The war between European empires that erupted in August 1914 signaled to many contemporaries the decline of a global racially-coded imperial order. “Watch and wait!” declared the African Times and Orient Review. “It may be that the non-European races will profit by the European disaster.” “Africa and India, the Blind Samsons, are now awake,” exclaimed African American columnist John Edward Bruce. The Great War, Bruce prophesied, would end “white domination” throughout the world.
Like many contemporaries, Bruce was drawn to two of the most renowned figures to emerge on the global stage in the aftermath of the First World War: Mahatma Gandhi and Marcus Garvey. Both Gandhi and Garvey attained widespread support that crossed social classes and national borders. Both figures were revered by their followers with quasi-religious intensity, and a variety of religious beliefs and practices contributed to the transnational spread of their messages. By tracking the role of religion in the transnational movements inspired by Gandhi and Garvey, this panel will explore how religion—too often seen as a barrier to global interconnectedness—facilitated transnational links between anti-racist and anti-colonial social movements.
While Gandhi and Garvey corresponded warmly, admired each other’s work, and agreed on the need to oppose both racism and imperialism, they disagreed on the centrality of nonviolence to their work. By focusing on the relationship between religion and nonviolence, this panel will probe the varieties of meaning that nonviolence attained for both its supporters and its critics. Each paper will help complicate and historicize the meanings of violence and nonviolence, while locating those meanings in relation to transnational religious debates and social movements.