RCE Salisbury - 2021

Nonviolence Theory and the Gandhian Philosophy
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Nonviolence Theory and the Gandhian Philosophy
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Salisbury
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Dr. Brittany Foutz
Organizational Affiliation: 
RCE Salisbury, Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution
Patrick Bernardo
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Matthew Bernor
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Andrew Hurley
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Noah Karengo
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Christopher Knier
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Joshua Moore
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Isaiah Neal
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Tyler Norwood
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Caroline Strohmeyer
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Moustapha Thiam
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Alison Wright
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Kara Williams
Organizational Affiliation: 
Salisbury University, Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution
Format of project: 
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Geographical & Education Information
United States
Virtual Training
Address of focal point institution for project: 
Salisbury University
1001 Camden Avenue
Salisbury, Maryland USA 21801
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
The Eastern Shore began the twenty-first century with strong growth across multiple economic indicators. The region gained jobs at double the rate of the rest of the state from 2001 to 2007 while also outpacing the state in net business creation and keeping pace in wage growth. However, there are more people experiencing poverty now than there were 30 years ago. Maryland’s poverty rate is 19 percent higher than it was in 1990 – a year that the U.S. economy entered a recession – and there are nearly 200,000 more Marylanders trying to get by on incomes below the federal poverty line. Nearly every county in the state has a higher poverty rate than it had in 1990. While unemployment rates have continued to decline since the 2008 recession, wages often are not high enough to support a family. However, Maryland has a history of supporting effective programs that help lift people out of poverty. Working together, the state can do even better. Maryland is working strongly to support efforts to address the state’s many unmet needs and invest in the success of all Marylanders.

The State of Maryland has an estimated population of 6,052,177 people based on the most recent US census calculations. When broken down into regional populations, the Eastern Shore of Maryland region includes the following nine counties: Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, and Somerset. The sparse populated counties of the Eastern Shore of Maryland have a combined population of 454,889 or 13% of the state population.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
SDG 13 - Climate Action

The core area in the region constitutes the “shore counties” or those that reside either within or on the Chesapeake Bay (watershed) and along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. This includes all of the counties in Delaware, Maryland, and nineteen of the forty counties in Virginia. These physical locations are being subjected to the quickest increases in climate change activities and the poorest residents in these locales will experience severe detrimental impact on their quality of life.

SDG 4 - Quality Education

Secondly, the citizens of the Delmarva Peninsula, by and large, have lower levels of educational attainment and lower incomes. RCE Salisbury will focus in part on communities in these areas that experience the highest high school dropout rates where the social reproduction of poverty is endemic.

SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

The most vulnerable members of this region are in the crosshairs of climate change and educational disadvantage. Both will lead to increased social conflict and with limited resources and limited planning the consequences are dire. These dynamics will impact the foundational resources that people and the institutions built on these resources - depending on for survival, security, and prosperity.
April, 2021
This presentation was designed by a graduate course in Theories of Conflict Resolution (CADR 540) in the Spring 2021 Semester with the Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution (CADR) at Salisbury University to introduce basic training on Nonviolence Theory and the Gandhian Philosophy. This training developed examines the theoretical base relating to conflict sources and nonviolence. Upon competition of reviewal of this training, viewers will have the opportunity to apply conflict theories such as nonviolence theory and models to a particular conflict context or issue of interest.
• Discuss nonviolence theory and the Gandhian philosophy
• Reflect on one’s own personal and cultural assumptions about the causes of conflict and how it should be resolved
Activities and/or practices employed: 
We have developed a comprehensive training on nonviolence, nonviolence resistance, and pacifism. These practices are ways in which to bring about change and resolve disputes without the direct use of violence through conflict.
Size of academic audience: 
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. That was his real name. But history knows him as Mahatma Gandhi, as the poet Rabindranath Tagore renamed him. In Sanskrit, Mahatma means something like 'great soul'. And Gandhi's non-violence had a lot to do with that nickname.

"There are many causes for which I am willing to die, but none for which I am willing to kill," he wrote in 1927. A statement that captures the essence of his philosophy, Gandhi's non-violence. But how did a young lawyer come up with a statement like that?

After studying law in England, Gandhi lived for a time in South Africa. And it was there that he suffered prejudice and discrimination because of his race. Thus began his work in politics and peaceful activism for civil rights.

