International Summer School for Jain Academic Studies (ISSJS): A unique, innovative and successful Program

Posted: 04.06.2010
Updated on: 02.07.2015



International Summer School for Jain Studies

ISSJS

 


International Summer School for Jain Academic Studies

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Last week (week of May 24, 2010), twenty (20) Americans, single men and women, mostly in their 20s and 40s, flew to India for 3-6 weeks.  Like thousands of other Americans who will visit there this summer, they will be eager to finally get to see the Taj Mahal. But their purpose is much more focused than that.

All are professors or graduate or undergraduate students in religion and philosophy from 8 American universities. All participants have been carefully chosen by a team of senior level professors in American universities.  All these participants went   to India to attend the 7th annual International Summer School for Jain Studies; ISSJS.  Not one of them is a Jain. They are there to study Jainism - a subject they knew little if anything about until very recently.

In India they were joined by 25 other participants of the same academic background but Canadians, Europeans, and Asians.  In all, 62 are attending the challenging program this year - a great increase. They are representing 12   Universities in 8 countries. Nineteen (19) scholars have already attended a similar ISSJS program last month in Thailand, where Jainism also has vigorous roots. But the current batch of 45 participants in May-July will be meeting Jains of all kinds and at all levels in India, but principally professors, scholars, and ascetics and saints there. And of course, Jain professionals, leaders and businessmen too.

From the very beginning, the ISSJS program is integrated within the North American university system and only academics and scholars affiliated with universities and selected by their senior level peers are accepted. The first such program took place in June - July, 2005. It had only seven (7) participants then. But it was a start.  Next year there may be as many as 100

ISJS (www.jainstudies.org) is blossoming impressively and is making a great contribution to the Jain society, and what is so important, to the larger society around it. “We have chosen to plant the important notions of Jainism in the most fertile ground of all - in the minds and hopefully the hearts of those who are most receptive - university teachers and scholars with a great interest in the subject. They include young scholars who will rise to eminence in their universities in the generation to come. And it is happening” said Dr. Sulekh Jain of Sugar Land, Texas who is the founder and the Chairman of ISSJS Governing council.

For too long Jainism has been a neglected subject in international academic institutions. So many Indians have a great esteem for Jainism - for its intellectual vigor…its spiritual power…its enormous potential for global good everywhere. But outside India, Jainism is hardly known, except by isolated scholars in universities here and there.  That is the sad fact.

Since 2005 more than 130 students and scholars from 20 universities of ten countries have participated in ISJS programs, being educated in Jain philosophy, history, social achievements, art, and more. Class emphasis in ISSJS is on the Jain doctrines of non violence, interdependence, relativity of truth, multiple view points and ethics. All ISSJS participants in India attend classes and study texts and take notes and visit temples and monasteries. They also discuss the manifold dimensions of Jainism in its history, development, and contemporary practice - Jainism today. ISSJS is an academic and intellectual program. It is so much more! It is designed to educate teachers and researchers. The way ISSJS has been constructed and carried out has true scholastic excellence as its objective. And this is what it is achieving.

During ISSJS, students experience Jain and Indian hospitality; see some beautiful sights, meet scores of saints/ascetics, scholars, Jain professionals, leaders and businessmen. They also have a chance to interact, exchange and discuss issues, items and knowledge of mutual interests with many within and outside the class rooms. In the class rooms, they are exposed to some broad aspects of Jain philosophy, history, culture and the society. By their coming to ISSJS in India, they have a chance to get an insider’s view of Jainism which could not be replicated in America or anywhere else in the world. What they learn, how they learn and where they learn makes the India experience unforgettable to most and also to all those they come in contact with. ISJS is based on high academic traditions and principles in transferring and sharing knowledge. It does not preach. It gains supporters by getting them to see its underlying truths and great merits

The main goal of the program is to introduce students with Western and other viewpoints and to the great riches of Jain philosophy, tradition, and culture. Hopefully when these scholars look in depth at the complex issues of life, society, divinity and environment through the viewpoint of Jainism, they will be able to compare and see for themselves the logic and strength and innate goodness of the Jain faith. They will be able to make it part of their own scholarship and teaching. Inevitably Jainism will take its rightful place among the greatest religious and philosophical traditions of the modern world.

According to Professor Cromwell Crawford, Prof. Emeritus at University of Hawaii and Chairman, ISJS Academic Council, “ISSJS is an experiential based program where India becomes the class room for them. During their stay in India, the participants have a chance to see, touch, taste, smell and experience living Jainism. They return better for the experience, we are sure - better as individuals and as teachers and writers.”

