University of Illinois launches endowed chair on Jainism

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Zoom meeting held recently to launch the endowed chair for Study of Jainism at University of Illinois. Photo: Illinois.edu newsletter

The Department of Religion at the University of Illinois can now boast an endowed chair for the study of Jainism after receiving a gift of $1 million, a goal that advocates from across the country partnering with universities have been calling for.

“Thank you for your participation in the establishment of the Bhagwan Munisuvrata Swami Endowed Professorship in the Study of Jainism at the University of Illinois, and for your attendance at our signing ceremony,” announced Professor Jon Ebel, head of the department in a recent email.

A Zoom meeting of the donors and supporters of the chair was held recently for the launch.

“Thank you to all of our speakers, especially our donors. Your stories were inspirational, and we look forward to being part of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America’s generous initiative to give back to higher education institutions,” Ebel went on to say, adding, “We hope to have you all on campus in Champaign-Urbana in the future, and we hope to share with you all our plans to integrate Jainism into our classes and our future hiring of the Endowed Professorship.”

“We are touched by your generosity and the commitment of the Jain community. Gifts such as yours allow the university to continue to best serve our students and communities throughout the state, and the impact will be seen beyond our campus,” Ebel said.

The $1 million gift is the larges the department has ever received, according to the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS) website (las.illinois.edu).

The University will be the 28th school in the U.S. to have a Jain studies program.

According to the LAS news item, the effort to expand Jain studies started when the International School for Jain Studies opened in in India in 2004m drawing international attention and expanded the number of scholars of Jainism outside India. . The school drew international academic recognition and created scholars of Jainism outsi,

“Since then, more than 800 scholars from more than 26 universities have traveled to India for an immersion Jainism experience,” the LAS said in its writeup, noting that Jainism is “one of the oldest continuously practiced religions in the world, with many followers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.”

“We wanted to make India a classroom, so they don’t see it in books only. They’d see a living tradition,” said Sulekh Jain told LAS. She is one of the founders of the International School for Jain Studies.

Jasvant Modi, a donor who has pledged around $13 million for setting up such chairs at U.S. universities, told LAS, “We usually look for the universities and places where we have some connections with the Jain community in that area or we have some lead.”

One of those involved in coordinating the effort for the chair is Nitin Shah, an anesthesiologist and intensivist at Loma Linda University in California, according to LAS.

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