Later on during his return to India he traveled all over the country. There his speeches combined politics and passages from the holy books of different religions. And in time he became the leader of the independence movement of India against the British power. But far from encouraging the masses to armed struggle, Gandhi's nonviolence promoted peaceful resistance and new modes of opposition.

The hunger strikes were one of the main weapons of Gandhi's non-violence. "Strength does not come from physical ability but from an indomitable will," he said. And it was that iron will that seemed to guide his fasts. But nonviolent civil disobedience involved other methods as well. For example, the one known as 'March of the salt'.

Gandhi was a fervent supporter of peaceful resistance and was convinced that “non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of humanity. It is more powerful than the most powerful weapon of destruction conceived by the ingenuity of man.”

Between March and April 1930, dozens of disciples, journalists and Gandhi himself traveled more than 300 kilometers to the Indian Ocean claiming their right to produce salt. It was then a vitally important product in India for food preservation. And until that moment any Indian could obtain it by collecting water from the sea and letting it evaporate. However, the British had taken over the production and imposed a tax on its consumption. After the famous march, thousands of people across the country challenged them. They went to the sea to collect salt and many were imprisoned, even Gandhi himself. However, the viceroy finally gave in and recognized the right of the Indians to produce it.

Thus, the march became an inspiration for the nonviolent movements of Martin Luther King. In 1930 Time magazine even compared it to the episode of the Boston Tea Riot which led to the independence of the United States. The Salt March did not have the same result, but it made clear to the British the power of Gandhi's non-violence to unite the people against them.

(Gandhi, Mahatma. Autobiography: The story of my experiments with truth. Courier Corporation, 1983.)

Participants of this training will learn about nonviolence theory and the Gandhian philosophy. Nonviolence theory can be employed to achieve meaningful results and it is our hope that this training will lead individuals to be “the change that they wish to see in the world” (Arun Gandhi). Gandhi not only theorized on nonviolence theory, but also adopted nonviolence as a philosophy and an ideal way of life. Gandhi provided his own definition and explanation of nonviolence that transcended the conventional understanding of the concept. For Gandhi, nonviolence was not a negative concept meaning not to harm or not to kill, but a positive concept that signified love in the sense of altruistic service to our fellow beings, which includes all living creations. The essence of their arguments is that one should attempt nonviolent practice in thought, word, deed, and organize all the activities of life upon this foundation. This would bring about unprecedented revolutionary changes in human life.

The first defining feature of Gandhi's nonviolence is the correlation between nonviolence and truth. According to Gandhi's own admission, the jewel of ahimsa was discovered in the search for and contemplation of truth. In order to bring out the complementarity of the two, Gandhi compared truth and nonviolence to two sides of an unstamped metallic disc. Here, Gandhi's logic is very simple, but compelling. For Gandhi, truth was both absolute and relative. Absolute truth, by its very nature, was beyond human comprehension; though human beings were endowed with the ability to seek and find truth. Truth, as individuals comprehended it, altered from moment to moment. This is what Gandhi meant by relative truths. As each person can have his/her own (relative) truth, what was the way to vindicate one's truth? It was clear to Gandhi that it was improper and unjustifiable to impose one 's truth on others (as the mythological Hiranyakashipu attempted to do) because what appeared to be true now might be revealed as untrue at a later point in time. Hence, imposing or compelling one's truth on others was unjustifiable, both epistemologically and ethically. Therefore, Gandhi argued that one must be willing to take all the consequences of bearing witness to one's truth upon oneself. That is the way of nonviolence. Thus, for Gandhi, nonviolence was the only justifiable way to truth; not only to progress towards truth but also to vindicate truth.

The second defining feature of Gandhi's nonviolence is related to the very nature of the word 'nonviolence'. Being a word with a negative prefix, nonviolence instantaneously suggests negative meanings. Normally nonviolence is understood to mean non-hurting, non-injuring, non-killing, etc. However, this is not Gandhi’s inherent definition of nonviolence.

“Ahimsa is not the crude thing it has been made to appear. Not to hurt any living things is no doubt a part of Ahimsa. But it is its least expression. The principle of Ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our holding on to what the world needs.”
(Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Truth is god. Prabhat Prakashan, 1955.)

It is obvious that for Gandhi nonviolence was not a negative concept; instead, it has positive connotations. He wrote: " Ahimsa is not merely a negative state of harmlessness, but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer." (Young India , August 25, 1920, p.2). He hastened to add that doing good to the evil-doer did not mean helping the evil-doer to continue the wrong or tolerating it by passive acquiescence.

