medical Chancellery or the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg (founded in 1725) they were dispatched as research travelers to all corners of the Russian Empire.

The conference seeks to highlight the issue of how the research expeditions and the religious practices of the Lutheran and Pietist participants were interconnected. Scholars are invited to explore concepts such as physico-theology as well as the personal motivations of the traveling scientists. In addition, the structural, communicative, and everyday aspects of the expeditions are taken into consideration: the organizational prerequisites in Russia before the founding of the Academy of Sciences and the work of the Medical Chancellery as a central organization for scientific research prior to 1725; the procedure of appointing foreign scholars; key figures and networks within Pietist Lutheranism; the infrastructural and financial preparation and implementation of the expeditions; the practices of collecting, recording and archiving (in the form of diaries, letters, research documentation); the often energy-sapping and life-threatening conditions of living encountered during the journeys in Siberia and Alaska, etc. In addition, the question can be posed as to which experiential knowledge the travels generated beyond ethnographic, natural, military, and other forms of knowledge. In this context, the way in which the traveling Lutheran and Pietist scholars were connected to the communities in Siberia and the manner in which they responded to their local conditions of life or applied their local knowledge can also be taken into account.

Culture, Education and Language

From the broad spectrum of culture, the dimensions of education and language are especially relevant to the conference. A prerequisite for cooperation on location was knowledge of the Russian language. Ludolf had traveled through Russia in 1692–94. In 1696, he published the first Latin grammar of spoken Russian in Oxford (English edition 1698) pointing out the central importance of learning the local language; only in this way could a lasting exchange arise. In January 1698 Ludolf traveled from England via Holland to Halle, where he spent the winter. Whether he actually gave the first academic Russian language course here has yet to be established. It is clear, however, that in the wake of his interest and reports, the Russian language increasingly received attention – not only among the Halle Pietists. Of importance was, for instance, the manuscript of Johann Werner Paus (1670–1735), “Anweisung zur Erlernung der Slavonisch-Rußischen Sprache, Zum Nutzen, sonderlich der Teutschen Nation, aufgesetzt,” written in St. Petersburg around 1720.

Communication in the form of language and translations as cultural practices will be key topics during the conference. How and to what purpose did knowledge regarding the Russian language circulate outside Russia around 1700 and in the early 18th century? This relates to the fact that the Lutheran Pietists initiated concrete projects in Siberia. Thus, questions as to where schools or orphanages were founded in Siberia and Russia (according to the Halle model) and what role language practice played in this connection can also be considered.

Please apply for the conference by sending a short abstract (max. 500 characters) to Friederike Lippold (lippold@francke-halle.de) no later than 15 March 2017.

Adrianna Link: contributions / website / alink@amphilsoc.org