Legacies of Gandhian thought

Brian Caton, Luther College
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Students are assigned to read David Hardiman, _Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas_ (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), ch. 4 ("An Alternative Modernity"). In class, students form small groups (4-6 students each) to discuss one of the two following sets of questions:

  1. To what extent was Gandhi's vision ('constructive programme') for India Romantic (or 'arcadian', to use Worster's term)? To what extent was it modern, if at all? On what assumptions about Indian society (or 'civilization') does this vision depend?
  2. Why did Gandhi's ashram experiments in autochthonous life fail? Why should they have worked (in other words, on what logic, assumptions, and principles did these experiments depend)? Where else might one undertake this kind of experiment--in other words, what kinds of environmental and social/political qualities would need to be present in order for such an experiment to succeed?

Students then reassemble as a large group to report on the outcomes of their discussions.

Learning Goals

  1. Students should develop a sense of how a historian analyzes a primary source like Gandhi's _Hind Swaraj_, by placing it in the context of Gandhi's intellectual production and his actual life. Students may take Hardiman's lead and further critique Gandhi, or they may consider critiquing Hardiman's analysis on the basis of their own reading of HS or from other assigned readings in the course.
  2. Although it may be tempting for students to view Gandhi's failures at building sustainable villages with pessimism, asking them to determine what preconditions need to be in place forces them to think hopefully about building sustainable communities, while also requiring them to come to grips with the fallacy of the autochthonous village.
  3. By thinking of legacies of Gandhian thought beyond India, students should think about the extent to which Gandhi's ideas and experiments depended on certain assumptions about India, and therefore the extent to which those ideas may be successfully exported outside of their historical context.

Context for Use

This falls after a two-class discussion of M. K. Gandhi, _Hind Swaraj_, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Organizing class into small groups should take less than 5 minutes. Small group discussion should take about 30 minutes. Large group discussion should take about 25 minutes. In large group discussion, instructor may need to prime the pump by asking students questions that raise implications assumed in their responses.

Description and Teaching Materials

For bibliographic references, please see above.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Monitoring of small group discussion will be needed.


Small groups might be asked to submit a written report on their conclusions to the assigned questions.

References and Resources