East Meets West

17 April marks the day in 1975 that Indian philosopher, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan died. Radhakrishnan was a key figure in promoting and defending Hindu identity against what he termed “uniformed Western criticism”. He was also viewed as a bridge builder between Eastern and Western thought. (The above photo shows him shaking hands with US President Richard Nixon, who was also known to keep a framed photo of Dr. Radhakrishnan in his New York Law Office)

He graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1906. Radhakrishnan described his own reaction to Western education in this way:

“The challenge of Christian critics impelled me to make a study of Hinduism and find out what is living and what is dead in it. My pride as a Hindu, roused by the enterprise and eloquence of Swami Vivekananda, was deeply hurt by the treatment accorded to Hinduism in missionary institutions.”

In 1921, he was appointed as a professor in philosophy to occupy the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta. He represented the University of Calcutta at the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire in June 1926 and the International Congress of Philosophy at Harvard University in September 1926.

When India became independent in 1947, Radhakrishnan represented India at UNESCO (1946–52) and was later Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union, from 1949 to 1952. He was also elected to the Constituent Assembly of India. Radhakrishnan was elected as the first Vice-President of India in 1952, and elected as the second President of India (1962–1967). He would make 11 state visits to various parts of the world during his time of public service.