From the Wolfson History Prize–winning author of The Man on Devil’s Island, the definitive biography of Vivekananda, the Indian monk who shaped the intellectual and spiritual history of both East and West.
Few thinkers have had so enduring an impact on both Eastern and Western life as Swami Vivekananda, the Indian monk who inspired the likes of Freud, Gandhi, and Tagore. Blending science, religion, and politics, Vivekananda introduced Westerners to yoga and the universalist school of Hinduism called Vedanta. His teachings fostered a more tolerant form of mainstream spirituality in Europe and North America and forever changed the Western relationship to meditation and spirituality.
Guru to the World traces Vivekananda’s transformation from son of a Calcutta-based attorney into saffron-robed ascetic. At the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he fascinated audiences with teachings from Hinduism, Western esoteric spirituality, physics, and the sciences of the mind, in the process advocating a more inclusive conception of religion and expounding the evils of colonialism. Vivekananda won many disciples, most prominently the Irish activist Margaret Noble, who disseminated his ideas in the face of much disdain for the wisdom of a “subject race.” At home, he challenged the notion that religion was antithetical to nationalist goals, arguing that Hinduism was intimately connected with Indian identity.
Ruth Harris offers an arresting biography, showing how Vivekananda’s thought spawned a global anticolonial movement and became a touchstone of Hindu nationalist politics a century after his death. The iconic monk emerges as a counterargument to Orientalist critiques, which interpret East-West interactions as primarily instances of Western borrowing. As Vivekananda demonstrates, we must not underestimate Eastern agency in the global circulation of ideas.
This is a deeply researched and compellingly argued biography of Swami Vivekananda, one of the first Indian religious thinkers to become known in the west, and one of the makers of modern India.
Guru to the World is a triumph of research and ambition, drawing connections between a dazzling array of philosophies, figures, languages, geographies and religions.
This will be the standard biography of [Vivekananda] for years to come…Admirable.
Vivekananda’s life was an embarrassment of epiphanies and contradictions, and Harris exhaustively uncovers all of them.
Vivekananda was many things to many people: the first global religious celebrity, an apostle of Indian nationalism, a man whose message was heard, and heard differently, in salons as well as slums. It’s not just any biographer who can do justice to such a complex life. He’s fortunate to have found a perfect interpreter in Ruth Harris.
In Ruth Harris’s vivid portrait of India’s Vivekananda, we discover a compelling story of interconnected lives—the guru, his disciple, the international followers, his own teacher—that sheds new light on religion, race, gender, colonialism, and nationalism. This impressive book introduces us to some important but half-forgotten cultural currents in the life of India, Europe, and America at the end of the nineteenth century. To understand contemporary India, we need to pay more attention to these currents, and Harris is a sure-footed guide.
In Guru to the World, Ruth Harris gives us riveting accounts of both the Indian and the international sides of Swami Vivekananda, one of the most provocative personalities of the nineteenth century. The connections between tradition and modernity forged by him over a century ago continue to influence culture, politics, and religion worldwide. A brilliant read.
An inspired blend of religion, politics, and biography, Guru to the World takes a novel approach to the history of empire and cross-cultural encounters that foregrounds the workings of love, friendship, and faith. In the lives of Vivekananda and his associates, Ruth Harris delivers insight into topics ranging from yoga to anticolonial nationalism that should interest any readers curious to understand the workings of what might be called globalized culture.
- 560 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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