Gandhi’s Devotional Political Thought

Philosophy East and West 65 (2):375-400 (2015)
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Abstract

The political thought of Mohandas K. Gandhi has been increasingly used as a paradigmatic example of hybrid political thought that developed out of a cross-cultural dialogue of eastern and western influences. With a novel unpacking of this hybridity, this article focuses on the conceptual influences that Gandhi explicitly stressed in his autobiography and other writings, particularly the works of Leo Tolstoy and the Bhagavad Gītā. This new tracing of influence in the development of Gandhi’s thought alters the substantive thrust of Gandhi’s thought away from more familiar quasi-liberal interpretations and towards a far more substantive bhakti or devotional understanding of politics. The analysis reveals a conception of politics that is not pragmatic in its use of non-violence, but instead points to a devotional focus on cultivating the self (ātman), ultimately dissolving the public/private distinction that many readings of Gandhi’s thought depend upon.

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Thomas M. Hughes
University of California at Santa Barbara

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