Patterns of human awareness and action : an interpretation of Gandhi's world view in comparative perspective

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis is a study of the nature, construction, and operation of human world view systems. Using a comparative dialogue with Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, and Religious Studies I aim to develop a definition of world view that explores the pivotal world view universals of identity, orientation and belonging and how these combine and interact in world view systems. I also explore various possibilities of how a sense of identity arises within human awareness and how this in turn structures individuals' understanding of their vocations and modes of active engagement with the world. I hypothesise that this process of identity and world view formation occurs in two paradigmatically different ways which structure the totality of individuals thinking, feeling and acting in the world, whether they are psychologically integrated, and whether their socio-political interactions tend toward violence or nonviolence. Using the theoretical resources of the comparative study of mysticism and religious experience, I set out to define the precise analytical contours of my two paradigms of human awareness and world view. It is in fact the study of mysticism that enables one to more clearly understand what is simultaneously the most crucial and yet neglected facet of human psychology and existence - love. I therefore not only attempt to analyse the construction and operation of world view universals in Gandhi's world view, but also to reinterpret the pivotal Gandhian notions of unity, love, truth and nonviolence as they converge in a personal inner experience of faith. Theoretical resources which I develop, applied to case studies of Gandhi and Tolstoy, are combined to enable general reflections about the nature of conceptual functioning by means of conceptual models or maps, as well as the existential basis of personal empowerment in contexts of violence and death. This thesis confirms the importance of securing a sense of identity, orientation, and belonging - the tension between part and whole - in any world view system, but lays greater stress on the crucial psychological and existential need to overcome a sense of separation, which is a pivotal factor in distinguishing two broad possibilities of human awareness and action as well as two paradigms of world view. The possibility of overcoming the sense of separateness, I suggest, is perhaps the central existential factor determining whether human social interactions are basically violent or nonviolent. It is within the basically nonviolent paradigm of world view, identity and action that one can locate and so better understand Gandhi's religious world view at both its individual and corporate levels.

Bibliography: leaves 236-249.