With donations of $4.5 million by Indian-Americans and an additional grant of $1.5 million from the office of its president, the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine last week announced the setting up of three new endowed chairs, one each in Sikh, Jain and Modern India Studies.
The school said Oct. 19 that the chairs will be named the Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies, Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies, and Swami Vivekananda-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies. The setting up of the chairs is aimed at expanding UCI’s scholarship in South Asian religions and culture.
Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the School of Humanities, said that the exercise will help students to be global citizens with more awareness about cultures and religious traditions.
“By integrating Jain, Sikh and modern Indian studies into our curriculum – and specifically into our renowned religious studies program – we’re creating a panoramic study of India’s rich cultural, historical and religious traditions and enabling our students to be global citizens with empathy and respect for the different ways we all see and interact with the world,” Den Abbeele said in a press statement.
Drs. Harvinder and Asha Sahota established the Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies named in honor of Dr. Harvinder’s late mother. The chair holder will be a scholar with in-depth knowledge of, and research interests in Sikh religion and culture, including the history of the Sikh religion from its origins in 1469 to the current worldwide Diaspora of the Sikh population. Additionally, he or she will have an understanding of the ethics and philosophy of Sikhism as well as familiarity with Punjabi – the language of the Sikh scriptures.
Drs. Meera and Jasvant Modi and their children – Dr. Rushabh and Shruti Modi and family – established Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies. The chair holder will be a scholar with wide-ranging knowledge of, and research interests in, Jain ethics, philosophy, religion, history and culture, including the fundamental principles of Jainism – nonviolence, non-possessiveness and a pluralistic perspective – and familiarity with Indian languages such as Sanskrit and Prakrit.
The chair is named in honor of Bhagvan Parshvanath, the 23rd savior of Jainism, with “Shri” being a Sanskrit title of veneration signifying to “holy.” The Swami Vivekananda-DCF Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies that seeks to promote philanthropy to further the systematic study of Indian religious traditions established the Swami Vivekananda-DCF Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies. The Dharma Civilization Foundation is a California-based nonprofit.
The endowed chair is inspired by and named after Vivekananda (1863-1902), a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and an institution builder, philosopher, orator, teacher, poet in modern India.
“The establishment of three endowed chairs in South Asian religious studies within the School of Humanities is a prime example of how UCI is a vibrant intellectual and cultural center with strong ties to its community,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman.
“We are grateful to the leaders and community groups who came together to cement the School of Humanities’ foundation in South Asian studies and look forward to the educational and cultural impact on our students that the scholarship from these chairs will produce,” Gillman said.
Earlier this year, Dr. Ushakant Thakkar, chairman of the DCF, and his wife, Irma, contributed $1.5 million to establish the Thakkar Family-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilization Studies. Thakkar has worked with senior UCI religious studies faculty – Keith Nelson, professor emeritus of history; Jack Miles, Distinguished Professor of English and religious studies; and Gerald Larson, professor emeritus of religious studies – and the officers of DCF to enhance the study of Indian religions in American universities. Additionally, he recently served as general editor of The Norton Anthology of World Religions, a landmark work integrating the six major, living, world religions, with the first volume centering on Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism. “The year 2015 will be remembered as annus mirabilis – a year of wonders – in the history of religious studies at UCI,” Jack Miles, Distinguished Professor of English and religious studies, said.
“Thanks to the vision and great generosity of these leaders in the Indian-American Diaspora, Orange County – a community of 3.2 million that well represents world religions in microcosm – will now become a major center for the study of the religions of India. I look forward with great optimism to the teaching, learning, research and cultural enrichment that these gifts will make possible.”