Obituary: Yuli Shreider

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The Independent Culture
YULI SHREIDER was a mathematician who did not stick within the narrow confines of his trade. His wide-ranging interests and keen intellect led to a strong commitment to the revival of Christian intellectual activity in Russia in the 1990s. He played a key role in Russian Catholic circles as well as in promoting contact between the small local Catholic community and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Shreider was born in Ukraine in 1927, the son of an engineer who was arrested and executed in Stalin's purges in 1937. Despite being branded the son of an "enemy of the people", the young Shreider managed to gain entry to the prestigious Moscow State University to study mathematics, graduating in 1946.

He then worked for 10 years in secret research institutes before joining the All-Union Institute of Scientific-Technical Information in Moscow in 1961. He remained at the institute until 1989, when he became chief research scholar in the Institute of Information Transfer, Russian Academy of Sciences.

He published over 700 articles and books in pure and applied mathematics, computer science, semiotics, philosophy of science, literary criticism and, in later years, theology. Shreider's intellectual searching had brought him to a Christian faith as a young adult. He later recalled:

I grew up in an atheist family, but while still a child I felt within me the importance of religion. I can remember the shock I felt when right next to my school they started knocking down the Orthodox church. So from the very start I felt the importance of Christianity as a whole - without denominational distinctions.

He decided to join the Catholic Church. Fear of reprisals led him in 1970 to be baptised not in Moscow but at the Catholic church in the Estonian capital Tallinn. He joined the Dominicans as a lay tertiary in 1977 and took part in a secret group of Catholics meeting in Moscow, but was interrogated by the KGB when the group's priest Father Vladimir Nikiforov was arrested in 1983. Shreider was deprived of the right to continue his scientific work or publish and was transferred to the production department of the institute.

As the climate eased in the later Gorbachev years, Shreider was instrumental in setting up a Catholic club in Moscow, Spiritual Dialogue, in August 1989 of which he became chairman. In June 1990 Shreider joined a group of Polish pilgrims for an audience at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II.

In 1991 he became a professor of Christian ethics in the newly- established St Thomas Aquinas College of Catholic Theology in Moscow, as well as at the Orthodox St Andrew the Apostle theological institute. This unique double-act was characteristic of Shreider's broad Christian commitment.

Shreider was constantly aware of the historical suspicion of Catholicism in Russia and worked to break that down:

The community of Russian Catholics occupies a rather special position: they are a group of people who belong to Russian culture, are organically Russian, but who - mostly as adults - have chosen to confess the Catholic faith. They are by no means fugitives from Orthodoxy, but people who have found that their path to Christ lies through the Catholic Church.

He participated in numerous conferences and seminars around the world, visiting Britain on several occasions to attend events organised by the Keston Institute in Oxford.

In the late 1970s, Shreider had begun a quest to set science in its wider cultural context. In semi-jest he devised a list of features common to science and the circus (a discipline equally lauded in Soviet culture) and presented his findings in 1979 at a seminar at the Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Among the similarities he highlighted were the importance of achievements, not official position, the necessity of dedicated work from an early age and the requirement of being a professional before being able to take part.

"The report was welcomed," he later recalled:

partly as an apt joke dismissing the sombre gravity of science studies' "great depths", and partly as a fruitful path to explore. I undertook to write down the main points for possible publication. But science in those days was reckoned among the sacred cows, and such a frivolous juxtaposition had indirectly touched on Marxist ideology - the most scientific ideology in the world. It was not customary to make a travesty of "scientificality".

Sadly, no Soviet publication would touch his article.

Yuli Anatolevich Shreider, mathematician and religious activist: born Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union 1927; married 1958 Tatyana Ventsel (one son, one daughter); died Moscow 24 August 1998.

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