Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Matthew L. Lamb
William S. Kurz
Donald L. Metz
Daniel C. Maguire
Joseph A. Bracken
This dissertation is an exposition of Gandhi's theology of liberation. Though Gandhi did not produce a formal and systematic theology of liberation, he worked for the cause of liberation and laid down his life in that process, and wrote and spoke about liberation, (as about everything else), from a religious and theological perspective, namely of faith. There was an underlying unity and development in the life and thought of Gandhi, blended very much into the unity and development of India's own ancient but on-going history. This dissertation is an attempt at a systematic presentation of Gandhi's concept and theology of liberation in the
very context of its development in the historic experience of India's
While that which is formally known as the theology of liberation is recent and South American in origin, the experience from which the impulse for such theologies arises is, as Francois Houtart points out, generic and hence universal to such social situations as are marked by alienation, enslavement, oppression, dependency and under-development on the one hand, and a religio-political faith in, and commitment to, liberation on the other. In this respect, liberation theologies conform in breadth to the paradigm or ideal type of the Passover or Exodus experience of the Biblical Jews.
The problem of a Christian theology of liberation is one of conformity in breadth and in depth to the paradigm or ideal type of the paschal experience of Jesus Christ. Conformity to paradigms or ideal types takes place at two related hut distinct levels primarily in the praxis or experience of liberation, and secondarily or as aiding the practice, at the level of theory, hermeneutic or critical mediation.
Gandhi performed this task of the critical hermeneutic mediation in the way or method he adopted for the liberation of Indians in South Africa and the liberation of India as a whole from English domination and other socio-religious evils. This takes me hence to the life of Gandhi in the history of India's freedom struggle, which forms my first chapter. Historical experience was not merely the context of Gandhi's religious and theological thought, but its very content as well. Consequently, his theology becomes an autobiography or an authentic self-expression of both Gandhi and of India. Thus history as narrative seems to be the appropriate form or mold for a Gandhian theology of liberation.
Gandhi's concept of liberation, interwoven into the historical experience of the struggle for it, is exposed in his own formulation of it as Swaraj in chapter two. The chapter exposes the changing, growing and dynamic character of Gandhi's conceptualization of Swaraj as. liberation.
Being rooted in his theological faith and his theo-political action, (Satyagraha); Gandhi's theology of Swaraj, was effectively his political theology. And chapter three is an exposition and explicitation of the theological roots of Gandhi's concept of Swaraj. The ideas of God and man which underlie the faith of Gandhi and emerge to the surface in his theology are then explicitated.
The Christological dimension and function in Gandhi's praxis of liberation and the theology of it are exposed in chapter four in terms. of a Christ-like self-understanding brought to bear on the resolution of political, social and religious conflicts, and in the effecting of community as the experience of truth, love, justice and reconciliation.
Chapter five depicts Gandhi's vision of a liberated society. This vision was global, as having more than the Indian and political frame of reference in liberation, and as embracing all humanity and all spheres of life. God was the source and center of Gandhi's universalist vision. Gandhi presented it as a critical alternative to both nominal democracy and totalitarian class-war.
Chapter six is principally a theological evaluation of Gandhi's synoptic synthesis of truth and non-violence as the way to God-realization and liberation. The evaluation also attempts to answer Gandhi's critics and to point to the Christian significance of Gandhi and of his challenge to Christianity in the light of his theology of religions.
This work is not a criticism of other theologies of liberation. No comparison or contrast with any of them is even attempted here. Rather I acknowledge my indebtedness to them for the inspiration or suggestion to explore and research the theory and practice of liberation in Gandhi.
The critical mediation of conformity to the paradigm of the paschal experience of Christ has been rendered problematic to liberation theology by a depoliticized privatization of Christian attitude in or through a sacramental spiritualism, even though such privatization is foreign to a sacramental theology and spirituality.
While the Latin American theology of liberation has had to fight this privatization to free itself of this practical and theoretical shackles, in the interests of a practical and political conformity to the Christian paradigm of all liberation, the openness and spiritual catholicity of Gandhi's Hinduism and its relative freedom from institutional teaching authority freed Gandhi from the requirement of any apology for his political mediation of conformity to Christ, interpreted as an ideal type not only for spiritual salvation, but for political liberation as well.
While the Christ whom Gandhi heard preached was an exclusive paradigm, Gandhi perceived him as an inclusive one who both confirmed and challenged Gandhi's Hindu paradigms or ideal types, and therefore as one who, in Christianizing him on Gandhi's own terms, did so, not by alienating him from his Hinduism and the rest of the Hindu community, but by making him a better Hindu, one who could feel and live his communion with all men in truth. Does this mean that Gandhi relativized or dismissed as absurd the Christian claim to the uniqueness of Christ? No, it rather means that he would find a different locus to the uniqueness of Christ than the one ordinarily assigned by Churches and Christians. That locus is not the credal or dogmatic affirmation that he is the only begotten Son of God. Rather it is the experience of one's life being transformed by virtue or the power of faith in Christ. In this sense, Gandhi's own life is a far greater and more shining witness to the uniqueness of Christ than that of many a conventional Christian.
What follows from this is that orthopraxis is the test of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not the principle of its own verification, nor is it its own end. Hence the meaning of dogma or belief is life, action and experience, and not the credal formula itself. But, far from dismissing it, Gandhi shows the way to the pracical [sic] recovery of Christological dogma.
This is a study, then, not only of a great religious figure in history, but one whose faith led him Lo politics . The study attempts to demonstrate the possibility and workability of a spiritual transformation of politics from within, and of how a political application of the Cross of Christ can mediate political salvation. Gandhi, like no one else before him, showed on the stage of world history how the process of liberation can be so Christian in style and inspiration as to demand the values symbolized by the Cross. His example and his teaching ought to be a factor in all political action and in all political and liberation theologies. Towards that goal, this study is a first contribution.