GROWTH OF JAIN ACADEMIC EDUCATION IN NORTH AMERICA – Guest Author, Sulekh Jain, Ph.D.
Jain Community in North America
Since 1965, with the ease in immigration laws, the Indian population in North America increased fast, and so did the Jains population here. Today, nearly 150,000 Jains make North America their permanent home. Now we have a vibrant Jain community with more than 75 places of worship (nearly 23 are combined Jain and Hindu temples), more than 100 organizations, YJA and YJP representing Young and Professional Jains and an Apex body, JAINA representing all Jains.
Why Gnan Mandirs (Centers for Studies in Jain Dharma) in the universities?
Each immigrant community to the United States began as an isolated community. Building temples or synagogues expressed its religious values and provided it with a home and cultural center. As each group integrated more fully into its surrounding community, it began to turn outward, offering its strengths back to its city, state, and nation. Endowing chairs and making contributions to major universities is a significant sign of this integration. The Jains are now playing their role in the philanthropy and the support of education that lies at the heart of American culture. Participating in this partnership is a sign of North American Jainism come of age.
Jain community has built temples in many cities, but till recently, the need for higher education in Jainism has been lacking except for “Sunday Pathshala School” type of teaching conducted from temples. To fill this gap, the Jain community has now been working with several universities in North America.
The partnering Universities commit to teach Jainism and the Jain community commits its resources for the study of their religion by American students and sharing their values. One such value is of pluralism in today’s world, or what we call anekantavada. For thousands of years, Jains have valued and practiced the pluralistic perspective. The belief that all of the world’s religious traditions are valuable, that each has its unique contributions to make, has now also become a central pillar of Religious Studies at many universities across the United States. These shared values draw Jains and universities together.
The other is the value of ahimsa, nonviolence which binds all of us together. We live in a world wracked by violence. The nations struggle with terrorism, wars expand, armies grow and so many different kinds of viruses threaten our very own existence. Also, within ourselves we recognize violent tendencies in subtle ways that our thought and practices participate in this same system of violence. The wisdom traditions of the world offer pathways for humans to live with each other and with the natural world in a more peaceful and harmonious way. Among the religions, none has made the striving for peace more central, and none has called its followers to higher standards of ahimsa, than Jainism.
Where are we now?
Twenty years ago, there were very few scholars available to teach Jainism at universities in North America. To educate and train more scholars proficient in Jainism, we embarked on this journey 16 years ago. Working with many universities here, we created a unique program called International school for Jain Studies, ISJS ( www.isjs.in) in which universities partnered to send their faculty, grad and under grad students to go to India each summer for intensive study, meet many sadhus and lay practitioners, visit temples, see, feel, touch, taste and smell the living Jainism there. For them, we made India a class room for experiential learning. So far more than 700 such scholars have gone to India and after return, more than 25 of them enrolled and finished their PhDs in Jainism from many prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, U Penn and University of Chicago etc.
With the adequate availability of newly trained scholars, we have now established several endowed Chairs, Professorships and Lecturer/Post Doc positions in Jain studies at more than 25 universities for the exchange of ideas, creation of new knowledge and graduate student training, to ensure the future of this ancient Jain religion and to educate students and graduates in the Indic culture and religions, thus establishing a unique lens through which to view some of the world’s most pressing challenges and opportunities. On this aspect of the world’s needs, one cannot but emphasize the Ecological principles enunciated in Jainism at least 2500 years ago. So far, the Jain community has committed $14 million and universities matched with nearly $30 million of their own funds. This is a win win example of both the parties; Jains and the universities working together to a mutually beneficial goal.
Below is a listing of such academic positions and programs so far but we have just begun and a lot more needs to be done and very soon.
Endowed Chairs in Jain Studies
1.Shri Parsvanatha Presidential Chair at UC Irvine, Dr. Brianne Donaldson
2. Mohini Jain Presidential Chair at UC Davis, Dr. Lynna Dhanani,
3. Shrimad Rajchandra Chair at UC Riverside, Dr. Ana Bajzelj
4. Bhagwan Vimalnath Chair at UC Santa Barbara.
5. Bhagwan Suvidhinath Chair at Cal State U Long Beach. Dr. Purushottama Bilimoria as Interim Lecturer.
6. Bhagwat Shantinath Endowed Chair in Jainism and Director Ahimsa Center at Cal Poly, Pomona. Prof. Tara Sethia
7. Shri Anantnath Endowed Chair in Jain studies at University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
8. Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma at Cal State U, Freson, CA. This is unique and first of its kind anywhere in the world.
9. Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship at FIU Miami, FL, Dr. Steven Vose
10. Bhagwan Rishabhdev Professorship at U of North Texas, Dallas, TX
11. Bhagwan Mallinath Professorship at LMU, LA, Dr. Christopher Miller
12. Bhagwan Ajitnath Professorship at CSU Northridge, CA Dr. Claire Maes (will start August 2021)
13. Bhagwan Mahavir Post Doc, Rice U, Houston; Dr. Shivani Bothra
14. Bhagwan Sumatinath Post Doc, San Diego State U.
15. Bhagwan Shitalnath Post Doc at University of Toronto, Canada.
16. Bhagwan Chandra Prabhu Post Doc, Willamette University, Salem, OR
17. Bhagwan Abhinandan Lectureship at UCLA
18. Bhagwan Kunthunath Endowed Program at Cerritos Community College. LA
19. Adjunct Professor Program at U of Dayton, Dayton, OH
20. Jain Study program at University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Other Support Programs
21. Bhagwant Mahavir Prakrit Fellowship to Study Prakrit in India, 2018-19
22. Shrimad Rajchandra 4 PhD Fellowships at University of California at Riverside, CA
23. Shailendra Palvia Annual Lecture at Long Island University
24. Lala Rooplal Jain Annual Lecture at U of Toronto.
25. Dr. Chander Mohan Jain Annual Lecture at U of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
26. Symposium in Jain Mathematics, Dec 12-14, 2020. First of its kind
27. Annual Jain Academic Convention, Nov 7, 2020. This is a new Start.
28. On Line free, Open Course offering in Jainism at LMU. This is quite comprehensive, available free On Line 24×7, throughout the world.
29. 140-page Special issue of Jain Digest devoted to Jain Academic Education Only. Published in November 2020.
30. Ten Scholars enrolled in PhD programs at various Universities in USA
31. Bhagwan Mahavir Fellowship 2021 to Study Prakrit in India. This is a full year fellowship, We plan to award at least 3 fellowships.
32. International Winter school for Jain Studies, Dec 27- 2020 to January 8, 2021 on line,
33. Support to Jain Studies programs at Ghent University and in Antwerp in Belgium
34. Financial support to a Ph.d students at SOAS, London, U.K and in Poland
We have just begun this journey and more to come.
Sulekh Jain, Ph.D. is the Past Secretary and President of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA). Sulekh is instrumental in establishing Jain studies programs in 25 universities across the United States. Dr. Jain also authored a book “An Ahimsa Crisis: You Decide, which can be accessed as an eBook free of charge at www.isjs.in
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