Martyrdom and Karma Yoga in the 1920’s

Location: Online meeting
Speaker: Professor Torkel Brekke
Date: March 9, 2022
Time: 3.00 – 4.00 pm (GMT)

Four important Indian political and religious thinkers and writers of the early 20th century are presented here: Aurobindu Ghose (1872-1950), Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966). During the first decades of the 20thcentury there erupted a violent revolutionary movement against the British colonial power in India. Inside this movement there was often a contest about how to configure the relationship between the Indian nation and the various religious identities of that nation in the struggle for independence. The four writers presented here represent different approaches to questions about the role of revolutionary violence in the struggle for independence. From the late 19th century India had entered a new period in terms of political discourse and practice. A consequence of globalization was that the language available to Indian politicians and revolutionaries expanded in its repertoire through the exchange with Western ideologies and practices. The language of politics in general, and the language of revolution, war and violence specifically, became global with Western concepts like rights, justice, equality, oppression, terrorism, capitalism, class struggle, and nationalism entering the discourse of revolutionary thinkers and activists everywhere. These were used by individual ideologues as well as political organizations in India, often combined with Hindu, Sikh and Islamic concepts, to create new idioms of politics that were both complex, eclectic and globalized. In addition, ancient religious concepts that were traditionally closely linked to a particular tradition were consciously lifted out of their old contexts and deployed strategically in new ways to justify violence against the colonial state. Good examples are the concepts karmayoga and martyrdom.

Torkel Brekke is Professor at Oslo Metropolitan University. His publications include Makers of Modern Indian Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century (2002), Religious Motivation and the Origins of Buddhism: A Social-Psychological Exploration of the Origins of a World Religion(2002), Fundamentalism: Prophecy and Protest in an Age of Globalization (2012), Buddhism and Violence: Militarism and Buddhism in Modern Asia (co-edited with Vladimir Tikhonov; 2012), and Military Chaplaincy in an Era of Religious Pluralism: Military-Religious Nexus in Asia, Europe, and USA (co-edited with Vladimir Tikhonov; 2017).