21.11.2015 ►ISSJS ►Birth of Jain Academic Studies in North America

Posted: 04.03.2015
Updated on: 11.05.2016



International School for Jain Studies, ISJS


Friends,  I share with you (see below) the status and progress of Jain Academic Education in North America. Hope you will  take the time to read and also  send your comments and suggestions (which are most welcome).

Jai Jinendra
Dr. Sulekh C. Jain
Houston, Texas, USA
Home:  281-494-7656
Cell:     832-594-8005 

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                      Photo;  ISJS students in New Delhi at Ahimsa Sthal

 

BIRTH OF JAIN ACADEMIC EDUCATION IN NORTH AMERICA 

Jain Academic studies in universities around the world have very miniscule presence. In fact until recently, there was not a single university in the US offering a regular course on Jainism.  As a result, Jainism is least known and most misunderstood spiritual tradition in academia and in the general public. Also, there are very few younger Jain scholars being trained to take place of the increasingly aging group of established Jain scholars. But the Jain  community in North America recognized this need and  is now working very diligently to change  and put Jainism on the World Academic Map.

Below is a summary of some of the initiatives on this path.

INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL FOR JAIN STUDIES, ISJS.

Academic Liaison Committee (ALC) of JAINA, in collaboration with International School for Jain Studies (ISJS), based in India - has been working hard to change this landscape. The main emphasis is on increasing awareness, knowledge and interest about Jainism among scholars, teachers and students and to train young faculty. The pursuit is non-denominational, non-sectarian and does not seek to preach or proselytize. For details visit www.isjs.in

  • Started in 2005. So far 600 people have attended this program in India from many countries and Universities; majority of them from USA.
  • At least fifteen (12) have finished  their PhDs from prestigious Universities in USA, Canada and Europe and that many more are in pipeline to finish their PhDs in next 2 years.
  • One such recent PhD (Dr. Ana Bajzelj) now teaches Jainism at a University in Israel.
  • In 2015, ISSJS offered 5 standalone programs for faculty, Post Docs, Grad and Undergrad students and high School Teachers.  A total of 69 people attended these programs in 2015.
  • ISSJS 2016. Announcement is already out and several applications have been received so far. We expect 70 plus participation.
  • In February 2016, ISJS is going to organize 3 conferences on Santhara/Sanlekhana in New Delhi, Madras and Moradabad in India. These conferences are being sponsored and organized by National Law University of India, Loyola Marymount University of Los Angeles, University of Madras and Tirthankar Mahavir University in Moradabad, India. Several scholars from US plan to attend.
  • Teachers for Ahimsa program. Recognizing the urgent need to teach ahimsa (as opposed to an atmosphere of gun and violence) in schools in USA, four years ago, Teachers for Ahimsa Program was initiated by ISJS. In this program, teachers from K-1 -K12 Schools across USA go to India for 3 weeks during summer to learn the concepts and tools of ahimsa and after their return they offer programs and workshops on ahimsa to their students. So far a total of 85 teachers from many schools in USA have participated in this program. In 2016, we expect that a group of 30 + teachers will be going to India to learn about Ahimsa.

 

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  Photo;       High School Teachers from USA in India to study Ahimsa

 

JAIN ACADEMIC EDUCATION PROGRAMS; CURRENT ON-GOING and PLANNED 

a) ON-GOING PROGRAMS;

Nearly 20 universities and colleges offer classes in Jainism every semester. Some of the classes cover Jainism exclusively and  others as part of World Religions. Jainism is offered as a full course at the following Universities; Florida International University (Dr. Steven Voss), University of North Texas in Denton, TX (Dr. Pankaj Jain), Monmouth College in Illinois (Dr. Brianne Donaldson), Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, CT (Dr. Hope Fitz), University of Ottawa, Canada (Dr. Anne Vallely), Elizabethtown College PA (Dr. Jeffery Long) and  Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA (Kinsey Hall).

 

b) NEW INITIATIVES IN 2015

In 2015, Jain community has been able to establish regular Jain Studies  programs at the following places;

  • Emory  University in Atlanta. Dr. Allen Gough (PhD from Yale) is an Asst. Professor in Jain Studies. Credit and thanks go to Dr. Jagdish Sheth of Emory University in making it happen. 
  • Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Nirinjan Kaur (PhD from U of Michigan) is a full time Professor and Director of the Jain and Sikh studies program. The class at LMU was oversubscribed with 27 students.
  • Claremont School of Theology, in Claremont CA (Mrs. Sushama Parekh)  is currently offering classes in Jainism.
  • Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, CA  is offering classes in Jainism. 
  • University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. On October 6, 2015, Prof. Jeffery Long of Elizabethtown College PA delivered an invited Dr. Chander Mohan Jain Memorial Lecture annual lecture on Jainism.

 

c) ESTABLISHMENT OF A JAIN CHAIR AT UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA IRVINE (UCI); 

Jain Community in Los Angeles area  established an endowed Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair for Jain Studies with a total funding of  2 million dollars (this includes 0.5 million dollars matching funds by UCI). UCI will soon be advertising and hiring a professor for this Chair.

 

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    Photo;  Signing ceremony for Jain and Sikh Chairs at University of California  Irvine on August 12, 2015

d) NEW INITIATIVES IN 2016

Jain community has funded to start the Jain studies programs (at Undergrad levels) at the following places starting in Spring Semester 2016 (from January 2016).

  • Rutgers University in Brunswick, NJ
  • University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. (University of Florida is still in search of a Scholar to teach a course in Jainism). 
  • San Diego State University in San Diego, CA.

 

e) UNIVERSITIES UNDER CONSIDERATION, DISCUSSION and EXPLORATION

  • University of California at Riverside, California.

  • Rice University, in Houston, Texas.

  • Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio to establish an Annual Guest Lecture program in Jainism (once or twice a year). Our own two academics/scholars are contacting their Universities to  explore the offering of classes in Jainism;   Dr. Faquir Jain at University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT and  Dr. Shailendra  Palvia at a University in Long Island, NY.

 

BOOKS, ARTICLES and SEMINARS on JAINISM;

As the number of Jain scholars, Centers, Institutes, Chairs and Programs in Jain studies increase across the universities and colleges in North America, so does the numbers of publications  (articles, books,  seminars and conferences).  This year is no exception. Notably Dr. Brianne Donaldson at Monmouth College in Illinois has been quite active in publishing articles and books. A few years ago, having even one seminar or a paper presented at the prestigious AAR (American Academy of Religions) and DANAM (Dharma Academy of North America) annual conventions was unheard of but not anymore. Just this year at the AAR and DANAM convention in Atlanta, GA in November 2015, an abundance of  papers  (see below just a few as an example) and seminars have been planned. This is extremely heartwarming for Jain studies. 

A21-112 (Session: “Proclaiming Power: The Ritual Uses of Flags in South Asia”). Ellen Gough (Emory University), “Even the Gods Worship the Jina: The History of the Jain Festival of Indra

A21-221 (Session: “What Are Near Death Experiences? Social Movement, Contested Category”). Kamini Gogri (University of Mumbai) and Anne Vallely (University of Ottawa), “Messengers of Moksha: Jainism and the Near Death Experience”

A22-115 (Session: “Tomb and Mortuary Relic Worship in South Asia”). Tillo Detige (Ghent University, Belgium)), “Absence, Agency, and Immanence: The Ritual Veneration of Deceased Ascetics as a technology of the Self in Digambara Jainism”

A22-204 (Session: “Cosmopolitan Modes of Religious Literature in South Asia: Modeling Local and Global”). Sarah Pierce Taylor (University of Pennsylvania), “Jinasena’s Pārśvābhudaya and the Making of Jain Cosmopolitanism”

A23-213 (Session: “Theorizing Spirit Possession in South Asia”). Anne Vallely (University of Ottawa) and Kamini Gogri (University of Mumbai), “Negotiating with Worldliness: A Jain Spirit Medium and the healing Power of the Goddess”

A23-324 (Session: “Jain Modernities”). M. Whitney Kelting (Northeastern University), “The Shifting Terrain of Jain Modernity and Gendered Religious Practices”

Andrea Luithle-Hardenberg (Tübingen University), “Ascetic Child Initiations among the Jains: Defending Religious Freedom and Minority Rights of Shvetambar Jains”

Anne Vallely (University of Ottawa), “Jain Food and Modernity: The Eclipse of Metaphysics and Rise of Identity Politics”

Tine Vekemans (University of Ghent), “Jain Digital Modernities: (Re) presenting Jainism in New Media”

John E. Cort (Denison University), respondent

A24-126 (Session: “The Religions in Sanskrit Drama: A City, a Story, a Lesson”)

Aleksandra Gordeeva (Yale University), “Religion and Literary Theory in Jain and Hindu Dramas”.

 

JAIN ACADEMIC EDUCATION SEMINARS at JAINA 2015 CONVENTION in ATLANTA

At the JAINA convention held in Atlanta in July 2015, two seminars of 2 hours each under the title of “Jain Academic Wings over North America” were conducted to review the status of Jain Academic Education and to discuss the opportunities in the near future.

A total of 17 speakers made their presentations; a record. This included; Drs. Jagdish Sheth (Emory University, Atlanta, GA),  Sulekh Jain (Houston, TX), Nitin Shah (Los Angeles, CA), Yashwant  Malaiya (Ft. Collins, CO). Mathew Fisher (Los Angeles, CA), Harvinder  Singh Sahota (Los Angeles, CA), Natubhai Shah (London,  U.K), Pankaj Jain (Dallas, TX), Dipak Jain  (Bangkok, Thailand), Jasvant Modi (Los Angeles, CA)  Mrs. Kusum Jain (Richmond, VA), Mrs. Preeti Jain (Boston, MA), Mr. Dilip V. Shah (Philadelphia, PA),  Mr. Deepak Doshi (Chicago, IL), Mr.  Bindesh Shah (Miami, FL), Mr. Vinod Daryapurkar (Atlanta, GA) and Mr. Raju Shah (Los Angeles). This was the first time there was such a big participation on this important topic.

Dr. Jagdish Sheth in his keynote address titled “Jainism: From a Footnote Religion to a Religion for the Future” mentioned that due to the changing environment and demographic diversity, Jainism must reposition itself right now. He made a very strong case for Jainism to share its richness and wisdom with the rest of the world. He noted current activities to increase Jain studies in North America but suggested that the next important step is to create Coursera offerings - Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for on-line studies of Jainism so that universities around the world can benefit from it. The seminars ended with a note of enthusiasm and a shared commitment to work together to establish regular studies, classes and Centers for Jain studies at at least 10 more universities and colleges before the next JAINA convention in  2017.     

 

SIGNIFICANT NEW DEVELOPMENT

Jainism and Sikhism are both minority religions and are not well represented in academia. Now both communities are working together to share our resources and promote studies in Jainism and Sikhism at several universities. 

 

INVITATION TO JAINS TO ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE & JOIN THIS MOVEMENT;

Brothers and sisters, we have just started the journey. There is a long way to go. We need the involvement of many Jains in in this journey to put Jain Academic Education on the world map Please call any and all of the following;

Sulekh C. Jain, PhD                 Dilip V. Shah                                    Nitin Shah, MD

     Houston, TX                       Philadelphia, PA                               Los Angeles, CA

 scjain(at)earthlink.net               dilipvshah(at)gmail.com                   Nitinshahmd(at)gmail.com