Hindu Goddess Saraswati calendar art; Shri 1008 Mahavir Swami by Dayodaya.

Hindu Goddess Saraswati calendar art; Shri 1008 Mahavir Swami by Dayodaya.

The Jain and Hindu Dharma Endowed Chair announcement ceremony was an intimate virtual event on April 9. Celebrating this historic initiative at Fresno State, generous members of the Jain and Hindu communities, Interim University President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Interim Provost Xuanning Fu, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Honora Chapman, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Sergio La Porta, Chair of the Department of Philosophy Robert Maldonado and philosophy faculty gathered to appoint the inaugural Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma.

The chair is historic and unique in the United States, where these two ancient religious traditions of India join hands to share the teachings of both traditions at Fresno State.

The event began with Savita Jain’s melodious singing of the Jain prayer and culminated with Dr. Anita Shenoy chanting the Hindu Gayatri mantra.

Following opening remarks by Chapman, Jiménez-Sandoval announced Dr. Veena Howard, associate professor of religious studies in the Department of Philosophy, as the first Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma at Fresno State. Howard specializes in Asian religious traditions, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. She is also the coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Fresno State.

“With this endowment, Fresno State will build bridges of understanding to these ancient and beautiful religious traditions. It will offer opportunities to ensure student success, and it will broaden their intellectual horizons and beyond,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “Dr. Veena Howard is uniquely qualified to hold this chair. She has a background in the languages, philosophies and religious practices of both of these traditions, and with her expertise, she will lead us in expanding the study of dharma at our University.”

Fu added, “Dr. Howard has widely published various topics in dharma, Hinduism, Gandhi and Jainism, and she values the dharma values in her personal life. In 2018, she received the Provost’s Promising New Faculty award, and in 2019 she was nominated and selected for faculty membership in Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. She is one of our star faculty.”

Maldonado underscored the importance of the Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma in the Department of Philosophy. “The Jain and Hindu Dharma Chair enters into and deepens a committed history in the department to Asian philosophical and religious traditions. Courses focusing on Jain and Hindu religious and philosophical thought will enhance the curriculum of philosophy, religious studies and peace and conflict studies, all of which are housed in the Philosophy Department.”

As Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma, Howard will teach Hinduism and Jainism along with other Asian religions and support Jain and Hindu scholarly endeavors for students, including scholarships, stipends and research funds.

Howard shared her personal story of growing up in both Hindu and Jain Dharma traditions and expressed her gratitude and enthusiasm for this appointment. “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. 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.”

Over two dozen families, individuals and foundations came together to create the Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma. 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.

“We are so grateful to the unprecedented number of generous donors who have collaborated to create this remarkable gift, and we are excited about Dr. Veena Howard’s appointment as the first Jain and Hindu Dharma Endowed Chair,” said Chapman, the interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “Dr. Howard is a scholar of both traditions and loved by her students. Thanks to this endowment, Fresno State’s students will have expanded opportunities 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, Drs. Jasvant and Meera Modi of the Vardhaman Charitable Foundation made possible through a substantial gift, 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 of the Jain Academic Foundation of North America, Ronak and Mitul Shah, and Pinal and Hardik Modi.