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Department Overview

The Russian program at Swarthmore College aims to give students the key to the nation that Winston Churchill in 1939 called “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  Historically, the Russian people have made enormous contributions to world culture in music, literature, the arts, film, engineering and the sciences. With its sheer size and wealth of natural resources, today’s increasingly aggressive and powerful Russia is an important global player, for better or worse, making the study of Russia’s language and culture of continuing strategic importance.

Learn more here.

Russian and East European Science Fiction: RUSS 026/LITR 026R

Science fiction enjoyed surprisingly high status in Russia and Eastern Europe, attracting such prominent mainstream writers as Karel Čapek, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Evgenii Zamiatin. In the post-Stalinist years of stagnation, science fiction provided a refuge from stultifying official Socialist Realism for authors like Stanisław Lem and the Strugatsky brothers. This course will concentrate on 20th-century science fiction (translated from Czech, Polish, Russian and Serbian) with a glance at earlier influences and attention to more recent works, as well as to Western parallels and contrasts.

Russian and East European Science Fiction: RUSS 026/LITR 026R

Crime or Punishment: Russian Narratives of Incarceration and Captivity:RUSS 037/LITR 037R

“Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” — Alexander Solzhenitsyn

While the Gulag remains the most infamous aspect of the Soviet justice system, Russia has a long history of inhumane punishment on a terrifying scale. This course explores narratives of incarceration, captivity, and punishment from the 17th century to the present day. In discussing (non-)fiction, history, and theory, we'll consider such topics as justice, violence and its artistic representations, totalitarianism, witness-bearing, and the possibility of transcendence in suffering. We will also take time to compare the Russian and American prison systems.

Authors include Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Kropotkin, Akhmatova, Solzhenitsyn, Pussy Riot, Navalny, Michel Foucault, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, among others. 

We'll also have the opportunity to speak with two of our writers, Ali Feruz (jailed Uzbek journalist + LGBTQ+ rights activist) and Oleg Navalny (served 3.5 years on false charges + brother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny).

Taught in translation; no knowledge of Russian language or culture required. All are welcome.

Eligible for Peace/Conflict, Global Studies, Interpretation Theory, and Engaged Scholarship. 

For more information or the syllabus, please contact the instructor, José Vergara (jvergar1). 

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Why Study Russian?

1. Russian is the language of the largest country on the planet, spanning 11 time zones across Europe and Asia.
2. With over 270 million speakers worldwide, Russian is the 6th most widely spoken language on the planet.
3. Russian remains the lingua franca of central Asia, and is one of only six official languages at the UN.
4. Russian is designated a Critical Language by the State Department, which means more funding to study the language and more opportunities in the public sector.
5. Russian culture! It's the language of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Tarkovsky, Eisenstein, Maleevich, Kandinsky, Chagall...and so many others!

Russian Language Table

*Language Tables will be held virtually for Spring '21!*
Please contact for more info. 

Native speakers are welcome to attend!

Russian Table

Choose a Language Program