On June 19, Fresno State religious studies Professor Dr. Veena Howard took the stage in a ballroom with more than 1,000 people. White-draped tables stretched out across the vast room as dim shadows behind the glaring lights.
A blue backdrop segued into an oversized video screen, one of several in the room, so people in the back could see the panel as part of the opening general session at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies in Singapore. Later that day, the news dedicated nearly entire broadcasts to the event — and Howard, along with the panel, was featured on the front page of the largest newspaper in Singapore.
For Howard, the past year and a half has been a blur of accolades and events, as she moves in global circles with the world’s leading experts on peace, interfaith dialogue, Asian religious traditions and the philosophy of Gandhi.
After receiving the Fresno State Provost Award for Promising New Faculty in 2018, Howard was selected by the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society committee for 2019 faculty membership. Howard also served on the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and on the planning team of the 2018 conference in Toronto, Canada.
As people around the world celebrate the 150th birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Howard’s next project is hosting Gandhi’s Global Legacy International Conference at Fresno State.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating Gandhi’s 150 birthday, because it marks the beginning of a deeper appreciation of each other’s humanity,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Fresno State.
As the world celebrates Gandhi’s landmark birthday, the university will host a series of events to mark the occasion.
Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birthday Celebration
9 a.m., Oct. 2 in the Henry Madden Library Ellipse Gallery. Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro will speak at a ribbon-cutting event opening an exhibition of lives of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Daisaku Ikeda and Cesar Chavez. The exhibition will remain open during library hours until Oct. 12.
6 p.m., Oct. 2 in the Peace Garden at Fresno State
The event will include a garlanding and flower ceremony, speakers, classical dances, mediation and candlelight vigil.
Gandhi’s Global Legacy International Conference
Oct. 10-11 with events in the Alice Peters Auditorium (PB 191), the Peace Garden, Satellite Student Union and Wahlberg Recital Hall.
Keynote speakers include Rev. James Lawson Jr., a prominent civil rights leader and professor at California State University, Northridge; Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist; Nipun Mehta, servicespace.org founder; Mary Elizabeth King, professor of peace and conflict studies at the United Nations-affiliated University for Peace; as well as accomplished Fresno State alumnus and leader of the California State University, Fresno President’s Southern California Council, Ramsey Jay Jr. The conference will also feature an evening of Indian classical music. The conference is generously supported by and JP and Renu Sethi Foundation and the Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies. Visit fresnostate.edu/gandhi150 for conference schedule and registration.
Ela Gandhi “Gandhian Legacy and Challenges Ahead in 21st Century: Personal Perspectives”
Oct. 14 in the North Gym
Peace activist, former Member of Parliament in South Africa and Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi will speak at the invitation of Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, professor emeritus of social work education at Fresno State.
Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley
Oct. 14 in the North Gym.
In celebration of the United Nations annual Human Rights Day commemoration, speakers include Dr. Clayborne Carson, of Stanford University, and Assemblyman Ash Kalra, chair of the California Assembly Committee on Labor Relations and Employment. The event is co-sponsored with the Human Right Coalition of Central California and other community partners.
All events are free and open to the public. Parking is $5 from the daily parking permit dispensers. For additional information or if you require special accommodations, please contact the Fresno State Department of Philosophy at 559.278.2621.
Howard’s life-changing path to a study of Gandhi
Dr. Veena Howard was born and raised in India as the sixth of seven siblings. She grew up listening to her parent’s stories of pain and resilience.
“My grandmother, father and mother were forced to leave their homes in the then newly formed Pakistan and became refugees. After India’s independence, India was divided into two nations — Pakistan and India. In Colonial India, they witnessed Gandhi’s movement and recalled their memories of his nonviolent mobilization of the masses for securing freedom and his violent assassination.”
Howard excelled in school, and when it came time for her parents to arrange her marriage, she was able to persuade her parents to let her continue her education.
Howard was selected to participate in an interreligious youth service project in Italy, and from there she came to the United States, where she pursued her M.A. in philosophy at the University of South Carolina and an M.A. in Eastern classics at St. John’s College in New Mexico.
A few years later, Howard was teaching at the University of Oregon and preparing to start her Ph.D. program focusing on a Sanskrit text when a professor asked her to co-teach a class on Gandhi.
“Through this seminar, I learned about Gandhi and realized how much I didn’t know about his life, philosophy and history. So it triggered my interest in Gandhi. The fact that Gandhi struggled and persisted in his personal and public life and used unconventional methods inspired me,” said Howard.
The experience changed the course of Howard’s scholarship. She decided to join Lancaster University in England to pursue her Ph.D. in religious studies. It was there that she was able to immerse herself into studying the life of Gandhi, his strategies and his philosophy. She is the first person in her family to achieve a doctorate degree and only one to work in academia.
Since that time, Howard has written dozens of articles; an edited volume, “Dharma: Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh Traditions of India”; a book titled “Gandhi’s Ascetic Activism: Renunciation and Social Action“; and an Oxford Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi.
In 2014, Howard was looking for a full-time tenure-track position, and during her on-campus visit she found herself at Fresno State walking to the Starbucks inside Henry Madden Library to meet with a colleague for a spot in the Philosophy Department.
“As I was walking, I looked up and I saw the Gandhi statue. I had just finished my book on Gandhi, and I wondered, ‘Is this a sign?’ How many universities have Gandhi statues?’” said Howard. “So thanks to Dr. Kapoor for his vision, for his efforts to create the Peace Garden.”
As she continues her work organizing Gandhi’s Global Legacy International Conference, that connection to Fresno State has emboldened and inspired her.
“I think the Valley is the right place to have it,” said Howard. “At Fresno State, we have the Peace Garden, we have our mission statement, we have commitment and our leaders are so excited and supportive. This is our project, our university project.”
The conference is generously supported by the JP and Renu Sethi Foundation and the Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies.