History and Sources

Have there ever been any reform movements within Hinduism?

Since the early nineteenth century, various important reform movements have addressed the need to reinterpret ancient tradition for modern times. The Brahmo Samaj (Society of God) denounced the practice of widow suicide (sati) and promoted a monotheistic understanding of Hindu faith. Its successor organization, the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj (Universal Society of God), took aim at the caste system and looked for ways to update the tradition without having to resort to European ways of thinking. Some reformers, such as Ramakrishna (1836-86) and his disciple Vivekandanda (1863-1902), offered fresh interpretations of both bhakti and Vedanta that they hoped would appeal to the world beyond India. Twentieth-century successors to those pioneering reformers included Shri Aurobindo (1872-1950) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). Both studied in England and returned with distinctive views on how modern Hindus might revitalize their traditions. Shri Aurobindo proposed a form of “modernist” interpretation incorporating elements of European philosophy, and Gandhi emphasized simplicity of life and taught nonviolent means of political protest. Both men founded ashrams, quiet places in which spiritual seekers could find spiritual refuge.


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