Jain Summer School in India

Posted: 06.06.2010
Updated on: 30.07.2015

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The South Asian Times


By Dr. Sulekh C. Jain

ISSJS 2010 was held at Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand from April 27-May 12, 2010. It was organized jointly by the Research Institute of Languages and Culture of Asia, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand; Jain Samaj Bangkok; and International School for Jain Studies, India.

 

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ISSJS CLASS GROUP PHOTO

The class comprised Nineteen (19) full time participants including Mr. Pramod Jain, President Jain Samaj Bangkok. Their breakdown is as follows: Four Professors: including Coordinator of the program from Mahidol University and director of Sripattam International College, five PhD students; one with an MBA from Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania, USA), one from Oxford University UK and one from Heidelberg University, Germany and two Thai scholars, seven Post Graduates with degrees in Finance, Law etc from Thai universities and State University of New York, USA and three undergraduates and retired professionals. Interestingly three participants were US Nationals and one was a German. Two Indian Sikhs also attended.

Twenty eight interactive lectures as per schedule were delivered by Dr. Shugan Jain from New Delhi, India from April 25 - May 7. Prof Priyadarshana Jain, a senior full time faculty member at Dept. of Jainology at Madras University, Chennai took over from May 8 to 12 and delivered eight more lectures.

Because of the strong interactive interest by the participants, most of the lectures stretched beyond scheduled time to complete discussions. Participants were also asked to submit their unanswered questions at the end of the day which were taken up the next day before starting the scheduled program. Further, there was one special session just for questions and answers which was very intensive also. Use of PowerPoint presentations for each lecture (these were also provided to each participant for reference), examples from our daily lives to make a concept understood and drawing comparisons from Buddhism (to some extent) were also made as most of the participants had strong background in Buddhist studies.

All participants expressed the highest level of satisfaction for each lecture and wished to have more of these. Prof Sophona Srichampa, coordinator of the program from Mahidol University who attended all the lectures, in her valedictory addressed showered full satisfaction and honored the lecturer Dr. Shugan Jain by the title - Guru.

Event highlights:

  • Mahidol University has made this program a permanent feature and will now offer it as its own university program in association with ISJS.
  • Prof. Srichampa (Mahidol University) wishes to come to ISJS for further research on Jainism herself.
  • In 2011 there will be two ISSJS in Thailand.
  • Mr. Arjan Prassong of Ramkamhaeng University, Thailand has submitted a proposal to his university to start JaIn studies department at his university. His Department Head has accepted the proposal and is now awaiting approval of the university management.
  • An exhibition of Jain Temples of India was organized at the university for the entire month.

 


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

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ISSJS class group photo
at Ahimsa Sthal in New Delhi

What started out as a small effort towards introducing western world to teachings of Jainism in 2005 has now blossomed into a big program titled ‘International Summer School for Jain Academic Studies’ (ISSJS).  

In the last week of May, around 20 American scholars were selected for participating in the 7th annual ISSJS in India. The group consisted of professors, graduate and under-graduate students of religion and philosophy from 8 different American universities and was carefully selected by a team of senior level professors in American universities. But the most striking aspect of this group– ‘None of them was Jain.’

A 31 year old PhD student at Department of Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California, Brianne Graham Donaldson, who is one of those attending this summer, says, “I am so pleased to be learning about Jainism. I want religion and philosophy departments to teach it. And also experts in other disciplines like 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 Volkmar the importance of studying Jainism if one wants to understand Buddha's teachings fully.

This group was joined in India by 25 other participants of the same academic background but from different regions of the world - Canada, Europe and other Asian nations. In all, 62 participants are attending the challenging program this year—a great increase. They represent 12 universities from 8 countries. Nineteen (19) scholars have already attended a similar ISSJS program last month in Thailand, where Jainism has vigorous roots. The current batch of 45 participants will be meeting in May-July, not only professors, scholars, ascetics and saints but Jains from all walks of life - professionals, leaders and businessmen etc.

From the very beginning, the ISSJS program is integrated within the North American university system and only aca demics and scholars affiliated with universities and selected by their senior level peers are accepted.

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Prof. Crawford at a meeting of ISJS Board
at Estern Connecticut State University

Even though many Indians have a great esteem for Jainism - its intellectual vigor, spiritual power, its enormous potential for global good - for too long, sadly Jainism has been a neglected subject in international academic institutions, hardly known, except by isolated scholars in universities here and there.

In order to correct it, ISSJS is striving to introduce students with Western and other viewpoints 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, strength and innate goodness of the Jain faith. They will be able to make it part of their own scholarship and teaching.

According to Professor Cromwell Crawford, Prof. Emeritus at University of Hawaii and Chairman, ISJS Academic Council, “ISSJS is an experiential (empirical) 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 from the experience, we are sure—better as individuals and as teachers and writers.”

“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.

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.

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 room, they are exposed to broad aspects of Jain philosophy, history, culture and the society. By attending 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.

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.

ISSJS 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.

ISSJS goal during the next five years is to educate several hundred more scholars! They in turn will educate thousands more.

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.

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.

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 writer is Chairman, Governing Council, ISJS, North America and Past President, Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), Houston, Texas, USA. He can be reached at scjain(at)earthlink.net)

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