Known chiefly as a nationalist politician who became a spiritual philosopher, Sri Aurobindo also produced an large body of work on social and cultural history. This anthology brings together selections of Aurobindo’s work in these fields, grouping them in five parts: Cultural Nationalism, Political Nationalism, Religion, Religion and Nationalism, Beyond Nationalism, Beyond Religion. Each part is introduced by a brief note, and a thirty-six-page essay introduces the book as a whole.
Sri Aurobindo is best known today as a spiritual philosopher and yogi, and as one of the principal leaders in the early phase of the Indian nationalist movement. But he also wrote extensively on political, social and cultural theory.
His contributions to these fields, although original and often ahead of their time, have not received the attention they deserve. One reason for this is that they are scattered through six or seven volumes of his complete works. Another is their apparent datedness.
But the most important of Aurobindo’s writings on these subjects are as interesting now as when they were written, for they deal with matters of perennial concern—such as on the assumption and exceeding of cultural identity, and on the proper place of spirituality in society.
Peter Heehs—well known historian and biographer of Aurobindo—overcomes the first problem (of scattered sources) by selecting representative passages from the entire body of Aurobindo’s works. He deals with the second problem (of Aurobindo’s seeming datedness) by providing historical background, and by relating Aurobindo’s social, cultural, and political ideas to those of contemporary theorists.
Heehs’s anthology confronts common misunderstandings by those scholars and politicians who have reduced Aurobindo’s complex thinking to a collection of clichés. Additionally, given the manner in which the leading intellectual figures of Hinduism have been appropriated by Hindu nationalists and Hindu fundamentalists in recent times, this anthology is a vital corrective. It provides a far truer, more nuanced, and properly contextualized understanding of the social, political, and religious ideas of one of India’s most influential thinkers.
Review with extracts by Marcel Kvassay