Tolstoy spent most of his life at his childhood home, Yasnaya Polyana, located in Tula Oblast, Russia. In his later years, devoted followers would travel to Yasnaya Polyana to learn from him. Now, the estate is a museum dedicated to Tolstoy, run by his great-great-grandson, Vladimir Tolstoy. If you know Russian, you can visit the website and explore the museum's vast archive here!
“Tolstoy and Gandhi: How Tolstoy’s Philosophy Influenced the Movement for Indian Independence”
For my Senior Thesis in History, I decided to do a two-semester long honors project that incorporated some of my personal interests. Over the course of the school year, I developed a research paper that took an in-depth look at the relationship between Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi.
This research project examines the diffusion and dissemination of Tolstoy’s ideas beyond Russia, and specifically how they came to influence Gandhi in his quest for Indian independence. By researching and analyzing their mutual correspondence, as well as reading about their personal philosophies, I developed my thesis around how Tolstoy’s ideology about life helped inform and shape Gandhi’s satyagraha practice. The thesis discusses the historical development of Russian philosophy and literature, as well as the life stories of both men, and their exchange of ideas. It also reveals how this influence helped India gain independence from the British empire peacefully, 37 years after Tolstoy’s death.
I have always had an interest in Russian history, culture, and literature. Tolstoy is one of the best known, if not the best known, Russian writer. After taking a Russian literature class with Dr. Merkel, I became fascinated by the development of Russian philosophy and how that ended up playing into their literature (which I believe is the best literature the world has ever seen). I was further interested to see that unlike with other Russian authors, Tolstoy remained somewhat aloof, separating himself to create his own philosophy for life. This led me to discover Tolstoyan Communities, which made me wonder why his ideas were so influential.
When I took Dr. Michael’s class on Gandhi, I became very curious about the man himself along with Indian history and Hinduism. Gandhi’s ability to move people through peace was incredible, and I wanted to know what influenced him. After seeing he created a community known as Tolstoy Farm, I knew that Tolstoy must have had a hand in his satyagraha. When I discovered that these two men even had a correspondence, I really wanted to further study the topic. I find it fascinating how these two men briefly shared a correspondence that would help to shape the course of history.
To view the Works Cited section of the thesis, click here
Gandhi was the co-founder of Tolstoy Farm in South Africa. This community was designed to cultivate potential satyagrahis to peacefully fight against South Africa's racist laws. For information about the history of Tolstoy Farm and about events related to peace movements, you can visit the Tolstoy Farm website here.
Did you know that Tolstoy and Gandhi wrote letters to each other over the course of a year? After reading Tolstoy's insightful "Letter to a Hindu," Gandhi decided to start up a correspondence with his idol. Click the link to see the letters that were exchanged between the two men here.
Gandhi was an avid reader and read a plethora of assorted books. Curious to know what books Mahatma Gandhi read and when he read them? A bibliography was complied that lists the books Gandhi read and is organized by the year and month. Click the link to get insight into Gandhi's personal library here!
Many of Tolstoy's devoted followers went on to create their own communities and societies all around the world. There are some that are still around today. Check out the link if you want to learn about these communities, their beliefs, and their founders here!