South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Secular Religiosity in Colonial India: Gandhi’s Experiments with the Body Politic

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Jacaranda II, First Floor

M. K. Gandhi (1869−1948), the father of Indian nation, was known for his idea of “religious politics”. During his national movement, Gandhi recurrently insisted that “no politics without religion”. Gandhi’s concept of “dharma rāj (the rule of the right religious order)” often perplexed his contemporary political elites such as Nehru, Jinnah, and Ambedkar.


It was, however, during the 1940s that Gandhi, while anticipating the tragedy of the Partition, suddenly began to explicate the need for the creation of a “secular state” and emphasized that a religion should be “entirely personal”. According to previous works, this purportedly “new” vision of Gandhi’s “secularism” entailed a similar effort toward secularization that occurred in 19th century Europe which was essentially irreconcilable with Gandhi’s prior idea of religious politics.


Contrary to the above interpretation, in this paper, I will show that Gandhi’s secularism in his last years was fully consistent with his preexisting idea of religious politics. In order to demonstrate this, I will chiefly examine historical materials written in the Gujarati language regarding the last days of Gandhi’s life. These materials were rarely studied in previous works and contain detailed reports on Gandhi’s controversial experiments with brahmacarya (sexual celibacy). I will reveal that there was an intimate relationship between Gandhi’s concepts of brahmacarya and secularism. These two ideas were integrated by Gandhi in his unique metaphysics of “science of mind (mannuṃ vijñān)” which can hardly be understood within the epistemological framework of subject/object distinction in the modern west.

Eijiro Hazama

The University of Tokyo, Japan

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2 - Secular Religiosity in Colonial India: Gandhi’s Experiments with the Body Politic



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