All participants to ISSJS are given opportunities to absorb the richness of the culture that Jains have been blessed with since their infant days. And yes, they also get to see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Varanasi, Mumbai, Hastinapur - and many other famous places that tourists from around the world are so eager to get to see. This is always fun for them, of course. But it is also just one more way to appreciate India.

Many of the ISSJS alumni have returned to their home universities inspired to teach and write about Jainism as a direct result of their experiences with ISSJS. Some of the students chose a specific area of interest in Jainism as the subject of their master’s degrees and PhD dissertations. These participants have helped spread awareness and knowledge of Jainism in the universities of USA, Canada, Russia, Europe, Thailand and more. ISJS has now built an excellent network of university professors and graduate students in many parts of the world!

ISJS significantly benefits not only the universities outside India but Indian universities and Jain Institutions as well. At several universities, courses are being taught. Articles are being written. Jainism is being discussed. “There is a growing enlightenment. A new appreciation!

To date nearly half a million US dollars have been raised and spent to float the program. This year it is costing $2,000 per participant. This covers their travel, food and lodging in India, a cash stipend plus a travel allowance to senior level faculty and Grad students.

The pay-off has been so promising that the plan is to send several hundred more to ISSJS in the next five years. There is a terrific multiplier effect. These young scholars return to their universities and in the course of their work as professors and writers incorporate Jainism in their research and their teaching. It spreads and spreads.

Consider Brianne Graham Donaldson, who is one of those attending this summer. He is 31 years old and is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy of Religion and Theology at   Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California, USA’ “I am so pleased to be learning about Jainism. It is so good…so impressive. I want religion and philosophy departments teaching it. And also experts in other disciplines. Economists, sociologists, animal ethicists, political scientists, so many other people who can profit from understanding it.”

Or consider Volkmar Ensslin. He is a Ph.D. researcher & lecturer at the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University in Thailand. Volkmar is already a graduate of Oxford Brookes University in the U.K. There he was inspired by Professor Richard Gombrich (a pre-eminent scholar in Buddhist studies at Oxford University) to pursue his study in Jainism. Prof. Gombrich emphasized to Volkmar the importance of studying Jainism if one wants to understand Buddha's teachings fully.

By the end of July 2010, more than 190 students and scholars from many universities of the world including Brianne Donaldson will have benefited from ISSJS programs. This is a historic accomplishment.

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ISSJS goal during the next five years is to educate several hundred more scholars! They in turn will educate thousands more. Talk about a huge multiplier effect! ISJS has built a very impressive network and infrastructure. Now ISSJS is a familiar name in many universities of the world. It has established itself and started collaborations with universities in USA, Thailand and Canada as well as more than half a dozen universities in India. More such collaborations are waiting to be confirmed. The number of applicants and participants in ISSJS programs is significantly growing every year. Some of its alumni are now considered respectable scholars in Jain philosophy and are frequently being invited by various Jain Centers in North America to speak at major Jain functions. In the universities of the world (especially in USA and Canada) nearly one thousand students are attending regular approved courses in Jainism. Until very recently this was not the case. To serve the needs of these and other scholars, ISJS and Parshwanath Vidyapeeth managements have together opened a year-round Center in indology for study and research at Varanasi in India at the campus of Parshwanath Vidyapeeth Research Institute. This again is a first.

ISJS has no building, no campus or faculty of its own in India. It is solely based on mutual collaborations and actively works with and utilizes resources of nearly two dozen Jain organizations and universities in India. The Jain community of intellectuals, scholars and professors in India consider it an honor to teach at ISSJS programs not only in India but also abroad.

None of this would have been possible and ISJS would not be in its strong position today without the vision and hard work of Prof. Cromwell Crawford (Prof. Emeritus, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA), Dr. Shugan Chand Jain (ISJS India Director, New Delhi, India) Jain, Mr. Pramod Jain, Bangkok Thailand, Dr. Atul Shah, London, U.K, members of the ISJS Academic Councils and Governing Councils plus a band of committed donors, supporters and volunteers in North America, India, U.K and Thailand.

The situation has changed dramatically since the first Jains emigrated to the U.S. half a century ago. Now India is getting worldwide recognition because of its achievements in many areas. As a result, the world is now discovering India in ways in which even Pt. Jawaharlal Lal Nehru did not quite envision.

Those of us who came to USA in 1960s did so at a time when India was considered a third-world nation. It is a fact that this left us with humiliating feelings about our roots. But now, we are holding up our heads high because to be an Indian is a mark of distinction. Indians in India and overseas have contributed to this revolution of transforming India into a first-world nation.

What we Indians have done for India we are now striving to do for Jain studies in the universities of the world. And all for the betterment of mankind.

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