Gandhi and Secularism
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, along with its economic boom, Indian society appears to have maneuvered itself into a socio-political stalemate. Its politicians and intelligentsia are now divided into two opposing camps, which claim to exhaust the realm of political and cultural possibilities for the country: liberal secularism and religious nationalism. Mahatma Gandhi is often named as an alternative to these two. He argued against secularism and said that religion and politics should be united rather than separated, but also opposed Hindu nationalism and its politics. He said that all religions are true, but also called for a ban on religious conversion. Today we still do not understand adequately the meaning of Gandhi’s claims on politics and religion. Did he have completely different notions of “religion” and “politics” in mind than those of western liberal secularism? What is the difference between his understanding of “religion” and that of modern political theory? To appreciate the potential of Gandhi’s views as an alternative to both secularism and Hindu nationalism, we first need to solve these problems. Through a close study of Gandhi’s writings on religion and politics, my paper will explore his contribution to solving the issues of pluralism in society. By contrasting it to the model of liberal secularism, I will examine whether the Gandhian contribution can enrich the contemporary political theory of pluralism or whether it is too limited and incoherent to be of any help to our world.
Jakob De Roover
Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies
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