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The TRS Religious Studies seminar is delighted to announce a roundtable discussion of a new book by Professor Ruth Harris, Guru to the World: The Life and Legacy of Vivekananda (Harvard University Press, 2022).
Professor Harris will be in conversation with Dr Suzanne Newcombe (Open University/INFORM) and Dr Luna Sabastian (Northeastern University) about her new biography of Swami Vivekananda, the Indian monk who introduced the west to yoga and the universalist school of Hinduism called Vedanta.
Followed by a reception courtesy of Harvard University Press.
About the discussants:
Professor Ruth Harris is the author of Lourdes and The Man on Devil’s Island, which won the Wolfson Prize and the National Jewish Book Award. She is Senior Research Fellow at All Soul’s College, University of Oxford; Fellow of the British Academy; and Professor of European History at the University of Oxford.
Dr Suzanne Newcombe is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the Open University and the Honorary Director of Inform, an independent educational charity providing information about minority religions and sects. She is one of the editors, with Dr Karen O’Brien-Kop, of the Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies.
Dr Luna Sabastian is Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University, London. Prior to this, she held a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Centre of South Asian Studies in the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on modern Indian political thought and the global intellectual history of fascism.
About Guru to the World:
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.