Religion at the Extremes: Difference between Gandhi and Osama

Priscilla Proctor, Coordinator of College and Public Relations, reported to Historic City News that James Rowell, Ph.D., assistant professor of religion at Flagler College, has published his first book, “Gandhi and Bin Laden: Religion at the Extremes,” through University Press of America.

Rowell admits there are few historical or religious figures that seem more opposite than Mohandas Gandhi and Osama bin Laden, and therein lays the point of the book. Gandhi believed that religion’s highest ideals called for a path of absolute nonviolence, while bin Laden has continued to advocate violence.

The idea for the book came from Rowell’s dissertation at the University of Pittsburgh, which was based partially on Gandhi and nonviolence.

“I had a great love of Gandhi, nonviolence and his idea especially of inclusive, tolerant religion — that there was a universal sort of calling to all faiths,” he said.

But he completed that work in 2002 as the world was still trying to come to terms with Sept. 11 and bin Laden, who was using his own brand of religious extremism as a justification for violence.

Rowell said he became fascinated by these two extremes and began studying bin Laden in order to understand how two individuals who were both claiming to be religious leaders could be at such extremes. He also wanted the book to help others understand the importance of non-violent movements led by the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and even Islamic figures like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was known for his peaceful opposition of British rule in India.

“It’s very important that we try to recapture non-violence,” he said.

Rowell has twice taught a course called “Gandhi and Bin Laden” since coming to Flagler in 2006. He currently teaches “Religions of the World” and “Religion from Tibet to India,” and next semester he will teach “God, Ape and Man.”

“Gandhi and Bin Laden” is available online through Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com and other online booksellers.

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