From the Wolfson History Prize–winning author of The Man on Devil’s Island, the definitive biography of Vivekananda, the Indian monk who shaped the intellectual and spiritual history of both East and West.
Few thinkers have had so enduring an impact on both Eastern and Western life as Swami Vivekananda, the Indian monk who inspired the likes of Freud, Gandhi, and Tagore. Blending science, religion, and politics, Vivekananda introduced Westerners to yoga and the universalist school of Hinduism called Vedanta. His teachings fostered a more tolerant form of mainstream spirituality in Europe and North America and forever changed the Western relationship to meditation and spirituality.
Ruth Harris offers an arresting biography, showing how Vivekananda’s thought spawned a global anticolonial movement and became a touchstone of Hindu nationalist politics a century after his death. The iconic monk emerges as a counterargument to Orientalist critiques, which interpret East–West interactions as primarily instances of Western borrowing. As Vivekananda demonstrates, we must not underestimate Eastern agency in the global circulation of ideas.