Living Like Gandhi: The Lessons and Legacy of Gandhi’s Intentional Communities

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Gandhi’s Global Legacy: Moral Methods and Modern Challenges

Publication Date



Veena Howard with Falon Kartch


Lexington Books


Lanham, MD


Studies in Comparative Philosophy and Religion



First Page


Last Page



Religious Studies

Publisher Statement

While there has been sustained interest in Gandhi’s methods and continued academic inquiry, Gandhi's Global Legacy: Moral Methods and Modern Challenges is unique in bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who analyze Gandhi’s tactics, moral methods, and philosophical principles, not just in the fields of social and political activism, but in the areas of philosophy, religion, literature, economics, health, international relations, and interpersonal communication. Bringing this wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, the contributors provide fresh perspectives on Gandhi’s thought and practice as well as critical analyses of his work and its contemporary relevance. -- publisher


This chapter examines the post-Gandhian afterlives of the three primary intentional communities that Gandhi established which remain extant. Drawing upon field visits to these sites and archival work, McLain explores what has happened to each ashram since Gandhi’s departure, and tells the story of Gandhi’s life that each individual ashram seeks to preserve. At Phoenix Settlement, now a cultural heritage and museum site, Gandhi is presented as an emergent leader in the struggle for the Indian community’s civil rights under colonialism in South Africa, and as an ally of Black South Africans in the fight for equality. This presentation has been deliberately crafted as a response to certain critiques of Gandhi for his focus on the Indian community in South Africa at the neglect of the Black community. At Sabarmati Ashram, also presently a cultural heritage and museum site, Gandhi is presented as a national leader in the struggle for Indian independence, as well as an advocate for the removal of untouchability and Dalit (“untouchable”) civil rights. This presentation also offers a response to criticisms of Gandhi for his moderate approach to Hindu caste reform. Sevagram Ashram is unlike the other ashrams in that it is both a living community and a heritage site. In this ashram, Gandhi is presented equally as the spiritual founder of ashram life and as a national leader in Indian history. The narrative offered at Sevagram Ashram is crafted less as a patriotic response to any criticisms of Gandhi, and more as a call to remember that his political acts were not the only lessons he sought to impart. Ultimately, this chapter engages with previous conversations about Gandhi’s legacy by focusing on his intentional communities, arguing that when taken together, these ashrams demonstrate the varied—and at times deeply contested—global legacy of Gandhi today.

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