Lavrov Petr (1823–1900) – philosopher, sociologist, publicist, historian of religion, participant in the revolutionary movement, theorist of revolutionary Narodnichestvo.
He graduated from the St. Petersburg Artillery School in 1842. He taught Mathematics at military schools in St. Petersburg. In 1858, he was promoted to Colonel, got the academic title of Professor.
He was also engaged in literary work, wrote articles on Physics, Mathematics, Military sciences, Philosophy. Since 1857, he published articles in the magazines: ‘Otechestvennye zapiski’, ‘Biblioteka dlya chteniya’, ‘Russkoe slovo’, and also for ‘Kolokol’ edited by A.I. Herzen.
In April 1866, he was arrested for participation in the secret society ‘Land and Freedom’; in 1867, he was exiled to Totma, and then to the Vologda Province. In February 1870, he fled exile and emigrated to France. In 1871, he took part in the Paris Commune.
In 1871, in London he met K. Marx and F. Engels. In 1873-1877, in Switzerland and England, he published the newspaper ‘Vperyod’ (Forwards). In 1883-1886, he was co-editor of ‘Vestnik’ of the group ‘Narodnaya Volya’ (People’s Freedom). He wrote under numerous pseudonyms - Arnoldi, Mirtov, Kedrov, Stoletov, etc. - articles for the European and Russian magazines ‘Otechestvennye zapiski’, ‘Delo’, ‘Znanie’, ‘Voprosy filosofii i psykhologii’, etc.
In 1889, at the Congress of the Second International in Paris, he made a report on the development of socialist ideas in Russia.
He died in Paris on January 25 (February 6), 1900. He was buried on the Montparnasse Cemetery. His philosophical worldview L. himself defined it as ‘anthropologism’ and considered himself the successor of the traditions of A. Comte, L. Feuerbach, and G. Spencer. Considering working class as an important social force, L. believed that peasantry would play the main role in the development of Russia.
L. played a special role in the history of religious studies in Russia, as his articles had a significant impact on the spread of the anthropological approach. Under the influence of Feuerbach, he wrote two articles: ‘The Gradual Development of Ancient Philosophical Doctrines in the Context of Development of Pagan Beliefs’ (1861) and ‘Anthropomorphism and Anthropopathism’ (1862). In the beginning of 1868, in St. Petersburg, in the magazine ‘Sovremennoe obozrenie’ (Modern Review), he published a large work ‘Development of the Doctrine of Mythical Beliefs’ written in Vologda exile. Supporting Feuerbach's views on religion as a result of alienation and on anthropomorphism as the source of the emergence of religious images, L. defined the structure of a new ‘science of religion’, which he called ‘the history of beliefs’. The development of this doctrine, on his opinion, was facilitated by comparative linguistics and studying folk traditions, the works of theologians and philologists, the anthropological principle, and studying Gnostic heresies, Roman and Hebrew antiquities.
On May 16, 1872, L. made a speech at the Paris Anthropological Society on the topic ‘On the Worship of Lakes and Flowing Water, and Legends of Sunken Cities’ In that report, he developed his ideas about two types of religions. The first type, on his opinion, is the ‘self-generated, anthropological religion’, known under the names of Fetishism, Animism, magic, folk superstitions, that is, primitive beliefs in magic, fetishes, in the spirits of the elements, forests, belief in the dead, ghosts, dreams, etc. The second group is historical religions.
In 1898, in St. Petersburg, L. wrote a preface, made corrections and comments for the second publication of E. Taylor's book ‘Anthropology (Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization)’. In the preface, not hiding his positivist sympathies, L. pointed out that the world outlook, which is called realism, has been waging a stubborn struggle since the seventeenth century against dogmatic and metaphysical teachings inherited from previous periods of thought. The preface is consonant in its content with one of L.'s most important sociological works ‘Outline of the Evolution of Human Thought’ (1898), in which he pointed out that history is the process of developing culture in order to create social forms that contribute to the development of the individual.
L. lived in Western Europe until the end of his days, but the following fact testifies the interest in his works in Russia: in 1898, a biobibliographic review was published in the magazine ‘Voprosy filosofii i psykhologii’, containing annotations of 68 of L.'s works, as well as links to his other works, including studies on sectarianism. L. had many supporters in Russia, for example, V.G. Bogoraz, according to V.D. Bonch-Bruevich, said that the works by L. had a great influence on him.