- Gandhi in a Canadian Context: Relationships between Mahatma Gandhi and Canada ed. by Alex Damm
At first glance, a book focused on “Gandhi and Canada” would seem to embody that idiosyncratic defensiveness one comes to know and love in the Canadian academy. A quick search reveals no comparable volume on “Gandhi and America” or even “Gandhi and Britain”; instead, one encounters specialist studies of the Mahatma’s rich, amply documented relations with Churchill or King. The sole chapter in this volume that engages its topic historically—by the volume’s editor—confirms what one might have suspected: namely, that [End Page 291] “Gandhi’s references to Canada are few and the country’s place in his thought is small” (p. 19). What, then, warrants an edited volume?
The answer to this question is found in the more thematic chapters that follow Damm’s historical overview. These essays mine Gandhi’s thought and legacy for answers to distinctively Canadian questions about social justice (chapters by Scott Daniel Dunbar, Kay Koppedrayer, Klaus Klostermaier), about reimagining contemporary Islam (Ramin Jahanbegloo), and about the transnational human-rights movement (Anne M. Pearson, Rama S. Singh). Harold Coward offers a survey of Canadian scholarship on Gandhi, and Paul Younger brings his ethnographic gaze to four decades of teaching a Gandhi course, as a case study of generational and social transformation. The cities of Hamilton, Calgary, and Guelph unexpectedly upstage Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal as epicentres of Gandhian study and activism, and the philosopher George Grant emerges in several chapters as an unlikely protagonist and interlocutor for Gandhi’s critique of modernity.
Idiosyncratic as it may be, this volume well reveals the power of the particular to bring out the universal. Simplistic images of Gandhi’s nonviolence or Canada’s multiculturalism dissolve in their mutual engagement, bringing out a series of layered, complex reflections on ethics, religious pluralism, and political philosophy. Gandhi scholars will appreciate many of the essays in the volume, but Canadian educators in almost any area of the humanities or social sciences may benefit even more, as we are inspired to consider ways of integrating the study of Gandhi or Gandhian themes into our teaching. Usefully, an appendix provides a wonderful bibliography of resources to do just that.