A Dent in his Saintly Halo? Unveiling Mahatma Gandhi’s intolerance towards Cowards

Thurs 13 August –  Dr Scott Daniel Dunbar.

A Dent in his Saintly Halo?
Unveiling Mahatma Gandhi’s intolerance towards Cowards

A response will be given by Professor Francis X. Clooney SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard Divinity School 

Venue: Seminar Room, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, 8th floor, Building H, Caulfield Campus, Monash University.



Mohandas Gandhi is widely recognized as a stalwart of non-violence in modern times. Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence, however, was less than absolute in its resolve nor universal in its application. My paper targets a particular quandary in Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence–his views about cowards–to illustrate the ethical ambiguity posed by his famous remark: “I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence” (Collected Works, 1965, 132). Why Gandhi embraced this moral position and the reasons for his repudiation of cowardice are scrutinized in this paper. Although seemingly out of character, Gandhi’s intolerance for cowardice raises interesting questions regarding the paramountcy of non-violence in his self-understanding of Satyāgraha. I argue that Gandhi’s ethical position is consistent with deep-rooted heroic warrior ideals in Indian culture and reveals a latent philosophical influence of martial values in his thinking that deserves greater academic attention.

Speaker Bio:  

Dr Scott Daniel Dunbar is a faculty member in Monash University’s Centre for Religious Studies as well as an Associate to the UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations.  He specializes in the religions of South Asia, religious violence, terrorism, interfaith relations, and religious pluralism.  He is the founder and director of the Canadian Interfaith Research Centre. Additionally, he is the academic co-editor of the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture published by the University of Toronto Press.