The Mahatma and the Missionary: Gandhi's Conflicting Accounts of his First Encounter with Christianity
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Biographies of Mahatma Gandhi often begin with an examination of Gandhi’s childhood and adolescence. Most coverage of the early life of Gandhi includes at least a mention of his first encounter with a Christian missionary in India and the negative effect that it had on Gandhi’s perceptions of Christianity. In biographies and other studies of Gandhi, Gandhi’s autobiography is the sole source of information on most of the events in his early life, including his initial encounter with Christianity. However, another generally neglected source on Gandhi’s early life, Joseph Doke’s M.K. Gandhi: An Indian patriot in South Africa, presents a different narrative of Gandhi’s first encounter with Christianity that contrasts drastically with that in the autobiography. The paper explores the context of Gandhi’s two contrasting descriptions of a missionary in Rajkot, the exchange of letters between Gandhi and Rev. Hugh Robert Scott, the missionary of whom Gandhi wrote, the controversy that ensued regarding Gandhi’s description of Scott in his autobiography, and the writings and work of Scott. The disparity between Gandhi’s two accounts of the missionary calls into question the reliance on Gandhi’s narratives of his own life as an entirely accurate source of historical information.