Naparima College Forever

From Naparima Hill to Red Square

Krister's inspiring intellectual and real-life pilgrimage
by Krister (Krishna) Sairsingh
(copyright © 2009 K. Sairsingh)

I am a professor of Philosophy and the Intellectual History of Europe at the State University Higher School of Economics, considered to be the most prestigious university in Russia for economics. I teach in an autonomous division of the university called the International College of Economics and Finance, which has a joint program with the London School of Economics.

Students in this program earn a Russian degree and also an external degree from London University. My course is required of all 160 first year students.

After Naparima and London "A" levels, I was admitted to UWI Jamaica to study modern history and was intent on going there. Upon hearing that I was about to leave for Jamaica, my uncle, Larry Lutchmansingh, the 1957 Naps island scholarship winner in modern studies, wrote from Chicago and urged me not to accept the UWI offer. He said that he would interrupt his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, return home, and help me prepare for admission to a U.S. university.

(After a few years in Trinidad, Larry returned to the USA, received his PhD from Cornell and taught for almost 30 years as a professor of art history at Bowdoin College, one of the top seven liberal arts colleges in the U.S.. Nathaniel Hawthorne and the poet Longfellow graduated from Bowdoin).

Larry taught at Presentation, San Fernando, and every evening after getting home, he would explain to me the ideas of the great philosophers. He would talk to me about the luminaries at the University of Chicago with whom he taken classes. Larry would tell me about Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Columbia and Chicago, and made these schools seem like an intellectual heaven. How I longed to study at one of these great universities.

Larry had returned home with an impressive library and I found much delight in reading some of those books. I remember one in particular, “Intellectual Movements in Modern European History” by the Yale historian, Franklin Le Van Baumer. I was so impressed with this book that I began to dream about applying to Yale to study with Baumer.

And the dream became a reality. Yale admitted me with a full scholarship for four years. Allan Mackenzie's letter of recommendation surely played a huge role in my admission to Yale. And indeed, I studied Modern European Intellectual History with Baumer. I remember once he came up to me after a lecture on Hegel’s philosophy of history and said that he would like to take me to lunch. Over lunch in the college dining hall, he informed me that he had received a letter from Larry with a request to make sure that all was going well for me at Yale.

Larry helped me in planning courses each semester and steered me in the direction of the history of ideas, with nearly all my courses drawn from the departments of philosophy, history, and religious studies.

When my mother and Larry attended my graduation in 1971, I took mom to the home of a professor who had become a spiritual guide to me. It was Roland Bainton, the author of “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther”. I had discovered this book in the Naparima library.

After teaching as a Carnegie Fellow at Yale for a year, an award given to ten graduating seniors, I went to Harvard to study for the PhD in the Study of Religion in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This doctoral program was run by a committee comprised of professors from several departments, including English, Philosophy, the History of Science and the faculty of Divinity.

From the Naparima library, I had read Myron Gilmore's The World of Humanism. I now had the privilege of studying with him at Harvard. All my courses were taken in the fields of the study of intellectual history, philosophy and modern philosophical theology. I devoted several years of graduate study to the philosophy of Kant and the impact of his critical thought on 19th and 20th century German theology. For a few years I did research and writing on Kant's theory of truth and language but gave it up when I discovered the writings of the American theologian and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards. I wrote my dissertation on the way in which Edwards used Cambridge Platonism, Locke, Newton and Scottish aesthetic theory to articulate a new approach to understanding the nature of Being - an ontology of social relations. As an academic, I stand between the two worlds of philosophy and theology.

Upon getting the PhD from Harvard (in historical and philosophical theology), I chose to remain and work at the university since my wife was a Harvard doctoral student in the history of modern art. She took a course at MIT on art and the Russian Revolution and, as a result, changed her field of research from 19th century French art to the Russian avant-garde. She warned me that her research might take us to Russia. And sure enough, we made our way to Moscow in 1991 with our two boys. We were there when the Soviet Union collapsed after the coup in August 1991, and even joined in the celebration on Red Square to mark the end of Communism.

We returned again to Russia 1992.

While in Moscow I spent much time with Professor Shuravski, a leading authority on Central Asian Islam. He implored me to write and send my CV to the president of the Russian State University of the Humanities and let him know that I would like to be a visiting professor. A friend of mine, Ravi Zacharias, had come to Harvard to give some talks and while walking back with him to the campus after dinner, I learned that he was leaving the next day for Moscow. He took my letter and CV to Moscow and hand delivered it to the office of the president of the university. Four months later, I received an invitation to teach at the Russian State University of the Humanities. We moved there with 53 large boxes in 1993.

I have taught in several universities in Russia but since 2003, I have limited my teaching to philosophy and the intellectual history of Europe at the State University Higher School of Economics. Everything that I have published in journals and books, mostly on Karl Barth and Jonathan Edwards, is in Russian. I even wrote the introduction to a Russian book on Mozart.

It is now more than 18 years since we arrived in Moscow. My wife, Nancy, would find it very difficult to relocate to the USA because of her deep connection with Russian spiritual and cultural life. And perhaps the same is true for me. For over ten years she has been teaching the history of modern art in Moscow. Our children were educated here and are now living in the USA. They do return for holidays.

We enjoy living near Red Square and the Kremlin, just a fifteen-minute walk from our home. Sometimes for months we never get into a car. We can walk to most places and take the metro if needed.

From time to time, when the priest is away, I preach at the Moscow Anglican Church. While in the USA last summer, a large Presbyterian Church invited me to preach. My favourite sermon touches on poverty and wealth in the teachings of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. In this global economic crisis or downturn, there might something here to think about.

Here is a link to the sermon from this Naps boy.