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Summary Article: Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (1888-1975) from Encyclopedia of Global Religions

Born near Chennai in South India, Hindu philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan achieved distinction in several fields. He studied and eventually taught philosophy at several universities, including the universities of Mysore, Kolkata, Delhi, Oxford University, and Banaras Hindu University. He was also vice-chancellor of Andhra University and Banaras Hindu University and chancellor of Delhi University. His diplomatic career included positions as ambassador to the former USSR and leader of the Indian delegation to and president of UNESCO. He became the second president of the Republic of India, serving from 1962 to 1967. He has been characterized as a philosopher, religious thinker, educator, and statesman. Much of his scholarly work sought to bring an understanding of Indian thought to the West.

Schooled in his childhood by Christian missionaries in India, he developed a deep understanding of Western values and philosophies, which led him to an appreciation of Indian philosophies and a particular interest in Vedanta. As an adult, Radhakrishnan was encouraged by the thought and actions of the leaders of the Indian independence movement, including Mohandas K. Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jawaharlal Nehru.

In his own view, Radhakrishnan's thought and position were the result of personal spiritual experience rather than an expression of the views of others. His experience of the world as he saw it prompted him to propose what he termed the religion of the spirit. In this endeavor, he advocated a type of experience that was consonant with the inductive thinking of science and Western philosophies. At the same time, he advocated the use of intuitive knowledge, as has been used in several Hindu philosophies. Intuitive knowledge in his view was superior and also crucial in the creative thinking evident in great scientific breakthroughs. In Radhakrishnan's view, inductive logic is helpful but inadequate to achieve the certainty that can only be supplied by intuition. In this, intuition includes, and is not limited to, logic and reason.

For Radhakrishnan, there was an imperative to overcome the barriers that divide people. To the extent that heroes break down the barriers between people and between the individual and the universal, they are religious. Religion in this sense is based not on dogma but on intuitive insight that recognizes spiritual values. The values he promotes include a sense of tolerance, in which it is necessary to actively seek out and recognize truth wherever it is found. It is insufficient for one to simply live and let live. Extending this thinking into the political realm, Radhakrishnan relies on a sense of the secular not as an opposition to the religious but as cooperating with all religions.

As a professor of philosophy, religion, and ethics, Radhakrishnan's contribution to reconciling the religions into a global community brought modern Hindu thought to the attention of the West. His extensive publication record provides a detailed exposition of his thinking, and his achievements document his actions. His deep interest in promoting a universal community is also evident in his extremely limited disclosure of personal details. In 1931, he was knighted in London for his work, almost 30 years before he became the second president of India.

See also

Gandhi, Mohandas, Hinduism, India

Further Readings
  • Minor, R. N. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan on the nature of “Hindu” tolerance. Journal of American Academy of Religion, 50 ((2),) : , Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www.uramamurthy.com/srk_phil.html.
  • Radhakrishnan, S. (1952). The religion of the spirit and the world's need: Fragments of a confession. In Schilpp, P. A. (Ed.), The philosophy of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (p. 10). New York: Tudor.
  • Radhakrishnan, S., & Moore, C. A. (Eds.). (1957). A source book in Indian philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • de Souza, Lester
    SAGE Publications, Inc.

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