University of California announces new Endowed Chair in Jain Studies


After instituting Endowment Chair  in Sikh culture, the University of California is on way to create a Chair on Jainism with the active support and collaboration of the Indian community.  The chair is part of a larger effort to position U.C. Davis as one of the leaders in the study of Indian religions and the interdisciplinary field of South Asia studies broadly, the university said in a news release.

U.C. Riverside’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the Department of Religious Studies has announced the establishment of its latest endowed chair, the Shrimad Rajchandra Endowed Chair in Jain Studies on February 17th.

The chair is named after renowned Indian poet, philosopher, scholar and reformer of Jain principles Shrimad Rajchandra, who lived from 1867 until 1901. Several institutions and places throughout India use Rajchandra’s name in dedication for charitable activities. The U.C. Riverside chair is the first to bestow the Rajchandra name as a dedication outside India.

Lasy year, Harkeerat and Deepta Dhillon, an Indian-American couple donated $100,000 to the top American university to support graduate students studying Sikh and Punjabi culture there. The endowment by Harkeerat and Deepta Dhillon to University of California, Riverside, was to help attract graduate students with an interest in Sikh and Punjabi culture, and support fieldwork on Sikh communities in the United States, the univestity said in a statement.

The university requires $1 million to endow a chair. The Indian American families of Mahesh Wadher and Jasvant Modi each pledged $250,000 but have signed for $1 million, while the Jain Center of Southern California and Jain Temple of Los Angeles have agreed to help raise the remaining funds. Additionally, the family of Vijay Chheda has pledged $100,000 towards reaching the $1 million threshold.

Meanwhile, Mohini Jain, an Indian American philanthropist, retired teacher and longtime resident of Davis, Calif.,  made a $1.5 million donation to U.C. Davis on February 21st to advance the study of Jainism. As part of the gift, the university will establish the Mohini Jain Presidential Chair for Jain Studies in the Department of Religious Studies.

“Jainism is a very ancient and important religion and philosophy that champions truth, nonviolence and a multiplicity of viewpoints,” said Jain in a statement. “In our multicultural, global world, it is important to escape boxed-in points of view. I am hopeful the impact of the chair at U.C. Davis will be a broadening of minds and a renewed focus on dialogue and peace.”

Jain was a research scientist at U.C. Davis in the 1980s and then served as a high school science teacher for 19 years, retiring in 2008. For decades, she has made giving to U.C. Davis a priority, the university said.

The presidential chair will be awarded to a scholar with a well-established record for creative, exceptional and interdisciplinary research on Jainism, the university said.

As a member of the religious studies department, the holder of the chair will help develop curriculum in Jain studies, offer graduate courses in Jainism, pursue a vigorous research agenda, give public lectures, and contribute to the development of a religions of India and South Asia studies initiative at U.C. Davis by participating in community outreach, it said.

“This gift will further diversify and strengthen our expertise in world religions and is another step toward U.C. Davis serving as a leader in India religions and Asia studies globally,” said Archana Venkatesan, chair of the religious studies department and associate professor of religious studies and comparative literature, in a statement.

The Chair will be focused on Jain religious principles with the chair expected to teach classes in Jain studies. “To teach Jain religion, principles, culture, etc., to undergraduate students,” Dr. Nitin Shah, past-president of JCSC, told India-West when asked about the goals of the chair. Shah is also chair of the External Education Committee at JCSC, professor of anesthesiology at Loma Linda University and chief of surgical ICU at Long Beach VA Healthcare System.

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