The Study of Jainism: A Symposium in Honor of Professor Padmanabh Jaini’s 90th Birthday

Posted: 27.10.2016

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London


Celebrating Professor Padmanabh S. Jaini's ninetieth birthday and his pioneering contributions to the study of Jainism in the western world, a select group of academics from Europe and the United States congregated on Saturday, 26 October 2013 for a daylong symposium on Jainism hosted by the Center of South Asia Studies of the University of California at Berkeley (and supported by various other units on campus) to share their work on Jainism. This group included Professor Jaini himself, who continues to work and publish at the forefront of Jaina Studies even as a nonagenarian, more than forty years after his appointment as professor at Berkeley in 1972, which he joined after having held positions at SOAS and at the University of Michigan. In addition to his more technical contributions to the study of Jainism such as the book Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women (1991) and his Collected Papers on Jaina Studies (2000), Jaini has brought knowledge of Jainism to a broader public through his landmark volume The Jaina Path of Purification (first published in 1979).

Jaini's presentation took the packed audience back to the region of Tuḷunāḍu in Karnataka, where he grew up. Focusing on the Digambara Jaina temple of the village of Nellikar and its annual chariot procession, he investigated the role of the ritual officiants and traced their origins, demonstrating that they descend from Vedic Brāhmaṇas who converted to Jainism. Staying in Karnataka, Peter Flügel (SOAS), likewise examined temple rituals and priests. For this he turned to the famous Padmāvatī shrine in the town of Humcha and the rituals Jains perform there with the assistance and under the control of the temple priests, including rites of divination. Moving north from Karnataka, John Cort (Denison University) focused upon the largely unexplored presence of Digambara communities in Gujarat, surveying their current spread and history. The engagement with the social dimension of Jainism was rounded off by UC Berkeley's Alexander von Rospatt, the convener of the symposium, who expanded upon Jaini's examination (1980) of why Jainism did not share the fate of Buddhism in India and vanish, probing into the social factors that allowed Mahāyāna Buddhism in Nepal uniquely to persist to the present.

The other presentations of this carefully balanced symposium were grounded in the study of literary sources. Phyllis Granoff (Yale University) dealt with the 17th-century debate on the treatment of Jaina images and how they encode the live story of the Jina without visually referencing particular episodes. Paul Dundas (University of Edinburgh) examined the contribution of Jaina authors to the development of allegory in Indian literary history, focusing on the celebrated monk Hemacandra Maladhārin. Robert Goldman, who has been Jaini's colleague at Berkeley for the past four decades, treated the highly charged and ambivalent appropriations by Jaina authors of prominent figures from the early Sanskrit canon. Finally, two papers engaged with particular aspects of Jainism's complex doctrinal history. Olle Qvarnström (Lund University) spoke on Jaina and Buddhist doxographical texts, and notably the works of the Jain Haribhadra Sūri and the Buddhist Bhāvaviveka, contrasting their respective critique of the Sāṃkhya model of cognition. Kristi Wiley, who earned her PhD at Berkeley under Jaini's supervision, dealt with the simplest form of life known in Jainism, the one-sensed nigodas, and the doctrinal questions (and dilemmas) their postulation poses.

With its rich research papers by leading scholars of Jainism, the symposium captured something of the strength and breadth that characterizes the study of Jainism today— and that is owed in no small measure to Professor Jaini's immense contributions to the field. Thus the conference was a fitting tribute to his achievements as a Jaina scholar, which are matched by his equally significant accomplishments as a scholar of Indian Buddhism. At the symposium, Jaini was also honoured by the medal of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America, presented by its president Prem Jain and other members, for his service to the Jaina community.

All of the presentations can be viewed online: southasia.berkeley.edu/agenda

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