The religious and political thought of Swami Vivekananda

Harilela, Aron

Philosophy; Religion; Political science; Public administration
January 1996

Thesis or dissertation

© 1996 Aron Harilela. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Vivekananda's thought has been subject to many different interpretations. In the 1890s. Krishna Verma, writing for the journal Sociologist, claimed that Vivekananda was influenced by the evolutionary ideas of Herbert Spencer, which emphasized struggle and the eventual survival of the fittest. Verma therefore concluded that Vivekananda advocated what Verma called `righteous terrorism', which was an attempt to purify the Indian race, to weed out the weak and to create a society of strong, robust individuals. In recent years, the Bharatiya Janata Party has tended to appropriate Vivekananda for its own political purposes by interpreting him as an ideologist of its brand of Hinduism. There are others who have seen Vivekananda as a socialist; an interpretation that became prominent in the twentieth century Indian nationalist movement.I wish to argue that although these and other interpretations capture important aspects of Vivekananda's thought, they do not do him full justice. My basic contention in this thesis would be that Vivekananda's project was larger than has been traditionally interpreted and largely consisted in the spiritual and political regeneration of the Indian civilization. Vivekananda thought that India had steadily become degenerate over the last few centuries: its people were divided, they lacked vitality, and possessed no spirit of social service. Moreover, he thought that the traditional Hindu thought had a deep structural tendency to oscillate between anarchic individualism, on the one hand, and collective authoritarianism, on the other. This was evident, for example, in the fact that while the Hindu was free religiously to choose whatever beliefs s/he liked, socially s/he was bound by the rigid norms of his/her caste. For these and other reasons, Vivekananda thought that Indian society, and especially Hindu society, had reached a point where it must either radically regenerate itself, or disintegrate and disappear.

Department of Politics, The University of Hull
Parekh, Bhikhu C.
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