Life and Writings
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888, at Tiruttani, forty
miles to the north-east of Madras, in South India. His early years were
spent in Tiruttani and Tirupati, both famous as pilgrim centres.
He graduated with a Master's Degree in Arts from Madras University. In
partial fulfilment for his M.A. degree, Radhakrishnan wrote a thesis on the
ethics of the Vedanta titled "The Ethics of the Vedanta and Its Metaphysical
Presuppositions", which was a reply to the charge that the Vedanta system
had no room for ethics. Professor A.G. Hogg awarded the following
testimonial for this thesis:
"The thesis which he prepared in the second year of his study for this
degree shows a remarkable understanding of the main aspects of the
philosophical problems, a capacity for handling easily a complex argument
besides more than the average mastery of good English".
The thesis indicates the general trend of Radhakrishnan's thoughts... In his
own words, "Religious feeling must establish itself as a rational way of
living. If ever the spirit is to be at home in this world, and not merely a
prisoner or a fugitive, spiritual foundations must be laid deep and
preserved worthily. Religion must express itself in reasonable thought,
fruitful action and right social institutions."
In April 1909, he was appointed to the Department of Philosophy at the
Madras Presidency College. From then on, he was engaged in the serious study
of Indian philosophy and religion, and was a teacher of Philosophy.
In 1918, he was appointed Professor of Philosophy in the University of
Mysore. Three years later, he was appointed to the most important philosophy
chair in India, King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science in the
University of Calcutta. Radhakrishnan represented University of Calcutta at
the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire in June 1926 and the
International Congress of Philosophy at the Harvard Univesity in September
1926. At the Philosophical Congress held at Harvard University, the lack of
spiritual note in modern civilization was the focus of his address to the
In 1929, Radhakrishnan was invited to take the post vacated by Principal J.
Estin Carpenter in Manchester College, Oxford. This gave him the opportunity
to lecture to the students of University of Oxford on Comparative Religion.
During that visit, he also gave the Hibbert Lectures on "An Idealist View of
Life" to audiences at the Universities of London and Manchester. In his own
words, "It was a great experience for me to preach from Christian pulpits in
Oxford and Birmingham, in Manchester and Liverpool. It heartened me to know
that my addresses were liked by Christian audiences. Referring to my sermon
on "Revolution through Suffering", an Oxford daily observed, "Though the
Indian preacher had the marvellous power to weave a magic web of thought,
imagination and language, the real greatness of his sermon resides in some
indefinable spiritual quality which arrests attention, moves the heart and
lifts us into an ampler air."
From 1936-39, Radhakrishnan was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions
and Ethics at Oxford University. In 1939, he was elected Fellow of the
British Academy. From 1939-48, he was the Vice-Chancellor of the Banaras
Hindu University. He later held offices that dealt with India's national and
international affairs. He was the leader of the Indian delegation to UNESCO
during 1946-52. He was the Ambassador of India to U.S.S.R. during 1949-52.
He was the Vice-President of India from 1952-1962 and the President, General
Conference of UNESCO from 1952-54. He held the office of the Chancellor,
University of Delhi, from 1953-62. From May 1962 to May 1967, he was the
President of India.
Aldous Huxley observed that Dr. Radhakrishnan "is the master of words and no
Prof. H.N. Muirhead said, "Dr. Radhakrishnan has the rare qualification of
being equally versed in the great European and the not less great Asiatic
tradition which may be said to hold
in solution between them the spiritual wisdom of the world, and of thus
speaking as a philosophical bilinguist upon it."
George P. Conger said, "Among the philosophers of our time, no one has
achieved so much in so many fields as has Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India
... William James was influential in religion, and John Dewey has been a
force in politics. One or two American philosophers have been legislators.
Jacques Maritain has been an ambassador. Radhakrishnan, in a little more
than thirty years of work, has done all these things and more... Never in
the history of philosophy has there been quite such a world-figure. With his
unique appointment at Banaras and Oxford, like a weaver's shuttle, he has
gone to and fro between the East and West, carrying a thread of
understanding, weaving it into the fabric of civilization."
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan passed away on April 17, 1975. In India, September
5 (his birthday) is celebrated as Teacher's Day in his honor.