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  • The Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi for the Twenty-First Century
  • Veena Rani Howard
The Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi for the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Douglas Allen . Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008. Pp. xviii + 263. Paper $29.95.

For decades, Gandhi’s revolutionary ideas and techniques have drawn wide attention from scholars and activists. Gandhi is one of modern history’s most analyzed thinkers: a sustained flow of scholarship on his life, thought, and methods presents a testimony to a vital interest in his philosophy. While there is a sense of continuity in Gandhian thought, literature about Gandhi has gone through various phases, in an evolution from romanticization or criticism of his ideas to a serious examination of his philosophy for addressing conflicts.

Among the challenges that contemporary Gandhian scholars face is discovering the relevance of Gandhi’s philosophy for the twenty-first century. The overarching questions in recent years have been directed at Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy and its relevance to solving personal, social, and political conflicts. The Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Douglas Allen, a professor of philosophy and a peace and justice scholar and activist, is a collection of essays by prominent scholars in the field of Gandhian studies exploring the urgent questions: “to what extend [sic] can we even speak of Gandhi’s ‘philosophy’?” and “to what extent are Gandhi’s thought and action relevant for the twenty-first century?” (p. vii).

Setting the stage for this multidimensional volume in his comprehensive introduction, Allen reminds us that in spite of the broad reception of Gandhi’s thought, “the question of Gandhi’s relevance remains controversial. There have always been critics who have viewed and continue to view Gandhi’s approach as naïve, utopian, escapist, negative, and completely irrelevant” (p. viii). Even some of his admirers submit that Gandhi “has limited or no relevance for a twenty-first century of shrinking decentralized villages and new, interconnected, global structures of corporate economic, military, and media power relations” (p. viii).

However, in contrast to these views, Allen argues that “the authors in this volume, while not romanticizing Gandhi or the past and while cognizant of changing contemporary contexts, submit that Gandhi’s thought and action are significant, relevant, and urgently needed for addressing problems of the twenty-first century” (p. viii). In this era of religious, economic, environmental, social, and moral challenges, [End Page 231] a volume exploring the relevance of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, satya-graha, interreligious dialogue, religious ethics, communal unity, et cetera is not only significant but necessary. This collection creates a constructive philosophical framework for confronting the contemporary issues of terrorism, exploitation, violence, oppression, and injustice.

The substance and structure of this volume make it different from other recent books on the subject in three important ways. First, it includes prominent Gandhi scholars and authors of influential writings on Gandhian thought. Second, the range of topics with intersecting themes—in spite of the authors’ distinctive approaches, critical analyses, and conclusions—provides a coherent narrative for the relevance of Gandhi’s philosophy without compromising its complexity. Lastly, this volume is academic in stature but pragmatic in approach, and it invites the reader to consider alternative modes of thinking and action in a classic Gandhian way.

Each of the chapters is unique in approach and substance and contains multiple layers of thought. In this limited space a brief synopsis of the major issues addressed within each chapter will give a glimpse of its depth and breadth. I focus only on the central themes presented by the authors relating to the relevance of Gandhi in the twenty-first century, ordered by theme rather than the sequence found in the book.

The conflict among religions is one of the fundamental challenges of the twenty-first century. The two chapters “Gandhi and Interreligious Dialogue” by Bhikhu Parekh and “Gandhi and Islam: A Heart-and-Mind Unity?” by Fred Dallmayr address this issue from two different but related angles. Parekh focuses on the value of inter-religious dialogue, which was Gandhi’s central concern as he developed his nonviolent program in a multireligious community. Parekh argues that in the current era...