Since antiquity, according to religious studies scholars, two of the world’s oldest traditions, Hinduism and Jainism, co-existed on the Indian subcontinent. They share many spiritual practices, philosophical paradigms and ethical principles while simultaneously maintaining their unique, independent identities.
Over two dozen families, individuals and foundations have come together to create the Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma at Fresno State. The groundbreaking partnership between the Jain and Hindu communities and the University underscores a mutual commitment to educating current and future generations of students about the principles of nonviolence, dharma (virtue, duty), justice, pluralist philosophy, the interconnectedness of all beings and care for the environment through Hindu-Jain texts, philosophies and traditions.
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro called the partnership historic. “The California State University has never seen a partnership like this one with the Jain and Hindu communities. I’m very pleased that this has happened at Fresno State. It establishes a model for other campuses in the CSU and around the country to do the same.”
“Because of the beautiful Peace Garden and what it represents here, we feel California State University, Fresno is the rightful place for this endowed chair. How beautiful and remarkable it is that both traditions will now be represented, taught and researched at Fresno State,” said Dr. Sulekh Jain, of Las Vegas, who has a prominent role in developing Jain education in the United States. “This is the first joint chair in the two traditions, not only in North America, but most probably in the whole world. This is historic.”
“Like two rivers running parallel and at times intertwined create a rich ecosystem, Hinduism (traditionally known as Sanatana Dharma) and Jainism (Jain Dharma), originated on the Indian subcontinent, for over three millennia serve as a model to building pluralistic and peaceful relations,” explained Dr. Veena Howard, a Fresno State religious studies professor. “Mahatma Gandhi was a product of both Jain and Hindu traditions and teachings. Gandhi was born in a Hindu family but was strongly influenced and molded by Jain friends, monks and Jain vows.”
Dr. Jasvant Modi, of Los Angeles, a prominent Jain philanthropist and supporter of this chair, added, “We hope that the younger generation, when they come to the college, they’re exposed to this philosophy as we know that Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others followed a nonviolent way of solving the countries and the world’s problems.”
Monika Joshi, of Clovis, who collaborated with other local Hindu community members, expressed her enthusiasm. “In today’s world with conflict, fear and division, it becomes essential to explore and share the teachings of Hindu Dharma that have existed for thousands of years. Mutual respect, truth within and working towards eternal happiness are the core values of Hinduism that can pave the way for unity as a common goal for all.”
Dr. Harsh Saigal, a Hindu leader in Fresno, added, “We are proud to give back to the Valley that has given us so much.”
The Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma will be housed in the Department of Philosophy in the College of Arts and Humanities and will be an integral part of the University’s religious studies program. A professor who is an expert in both the Jain and Hindu Dharma traditions will be appointed as interim chair in 2021.
“The chair will teach Jainism and Hinduism, furthering Fresno State’s efforts to promote understanding of religions and communities. The teaching of these ancient traditions reflects our community’s diversity and our donors’ trust in the value and impact of Fresno State’s programs,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Fresno State provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
Additionally, the endowed chair also will support Jain and Hindu scholarly endeavors for students, including scholarships, stipends and research funds. For the professor who holds the chair, the funds may support research and academic publications, conference travel and campus-sponsored events.
“We are so grateful to the unprecedented number of generous donors who have collaborated to create this remarkable gift,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “This new chair represents an enhanced opportunity for Fresno State’s students to learn how they can change their own lives and the world through pursuing Jain and Hindu enlightenment in their studies while putting nonviolence and peace into action.”
The Jain and Hindu community leaders and organizations that generously donated include J.P. Sethi, the Ravi & Naina Patel Foundation, Dr. Harsh Saigal, Anil Mehta, Dr. Vinod K. Gupta, Dina Bahl, Bankim Dalal, Dr. Girish Patel, Vardhaman Charitable Foundation, Andy Chhikara, Dr. Prem Kamboj, Dr. Madhav Suri, Dr. Krish Rajani, Monika Joshi, Ela and Bhavesh Muni, Rama Ambati, Dr. Shashi Sharma, Dr. Dinesh Sharma, Dilbagh Ghilawat, Sangita and Yogesh Shah, Rita and Narendra Parson, Komal and Prashant Desai, Kala and Surendra Jain, the Wadher Family Foundation, Dr. Sulekh Jain, Ronak and Mitul Shah, and Pinal and Hardik Modi.
(Images: Hindu Goddess Saraswati calendar art; Shri 1008 Mahavir Swami by Dayodaya.)