The Institute's name choice
Our decision to wear the name of Béla Hamvas stemmed from the author's invaluable and highly versatile body of work paired with a life story of symbolic significance.
Béla Hamvas is one of the towering minds of twentieth-century Hungary, whose humanism and culture put him in vehement opposition to all totalitarian dictatorships, both Nazism and Communism. His life and life's work is a productive amalgam of his European and Hungarian identity presented with a moral and spiritual force that serves as an example to later generations.
His life's work covers an extremely wide palette; however, the subject of inquiry in all his literary, philosophical, psychological, and spiritual writings, in his system of values and his Weltanschauung is always the very same: a universal human culture.
Béla Hamvas was born in Eperjes (today Prešov in Slovakia) in 1897 as the son of an Evangelical pastor, teacher, and author.
He studied Hungarian and German at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University.
In the late 1930s, he began to work as a journalist and a librarian. That is when his first works were published.
In 1942, he was drafted to fight on the Russian front. Later, he was transferred to Germany, where he escaped from. His apartment was hit by a bomb. Meanwhile, he never stopped working. He finished the first volume of his epoch-making book, Scientia Sacra.
The communist cultural regime persecuted him from the very beginning. His highly talented contemporary of similar disposition, Sándor Márai, chose emigration. Béla Hamvas decided to stay. From 1951, he worked as an unskilled hand and warehouse worker, first in Inota then in Tiszapalkonya. These were the circumstances his enormous body of work was born. “I'll write my books in a ditch if I have to”, he wrote at the time.
In 1957, he tried in vain to regain his position as a librarian.
In 1964, he retired.
Fields of research of the Hamvas Institute
The type of man prevalent in history is the man with a mask who forgot how to unmask, how to make masks transparent. (Béla Hamvas)
In the last one and a half decades, the research and publications of the Hamvas Institute have covered two main areas.
One of those is “Culture and power”, which seeks to answer how the mechanisms of pressure, influencing, and manipulation characterized the interaction between society and regime. We are especially focused on the activity of the communist state security. Here, the work of the researcher is much like an archeologist's: the “excavation area” is given, we can mostly identify the age and origin of the “artifacts” and after cleaning and arranging them, we can place them in the museum of, to use Hamvas's phrase, “existence wrecking”.
The other one, “History of thought”, sets out to rediscover a tradition of thought marked by a productive amalgam of European and Hungarian identity, represented by works and authors who were surrounded by a wrongful conspiracy of silence for decades, including Béla Hamvas, Miklós Szentkuthy, Lajos Prohászka, Ervin Baktay, and many others.
Besides these two, we have also opened up new territory: “Security research”. The domain of security is in many aspects intertwined with and determined by cultural associations. Just think of “strategic culture” as a key concept of security policy, one of the obstacles in the way of an ever more pressing intelligence cooperation. Or think of the lack of a common security culture, the intricate psychological background of terrorism, the renaissance of psychological warfare in our times, or the contrasting standpoints of security and privacy.
In our work, we keep finding intriguing, telling documents and resources that raise new questions and shed new light on connections and that we would happily share with anyone interested in the area. This is why we have made up our minds to start our quarterly periodical, Face and mask.
Director of the Hamvas Béla Institute