On Thursday, Sept. 26, philosophy professor Doug Allen gave a presentation on Gandhi-Informed Philosophy, touching on topics of nonviolence, truth, morality and research. His lecture was a part of the fall 2019 Socialist and Marxist Studies Series (Controversy Series) and the 2019-20 Philosophy Department Colloquium Series.
Allen began his lecture by talking about his most recent book “Gandhi After 9/11: Creative Nonviolence and Sustainability,” which was released on June 4, 2019. Allen described how Gandhi’s teachings are still relevant to our world today.
Allen also pointed out that there have been other 9/11-like events that have shaped and influenced our perceptions of violence in society. Events in our history like the implementation of slavery, the forced migration of Native Americans and the Holocaust have all been violent periods in regard to the physical harm inflicted and the rhetoric that followed.
Following attacks like 9/11 in the United States and the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, Allen pointed out that there has been a shift in our cultures toward violence. Violence does not only encompass physical harm inflicted on another, but also includes linguistic, economic, cultural, religious and environmental violence.
Born in 1869 in India, Gandhi was a prominent philosopher, activist and the leader of India’s nonviolent independence movement against British colonialism in the country. He was assassinated in 1948. During his life, Gandhi was involved in establishing nonviolent protests in India and South Africa to protest racial segregation, discrimination and other injustices.
In his book, Allen discusses the relevance of Gandhi’s teachings, his theories and practice, his approaches to technology and how these ideals can apply to our current world.
Allen’s initial interest in philosophy began during his freshman year at Yale University. He began as a physics student intending to work in the physical sciences. But after taking an introduction to philosophy class, he changed his major and began his work in the humanities.
“My first semester I took a philosophy course, with a world-famous philosopher … and I was so moved by him that I changed my major. But then I didn’t know that I would continue in philosophy. When I first went to India … I was very young and living in the holiest city in India and studied at the best philosophy department in the country and took all of these Ph.D. classes in philosophy … and we never mentioned Gandhi,” said Allen.
He began researching Gandhi after living in the South and seeing the impact that Gandhi had on Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and how nonviolence and other theories could benefit everyday life. Allen is now considered one of the world’s leading scholars in the phenomenology of religion and the philosophy of Gandhi.
“Gandhi was important for me in terms of my life, my civil rights work, my antiwar work, my feminist work … I spent about ten years in the anti-Appartide movement … To understand what was happening, Gandhi was a nonviolent alternative. My first publication on Gandhi was in 1974,” Allen said.
Allen has also conducted his own research under Fulbright and Smithsonian grants to India and the Maine Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award.
The research was a key point in Allen’s lecture. He encouraged students, faculty and community members to pursue research that is truly impactful to society and can benefit everyone. Pursuing research in order to obtain a degree, secure funding or secure tenure will only serve individual interests and will not better society or humanity as a whole.
Allen urged attendees to pursue creative, original research while highlighting the interconnectedness of the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, medicine, economics and many others. Each branch relies on and is needed by the others in order to form holistic and comprehensive research and practices.
In regard to students, Allen encourages them to pursue moral, truthful ways of living, encompassing the way that they approach school, their social lives and their lives after college.
“I want to encourage students to think more about their own values, their own life and the kind of world that they want to live in. Students are so often so intelligent, so motivated, but they’re lost and are working long hours, they have jobs 30-40 hours a week and are in such student debt … If they discussed or read some of these things from Gandhi, they would live a more interesting, less alienated life,” Allen said.
The next Socialist and Marxist Studies Series takes place on Oct. 10. It features Stephen Coghlan, associate professor of freshwater fisheries ecology and is titled “Economics As If the Future Matters: Energy, Climate, Money Planetary Bankruptcy.”