UNT establishes professorship in Jain Studies

UNT establishes professorship in Jain Studies

UNT establishes professorship in Jain Studies
October 05
12:00 2017

UNT professor George A. James has been named the first Bhagwan Adinath Professor of Jain Studies after the university received a $500,000 endowment from the Jain Education and Research Foundation (JERF) earlier this month.

The foundation established the first Jain professorship in the U.S. in 2010 at Florida International University. The professorship, titled Bhagwan Mahavir, is named for the most recent Tirthankara, which is a spiritual teacher of the dharma, or righteous path.

Jainism is an ancient religion that originated in India and has been practiced for thousands of years. The principles of Jainism are nonviolence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness, as well as loving all living beings.

James said he has personally been involved in the negotiations for the professorship for the last three years.

“This endowment was the result of a long process with the Jain Education and Research Foundation,” James said. “This will provide funding to have annual public events highlighting Jain philosophy, Jain religious traditions and Jain values.”

James joined the UNT faculty in 1983 and includes Jain studies in the courses on South Asian philosophy and world religions that he teaches. He will begin to incorporate Jainism into his course on ancient religions. James said he began studying Jainism many years ago. 

James has also traveled to India multiple times to study environmental movements in the nation, as well as to consult with Jain experts.

UNT professor Pankaj Jain joined the university in 2010 and has taught several classes at UNT that incorporate Jainism, including one titled “From Mahavira to Mahatma Gandhi: The Jain People and Cultures of Non-Violence.”

Mahavira was a teacher of philosophy in the sixth century BCE and a contemporary of Buddha, Dr. Jain said.

Dr. Jain’s course has also expanded to include more recent material, including the nature of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights efforts.

“I connect Jainism and non-violence with Dr. Martin Luther King because he was the biggest proponent of non-violence in this country,” Jain said. “Before he launched his civil rights movement in this country, he actually went to India, visited Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Mumbai and he saw non-violence in action.”

As part of the non-violence characteristic of Jainism, nearly all practicing Jains are vegetarians, which Dr. Jain said has become easier here at UNT since the opening of Mean Greens Café.

“As a Jain, I’m very happy that I can go to a cafeteria here that serves no animal products at all,” Jain said. “So I often go to Mean Green Café.”

Another aspect of non-violence is forgiveness, which is practiced with their annual festival called Kshamavani, or Forgiveness Day.

“Jains have an annual Forgiveness Day, on which we ask for forgiveness from all santient beings in the universe,” Jain said. “So knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously if I ever hurt you by my actions, my speech or my thought, I ask for your forgiveness.”

Despite originating in the Indian subcontinent, Jainism has a home in the U.S. There are numerous temples in Texas alone including locations in Houston, Cedar Park and Dallas.

The temple in Dallas is called the Derasar and is organized by the Jain Society of North Texas. Dr. Jain said the Derasar has a membership of about 300 families.

David Holdeman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, said in a UNT press release that he as well as many faculty members and students are interested in cultural and social issues pertaining to India.

“We hope that the Jain professorship will help to foster additional discussion not only of Jainism in particular but also of Indian religion and culture more generally,” Holdeman stated in the release. “We are excited and grateful to be able to launch this new professorship.”

Featured Image: Pankaj Jain, associate professor at UNT sits with students. Jain has taught numerous classes at UNT that incorporate Jainism. Courtesy| Pankaj Jain

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Sean Riedel

Sean Riedel

Sean Riedel is a News Writer for the North Texas Daily.

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