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Tim Dobe wins grant to study Gandhi’s engagement with the Muslim community

Tim Dobe will soon be studying Gandhi’s engagement with the Muslim community at Duke University. Photo by Takahiro Omura.

Professor Timothy Dobe, religious studies, won the prestigious Burkhardt Fellowship for his research on Mahatma Gandhi’s engagement with the Muslim community. The fellowship will provide Dobe with 95,000 dollars, as well as funds for research and associated costs. Through the fellowship, Dobe will spend the 2018-2019 academic year at Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, where he will devote the year to his project, “The Muslim Gandhi: Islamicate Hinduism, Alternative Communities and Radical Religious Love.”

Dobe’s project will involve translating works into Urdu and investigating Gandhi’s engagement with the Muslim Community. Although Gandhi’s collected works are available in English, Dobe believes that using Urdu translations of his work will provide more knowledge about Gandhi’s ideas. Certain concepts lose meaning through translation — the idea that Gandhi connected with commoners by criticizing spiritual leaders is conveyed through his use of the terms shastri, which means ‘learned scholar’ and mullah, which means ‘religious authority.’ English translations of these terms, however, lose some of the implications.

Further, Dobe said that Gandhi’s connection with Christianity has been researched, but his engagement with the Muslim community has not been, and it’s unclear why. Gandhi studied the Quran and learned Urdu. It was a Muslim trader who brought Gandhi to South Africa. Gandhi’s alliance with Muslim leaders was significant. Nathuram Godse assassinated Gandhi because he believed his policies were too pro-Muslim — Gandhi had proposed sending a large sum of money to Pakistan after partition.

Dobe’s research fits into a larger resurgence of Gandhi scholarship, particularly since political scientists and other scholars realized that throughout the 20th century, nonviolence has been twice as effective in creating political change as violent movements. Philosophical interest in the compatibility of capitalism and democracy and Gandhi’s idea of localized economies has also fueled the resurgence. Dobe plans to incorporate his research into his future coursework at Grinnell.

Dobe explained that the College has supported his research and that the College has increased its support for professors at this stage through different measures, such as increasing sabbatical time. He, however, has not reached the point where he can leave for sabbatical. The Office of Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations helped Dobe discover the Burkhardt Fellowship, which is one of many grants designed to revitalize the research of tenured professors and more uncommonly, for professors at liberal arts colleges.

“There’s a personal question of what are you going to work on next and there’s the question of service.” At Grinnell, Dobe acts as the Department Chair of religious studies, helps coordinate activates for the South Asian Student Organization and does many other things to help the institution run, all of which take time away from research. This fellowship will give him more of an opportunity to focus.

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