Essay on Jainism by Matthew Zaro Fisher

Posted: 18.04.2012
Claremont Lincoln University

About 3 months ago, Claremont Lincoln University ran an essay competition to select candidates who want to go to India to study Jainism during ISSJS Classes in 2012. They were asked to write on why they want to study Jainism...

Why I am interested in studying Jainism

Why I am interested in studying Jainism in India can best be summed up by an experience I had this past Christmas Eve. Having arrived at the midnight Mass early so that my mother could warm-up with the choir, a young man from India walked in as I was waiting for the elevator. His name was Akshay and he was a freshman at the University of Minnesota. He had planned all year to come to midnight Mass because he wanted to experience this particular Christmas Eve service of the Christian faith. He arrived early so he could find someone to talk to about the service so that, in his words, he would do nothing to offend anyone. He wasn’t a Christian but was raised Hindu, and although he admitted he wasn't actively practicing his faith, he was nevertheless interested in experiencing religious traditions different from his own. We sat down and I explained as best I could the theology of my faith and significance behind what he would encounter in the service.  He was genuinely curious about my faith and I about his, and so we talked about our two religions for about 45 minutes before the start of the Mass. As I had come alone that day and had planned on sitting by myself, it was a wonderful and profound experience to share this special Mass with a total stranger from the other side of the world who comes from an entirely different religious culture. There was no pretense and there were no assumptions in this young man; there was only a man of peace seeking to share in the religious experience of another culture.

In short, I want to study Jainism in India because I want to place myself in Akshay’s shoes.  I truly believe that all expressions and understandings of the divine are intrinsically sacred in whatever culture they may be found. Although I am a practicing Catholic, studying Jainism in India would provide me the opportunity to immerse myself in the perspective of a religious tradition significantly different from my own. From this experience I would take away not only a greater understanding of the beliefs and practices of Jainism, but also a new way of understanding my own faith and philosophy. Jainism and Christianity share many correlations in terms of the ethics of human interaction, and so I look forward to exploring the ways Jainism can enrich religious understandings of the human dynamic.

As the conference coordinator for the 2012 Claremont International Jain Conference, I am helping to facilitate the first conference on Jain studies to be held annually at Claremont Lincoln University. Through this work I have had the opportunity to work directly with members from the Jain community in Southern California and JAINA in determining the content of the conference. Through this partnership I have learned a significant amount about Jain cultural practices and beliefs pertaining to the field of biomedical ethics. I am very grateful for that opportunity, and so studying Jainism in India would not only provide me with a greater understanding of the faith, but would also bolster my capacity to serve in this role as the conference coordinator. I admit, I know very little about Jainism compared to my knowledge of Christianity and western philosophy but within my unfamiliarity lies the opportunity to learn directly from the culture in which I would be immersed.

Aside from the personal enrichment that comes with living in another country, studying Jainism in India would provide me with an invaluable experience that would positively impact my academic interests. My Ph.D. research is geared toward theological understandings of human personhood in light of scientific knowledge. Although I am approaching the question from the Christian tradition, my research is inclusive in character and so I wish it to be applicable to many different faiths and cultures. Spending time in India would help me better understand how to make such research inclusive to all persons throughout the world, and to eastern traditions specifically. Hence I am interested in applying the philosophy of Jainism to Western theological understandings of the relationship between humanity and creation in order to determine the extent both religious traditions illuminate the question of human identity. In doing so, I hope my work to facilitate a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of all of reality as understood through exploring the theological truths upheld by these two great religious traditions.

In addition to my academic interests I also offer confidence in my ability to be a courteous, polite, and effective representative of my university, my nation, and my faith. I have participated in cultural exchanges before, and so I understand the significance and responsibility of being an ambassador. Cultural exchanges help create a deeper understanding between people from diverse regions, fostering stronger relationships that help to overcome ignorance that stems from geographical separation. I find it important to approach such international travel with a humble heart and a sense of adventure that seeks to learn about the culture as it is, and not as one wants it to be. Sure, there is often frustration and confusion, especially pertaining to language barriers. But I have always found that a jovial attitude and a genuine smile can get you a long way in a foreign land.  I therefore bring a humble heart to my candidacy for this fellowship, a heart that genuinely desires to learn about Jainism and Indian culture.

Thank you very much for considering my application.


Matthew Zaro Fisher
Ph.D Student
Dept. of Philosophy of Religion and Theology
Claremont Graduate University
Tel: 414-241-0645

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