The third point is that Gandhi characterized ahimsa as "soul force". He wrote: "Nonviolence is the soul force or the power of the Godhead within us. We become Godlike to the extent we realize nonviolence." ( Harijan , March 14, 1936, p. 39). Because it is soul force it is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind, argued Gandhi and added that "it is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man", and thus, working under the law of nonviolence it was possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire.

It is absorbing to note how Gandhi developed a well-knit theory of nonviolence. Gandhi's penetrating mind discovered the subtle levels and ways through which violence operated and conquered the human mind. He argued that, though there is good and evil in human nature (note that 'the good' is identified as the capacity for nonviolence and 'the evil' as the impulse and willingness for violence) human nature was essentially and basically good. One might be carried away by the death and destruction that one saw all around. But Gandhi argued that he could see life persisting in the midst of all these destructions. Life as a force, a power, continued to flow, evolve, develop and advance towards its destined goal of divine perfection.

In short, nonviolence for Gandhi is the law of our being, the cohesive law of love that binds humanity together and makes collective life possible and meaningful. It is also the power that operates through history facilitating human evolution towards the fulfillment of its destiny. So he wanted humanity to accept nonviolence as an article of faith ?? ie, in thought, word and deed ?? and organize life on the basis of the principle of nonviolence. Gandhi was not content with advancing sound arguments in justification of the acceptance of nonviolence as the central organizing principle of human life and existence. He demonstrated to the world the efficacy of nonviolence by making it the basis of his personal life and of all his public activities including the fight for rights and freedom.

Gandhian nonviolence is premised on certain basic assumptions and convictions. The most fundamental of them is recognition of the oneness of life. All life is one. Everything that exists is intricately and inseparably inter-related. It is, in fact, a living consciousness of this oneness of life that provides the metaphysical and spiritual foundation for the acceptance of positive and active nonviolence as an article of faith. Gandhi described nonviolence as 'soul force', a constituent characteristic of the human spirit. Once this is accepted, not merely at the intellectual level but deep at the level of one's psyche and spirit, the lines that separate persons and things, you and I, would fade away. So one attains the realisation that one cannot harm or injure another without at the same time harming oneself; hurting others is hurting oneself. In order to attain this consciousness one has to undergo a process of self-purification through an arduous process of conquering one's ego and reducing oneself to a cipher. Gandhi and some members of his ashram achieved this through the practice of ethical vows.

When nonviolence is practiced with as much 'scientific precision' as possible, it even tends to develop into an objective force. Such nonviolence transcends time and space and becomes a perennial source of inspiration and a point of reference for the votes of ahimsa. Also it becomes a force.

Gandhi's contribution was not limited to developing nonviolence into a great spiritual and moral power by practicing it in thought, word and deed. For him nonviolence was not a cloistered virtue. He made nonviolence the central organizing principle of all his activities, social, economic and political. His unique contribution, it is generally agreed, lay in developing nonviolence into a matchless method of fighting against injustice and exploitation, architecturing the weapon of Satyagraha - nonviolent direct action.

Gandhi believed that nonviolence being soul force or love force, has universal applicability. It could be used for resolving any form of dispute and conflict, removing even a dictatorial regime. He had used it in the solution of the problem of racial and political discrimination in South Africa, and also for the removal of several social evils like untouchability and discriminations that had infected Indian social life.

Gandhian nonviolence had been analyzed from various angles by scholars and activists from different socio-political settings. In this training, we also had to become cognizant of the attempts made by action groups to apply Gandhian nonviolence in entirely different cultural settings from the ones in which Gandhi had applied it. Hence, we come across some incisive commentaries on Gandhi's practice of nonviolence.
Key messages: 
Nonviolence is a philosophy, theory, and practice
Nonviolence can take a variety of forms and is often influenced by context and beliefs
Often a vehicle for social change
Inherent in nonviolence theory (and practice) is the idea that the means justify the ends, in contrast to Machiavellian beliefs
Sometimes nonviolence can change attitudes and values rather than change policies
(Nonviolence)"defeats injustice and not people." ~MLK


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon Screen Shot 2021-04-13 at 8.17.59 PM.png (1.06 MB) Nonviolence Theory and Gandhian Philosophy
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 16 - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels 
Curriculum Development