In this 5 part lecture series Gwilym Beckerlegge discusses the life and legacy of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), the Hindu teacher who was arguably the first ‘global guru’. Vivekananda has been influential in shaping, among other things, Hindu notions of social activism, and what has come to be known as Modern Yoga, which is now practised beyond India. Gwilym covers the influence of Vivekananda’s own guru, the widely revered Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda’s fascinating journey from India to the United States and Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and the institutions Vivekananda started in Ramakrishna’s name.
Vivekananda has been a highly influential but contentious figure in the history of recent Hindu tradition. These lectures will explore aspects of Vivekananda’s legacy with particular reference to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the movement Vivekananda founded in his guru’s name, and the Vivekananda Kendra, also inspired by Vivekananda, which came into existence in 1972. The Kendra, however, promotes in Vivekananda’s name an ideology strongly influenced by Hindu nationalism. Through an examination of these two movements, the lecture will illustrate the diffuse and durable nature of Vivekananda’s influence, and in the process explain why Vivekananda has been judged by some to have been a contradictory and controversial figure.
- Session 1 – Introducing Vivekananda and his guru Ramakrishna
- Session 2 – Vivekananda in the USA and London
- Session 3 – Establishing the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in India: Vivekananda and the spiritual discipline of service
- Session 4 – Continuity, discontinuity, and innovation in Vivekananda’s ideas
- Session 5 – Vivekananda and his Hindu nationalist admirers
Gwilym Beckerlegge studied religions at the Universities of Oxford and Lancaster where he became interested in the religions of South Asia and Japan from the nineteenth century to the present. His doctoral thesis examined continuity within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission with reference to the practice of seva, service to humanity, which was promoted by Swami Vivekananda. Much of this appeared in The Ramakrishna Mission: The Making of a Modern Hindu Movement (2000) and Swami Vivekananda’s Legacy of Service: A Study of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (2006). He has written extensively about Vivekananda in subsequent book chapters and articles. (For more details, see Gwilym’s web page http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/religious-studies/beckerlegge.shtml and entry under Open Research Online http://oro.open.ac.uk/view/person/gtb2.html) Gwilym has been a member of the Discipline of Religious Studies at The Open University since 1993 and was head of discipline from 2002 to 2004. In 2006/07 he held the post of Professor of the Study of Religions at University College Cork, and in 2010 was a visiting professor at the Centre d’études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris.
Cover art designed by Lilac Al-Taie