Educational Ideas of Annie Besant

Chandra Lekha Singh


Annie Besant was an Irish political activist, free-thinker and Fabian socialist. After embracing Theosophy under the tutelage of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian mystic, Besant embarked on her mission of propagating theosophical ideals, and reached the shores of India in 1893. However, in India Hinduism fascinated her to such an extent that she devoted herself to promoting Hinduism. She toured the length and breadth of India, and lectured intensely on the lofty ideals of Hinduism. However, Besant was of the opinion that absence of religious education in government schools and colleges and teaching of Christianity in missionary educational institutions was responsible for religious neutrality and scepticism among Hindu youth, and hence the fallen state of Hinduism. To remedy this state, she emphasised the need for its revival, and propagated the idea that religious education of Hindu youths should become an integral part of their education. In order to concretise these ideas, Besant established a college and school for the religious education of Hindu youth in the holy city of Benares, in the then North Western Provinces of British India, in 1898. Besant is widely known in India for her political activities as founder of Home Rule Movement and as the first women President of Indian National Congress, the chief political party involved in the struggle for national freedom. Although Besant’s political career in India has been extensively researched, little is known about her educational ideas and activities. This paper analyses Besant’s ideas on education, and show how, rather than being a promoter of modernity, she supported, upheld and institutionalised caste hierarchy.


Annie Besant; religious education; depressed classes; female education

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