Historic Collaboration Signing Event: Rice University to Offer Regular Programs in Jain Studies

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By Dr. Sulekh C. Jain and Payal Kapadia Patani

HOUSTON: As the world celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day for his commitment, compassion and passion to non-violence, Jain Society of Houston took pride and honor to witness a historic signing ceremony on January 17, for the establishment of a full-time Bhagwaan Mahavir Post-Doctoral Fellowship for Jain Studies at Rice University. The signing ceremony was held in the main hall of Jain Society of Houston. Prominent individuals of Rice University, Houston Jain Community, officials of Jain Vishwa Bharati Meditation Center, Honorable Harish Jajoo (City of Sugar Council member), Mahatma Gandhi Library and many others were in attendance.

The event itinerary included welcome, Namokar mantra prayer invocation on music, lamp lighting and document signing by Rice University and Jain community officials.

Rice University is an elite, prestigious and 104 year old University with a very beautiful campus near the heart of the City of Houston and next door to the world famous Texas Medical Center. Rice University is recognized as a community of curious thinkers, passionate dreamers, and energetic doers who believe that improving the world demands more than bold thought and brave actions.  It takes an unconventional wisdom.

There are no course offering in Jainism at present at any university in Houston but that is going to change soon with the hiring of a full time Jain scholar with a PhD and proven track record of leadership and publications.

This historic collaboration which is cost shared 50:50 % between the Jain Society and Rice University will open its doors for the Jain Studies course in Jainism’s philosophy, history art, culture and its contribution to the world.  The scholar will create a platform for discussion, learning and awareness of Jainism and will offer classes in Jainism each semester.  In addition, the scholar will also do research, organize seminars and publish papers and books. Another unique feature is that the scholar will also actively interact with the Jain community in Houston and will facilitate the learning of our own tradition about Ahimsa, Anekant and Aprigraha; the 3 jewels of Jainism.

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Urvashi Jain, President of the Jain Society of Houston welcomed all the guests and then Dr. Sulekh Jain ( Past President of  JAINA and Chairman of International School for Jain  Studies in USA), Professor Sonia Ryang,  ( Director of Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University), Professor Jeffrey Kripal (Chair Professor in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University ) in their remarks touched upon the significance of the gift from the Jain community and how the Post-Doctoral fellow will not only do research and  teach a course in Jainism each semester but will also share  the richness and  philosophy of  Jainism  to  many other disciplines, departments and centers within Rice University. Currently Jains in USA have already   established Centers for Jain Studies at 10 universities including two fully funded Chairs at Florida International University and at University of California at Irvine.

In a message earlier in the day, Dr. Philip Clayton, Dean at Claremont School of Theology at Claremont California very beautifully summed up the uniqueness of this collaboration. He said “the two values of the Jain religion make us brothers and sisters in this endeavor — Rice University, as it commits to study and teach Jainism; and the Jain community, as it supports the study of this religion by American students. The first is the value 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 Rice and across the United States. This shared value draws us deeply together.

Finally, the value of ahimsa, nonviolence, binds us together. We live in a world wracked by violence. The nations struggle with terrorism, wars expand, armies grow. Also within ourselves we recognize violent tendencies, 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.

We hope and trust that the gift we celebrate today will inaugurate a long and fruitful relationship between Rice University and the Jain community. Both groups believe that the new courses will help to enhance the offerings of the Religion department. Above all else, we hope that, in their own humble way, they will contribute to a more peaceful world and to the growth of ahimsa across the planet”.

The historic signing ceremony couldn’t be what it was without the time, dedication, and efforts of our volunteers  and sponsors, as well as the generous matching contributions from Chao Center at Rice University. We’d like to wholeheartedly thank all of the individuals who played a role in the establishment of this program.