Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, and the Sermon on the Mount

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    Abstract

    The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45) mentions his hopes of visiting Gandhi in a July 1934 letter from London to his friend and former teacher Reinhold Niebuhr. It is time, he tells Niebuhr, to bring the focus of German church opposition to Hitler back to the Sermon on the Mount. Bonhoeffer wanted to explore new ways of countering religion's subordination to the totalitarian aims of the state and believed Gandhi might be able to help him in this endeavor. By November, he had secured an invitation from Gandhi to visit him. But it wasn't to be. Bonhoeffer was called back to Germany. After laying out this background, the essay goes on to consider the still intriguing what-if question. If they had met early in 1935 in the small market town of Wardha in central India - where Gandhi had finished his countrywide crusade against untouchability in August 1934 - what may the young Bonhoeffer have taken away from the encounter? Might he have warmed to the Mahatma's injunction to "melt Hitler's heart" with acts of nonviolent resistance, or is he, perhaps, even then more likely to have concluded that the surging tide of Nazism and a Raj on the ebb presented very different challenges, demanding very different solutions?
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationGandhi's Truths in an Age of Fundamentalism and Nationalism
    EditorsSathianathan Clarke, Stephen Pickard
    Place of PublicationMinneapolis
    PublisherFortress Press
    Chapter7
    Pages129-49
    Number of pages21
    ISBN (Electronic)978-1-5064-6999-7
    ISBN (Print)978-1-5064-6998-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2022

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