SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

H435 Gandhi and Gandhism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
Taught in:
Full Year
The dominant figure in India's nationalist movement for nearly thirty years, M. K. Gandhi remains one of the modern times most influential political activists and thinkers. This course charts Gandhi's career against the back¬ground of events in London, South Africa and India. It examines the evolution and practical application of his ideas and techniques of non-violent resistance, and his attitudes toward the economy, society and state. Gandhi's influence on Indian politics and society is critically assessed and his claim to be the 'maker of modern India' examined in the light of developments since his death in 1948.

This is the companion course to ‘H335 Gandhi and Gandhism’, and will involve students writing an Extended Essay of 10,000 words. The Extended Essay will be on a topic to be agreed between the student and the course convenor, and will involve study of primary source materials in English, and / or those which have been translated (or in the original language if the student is able to read it).


  • This Module is capped at 15 places.
  • Students  enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  1. understand the key aspects of Gandhi’s thought as well as of the role he played in the Indian nationalist movement.
  2. understand the specific historiographic and conceptual problems central to the study of Gandhi’s ideas, the Indian         nationalist movement and the end of empire in South Asia.
  3. contextualise Gandhi’s ideas and politics within a broader history of the evolution of representative government and democracy across the British Empire and beyond.
  4. assess the impact of Gandhi’s ideas and practices in post-colonial India and internationally.
  5. think critically about the importance of imagery and aesthetics in the spread of Gandhi’s ideas.
  6. critically engage with historical arguments, both orally and in writing, and be able to analyse primary and secondary sources.
  7. In this second part of the course students should show greater familiarity in assessing and using primary materials write a long and well-argued essay using primary documents and placing them in secondary contexts.

Scope and syllabus

This is a course on perhaps the most recognised figure in modern Indian history. Gandhi was an individual who certainly made his mark on history, local and global. Much of our common sense histories have taught us to see him as a saint: an altruistic figure of goodness and self-sacrifice. Many believe it was he who brought India to freedom. This course looks closely at the figure of Gandhi: his beginnings in Gujarat, his formative years in London and South Africa, his satyagrahas in India, his religious thought, his relationship with Nehru and his role as a remarkable historical figure in the nationalist movement. It examines why he infuriated figures such as Subhas Chandra Bose and B.R. Ambedkar, prominent individuals and nationalists in their own right. What were their frustrations? And what were the frustrations of peasants and workers like? Was he a saint? Or was he a wily politician? Who was he to the Muslims? Was he really an anti-modernist? Did he offer an alternative model of Indian authenticity, potentially outside the violence of modernity? There has recently been a proliferation of scholarship on Gandhi, but why do we still care about him today?

Method of assessment

10,000 word assignment worth 100% of the final mark  


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules