Peter Heehs

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Peter Heehs

Peter Heehs is an American historian living in Puducherry, India who writes on modern Indian history, spirituality and religion. Much of his work focuses on the Indian freedom fighter and spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo. His publications include twelve books and more than sixty articles in journals and magazines.


Peter Heehs was born and educated in the United States but has lived in India since 1971. He has worked as a researcher and editor[1][2] at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives since its founding, and has contributed to the editing of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library and The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.[3][4]

As a historian, Heehs has written on the swadeshi period of the Indian independence movement and on the early phase of the Indian revolutionary movement. His 1992 study The Bomb in Bengal highlighted the importance of the Maniktala secret society, which was a predecessor of the Jugantar Group. In this book and other publications, Heehs made it clear that the Indian freedom struggle had a violent as well as a non-violent side, and that the violent revolutionaries helped prepare the country psychologically for the later mass movements led by Mahatma Gandhi. In the second edition of The Bomb in Bengal (2004), Heehs distinguished the aims and methods of early Indian revolutionaries from those of later terrorists in India and elsewhere.[5]

Heehs has also written on problems of Indian historiography in History and Theory,[6] Postcolonial Studies,[7] and other journals. He has also contributed to popular magazines such as History Today.[8]

As a scholar of religion, Heehs has edited the textbook Indian Religions[9] and has contributed to journals and edited volumes dealing with new religious movements in India.[10][11] He has also discussed the problems of Indian communalism.

Heehs's ninth book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (Columbia University Press, 2008) was intended for scholarly readers.[12] It received positive reviews in the United States,[13] but was objected to by certain devotees of Sri Aurobindo,[14] who have delayed the publication of the book in India.[15] Heehs's tenth book, Writing the Self, was published by Bloomsbury in February 2013. It has been named an Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 by Choice.[16] His eleventh book, Situating Sri Aurobindo: A Reader, a collection of essays by various scholars on Sri Aurobindo's writings, with an introduction, was published by Oxford University Press in October 2013. His twelfth book, Spirituality without God, was published by Bloomsbury in November 2018.

Heehs was briefly in the news in April 2012 after the Indian home ministry declined to entertain an application for extension of his resident visa after April 15.[17] Learning of the affair on March 31, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said he would review Heehs’s case.[18] A number of prominent scholars, as well as union minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, wrote in support of Heehs to the home minister and to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.[19] Leading public intellectuals Ramachandra Guha[20] and Pratap Bhanu Mehta[21] wrote about the issue in their newspaper columns. On April 13, the home ministry announced that it had approved a one-year extension of Heehs’s visa.[22] The affair became a point of reference in discussions in the Indian and international press of freedom of expression,[23][24][25] book banning,[26][27][28][29] censorship,[30][31] xenophobia,[32] and visa policy.[33]

See also[edit]


  • India's Freedom Struggle (1988)
  • Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography (1989)
  • Modern India and World History (textbook, 1991)
  • The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India (1993)
  • Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo (1998)
  • Nationalism, Terrorism, Communalism: Essays in Modern Indian History (1998)
  • Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience (2002)
  • Nationalism, Religion and Beyond: Writings on Politics, Society and Culture (2005)
  • The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (2008)
  • Writing the Self: Diaries, Memoirs, and the History of the Self (2013)
  • Situating Sri Aurobindo: A Reader (2013)
  • Spirituality without God (2018)


  1. ^ "Aurobindo's Biographer Speaks Out". 21 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  2. ^ > "East meets West, again!". Asia Times. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  3. ^ "Biography - Sri Aurobindo Association of America". 28 August 1998. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  4. ^ "Peter Heehs - Biography & Resources". Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  5. ^ Heehs, Peter (2004). The Bomb in Bengal (Second ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. ix–xxvii.
  6. ^ Heehs, Peter (February 1994). "Myth, History, and Theory". History and Theory. 33: 1–19. doi:10.2307/2505649. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  7. ^ Heehs, Peter. "The uses of Sri Aurobindo". Postcolonial Studies. 9 (2 2006): 151–164. doi:10.1080/13688790600657827. ISSN 1466-1888.
  8. ^ Heehs, Peter. "Articles from the History Today Archive". History Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  9. ^ Heehs, Peter. "Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience". New York University Press. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  10. ^ Heehs, Peter (2000). "The Error of all 'Churches': Religion and Spirituality in Communities Founded or 'Inspired' by Sri Aurobindo". In Copley, Antony (ed.). Gurus and their Followers: New Religious Reform Movements in Colonial India. Oxford University Press. pp. 209–224.
  11. ^ Heehs, Peter (2003). "The Centre of the Religious Life of the World: Spiritual Universalism and Cultural Nationalism in the Work of Sri Aurobindo". In Copley, Antony (ed.). Hinduism, Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender, Sampraday. Oxford University Press. pp. 66–83.
  12. ^ "Letter to the Managing Trustee, from Peter Heehs". Religious Fundamentalism and Integral Yoga. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Academic reviews of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs". Religious Fundamentalism and Integral Yoga. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  14. ^ "An Outbreak of Fundamentalism?". Religious Fundamentalism and Integral Yoga. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  15. ^ "Court Cases". Religious Fundamentalism and Integral Yoga. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  16. ^ "On Modern Poetry and Writing the Self named Choice Outstanding Academic Titles 2013". Bloomsbury Literary Studies. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  17. ^ "Don't expel US historian, govt told". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  18. ^ "Chidambaram to decide on Heehs' visa tomorrow". Times of India. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  19. ^ "Let Heehs stay, scholars urge PM". IBNLive. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  20. ^ "Ramachandra Guha: Ban the Ban – The republic of India bans books with a depressing frequency". The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  21. ^ "Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Book clubbed". The Indian Express. 12 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  22. ^ "Chidambaram intervenes, US historian gets 1-yr visa extension". Hindustan Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  23. ^ "The intolerant Indian?". The Times of India. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  24. ^ "Nilanjana S Roy: Behind the portrait". Business Standard. 24 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  25. ^ "Mark Tully: Hay Festival 2012: Freedom of Speech". The Telegraph (London). 8 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  26. ^ "Gautam Chikermane: Sri Aurobindo, Heehs and the fragility of faith". Hindustan Times. 22 February 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  27. ^ "A little reason would help". India Today. 10 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  28. ^ "Indian Academics Object to Treatment of American Historian". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 3 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  29. ^ "Identify politics behind demand for banning a book, says Romila Thapar". The Hindu. 4 May 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  30. ^ "Indian intellectuals report an increase in censorship". Deutsche Welle. 18 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  31. ^ "Palash Krishna Mehrotra: Climate of touchiness augurs ill for India". India Today. 22 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  32. ^ "Mihir S. Sharma: Xenophobindia". Business Standard. 28 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  33. ^ "Rupa Subramanya: Should India Relax its Visa Rules?". The Wall Street Journal. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 11 May 2012.

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