Books Of The Week - Saturday, 13th May 2023

Vivekananda : The Philosopher of Freedom

By - Govind Krishnan V. 

About The Book

Known by many but understood by few, Swami Vivekananda is a figure shrouded in mystery. However, in recent years there has been a greater tendency to understand, explain, and appropriate the monk and his legacy, especially by the Hindu Right. In Vivekananda: The Philosopher of Freedom, Govind Krishnan V. contests the Hindu Right’s appropriation of Swami Vivekananda, one of the most influential and defining figures of modern Hinduism, and attempts to show readers that Vivekananda’s religious philosophy, social thought, and ideology make the monk the Sangh Parivar's arch nemesis.
Divided into three sections, this book brings into focus multiple facets of Vivekananda’s deeply original thought and the complex and contested times he lived in. ‘Part I: Life, Ideology, and Historical Context’ begins with a short biography of Swami Vivekananda before introducing the reader to important features of Vivekananda’s writing and thinking which have become lost to our public memory. It explores Vivekananda’s views on themes relevant to the Hindutva project: Indian civilization, society, and culture; the nature of the caste system and Brahminism; the history of Islam in India; Hindu mythology, belief, and rituals; individual liberty; attitudes towards the West; and so on. It then explores Vivekananda’s understanding of and relationship with Islam and Christianity. The section ends with an examination of the role Western civilization plays in Vivekananda’s and the RSS’s respective world views and the obvious clash between the former’s internationalism and the latter’s nativism. ‘Part II: Hinduism, the Sangh, and the West’ examines how the RSS and the Sangh have used Hindu symbols, motifs, and issues like Ram Janmabhoomi, and contrasts this usage with Vivekananda’s Hinduism. Finally, it situates Vivekananda’s public life in the global context during a period of much change in fin de si├Ęcle Europe and America. Also surveyed is the cultural and intellectual framework of colonialism within which Vivekananda operated. ‘Part III: Vivekananda’s Philosophy’ begins with an exposition of Vivekananda’s philosophy of universal religion and his theoretical framework of Advaita and an explication of his famous assertion that religion should conform to reason as much as science does. The closing part of the book deals with Vivekananda’s position on caste and gender and posits him as an anti-caste and proto-feminist reformer of his time.
Cogently argued, Vivekananda: The Philosopher of Freedom pulls back the curtain on Vivekananda’s outlook and shows why the great monk deserves to be reinstated as a liberal thinker in the popular cultural imagination.

About The Author
Govind Krishnan V. is a long-form journalist based in Bangalore. He has reported from several states in India, focusing on investigative journalism and human rights. In 2014, he received the Red Ink Award for Human Rights reporting. He has written on politics, corruption, science, development, agriculture, religious fundamentalism, and crime. He has worked for Fountain Ink, Sunday Guardian, and the New Indian Express. His work has also appeared in Scroll.in, Firstpost, Deccan Chronicle, and the News Minute. Govind occasionally publishes academic articles on philosophy and English literature. He was shortlisted for the prestigious Einstein Fellowship in 2018 and received the Agha Shahid Ali Award for poetry instituted by Poetry Chain.
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