Two FIU professors and three students have been awarded fellowships to study Jainism in India this summer. The students will learn about Jain ways of life and the faculty will research topics including environmental ethics and dispute resolution.
The professors – Whitney A Bauman and Manuel A. Gómez – were named Bhagwan Mahavir Junior Faculty Fellows. The students will study at Jain Vishwa Bharati University (JVBU), a Jain-oriented school located in Ladnun, Rajasthan. During the past five years, 10 FIU students have studied there, and two nuns (samanis) from the JVBU faculty have taught in FIU’s Department of Religious Studies.
The two faculty fellowships and two student scholarships are funded by the Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship, the only endowed Jain professorship in the Western Hemisphere. The Department of Religious Studies supports the student fellowships.
One of the chief aims of the Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship is to introduce Jainism to the FIU community and, eventually, serve as a bridge between western universities and Jain institutions in India. An exchange of students and professors is one of the key strategies in applying the values and practices of Jainism to the issues that challenge the modern world.
The professorship is also intended to expand FIU’s curriculum. The College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee has just approved a new Undergraduate Certificate in Jain Studies, the first of its kind in the West.
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion, most recently articulated by the world’s leading teacher of non-violence, Bhagwan Mahavir, who lived during the sixth century BCE. “Jains are small in number,” said Nathan Katz, who holds the Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship, “but enormous in influence.”
It was from Bhagwan Mahavir that the Buddha learn about non-violence, and from him it greatly influenced Hinduism, and from there it travelled around the globe, inspiring such profound teachers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama.
“We can do just so much in the classroom,” Katz said, “but to enhance traditional learning with travel and study in a great civilization like India’s, can be a life-changing journey for our students and our faculty. On our side, we have welcomed JVBU staff to teach at FIU, and this year we will have JVBU students studying here.”
Assistant professor Whitney Bauman
Bauman, an assistant professor of religious studies, will visit several Jain communities and educational institutions in Delhi, Jaipur, Indore, and Ladnun to explore the Jain doctrine that not only humans and animals, but plants, rivers, and mountains – indeed, all of nature – possess life (jiva). He wants to see how the cardinal Jain teaching of non-violence (ahimsa) is applied to nature.
This research will contribute to his ongoing research project that looks at the intersection of religion, nature, and globalization. His project broadens his longstanding teaching and research interests in religion and ecology. At FIU he teaches Earth Ethics, Religion and Science, and Religion, Gender, and Nature, and is co-chair of the Religion and Ecology Group of the American Academy of Religion.
Associate professor Manuel Gómez
Gómez, an associate professor in the College of Law, teaches in the areas of international and comparative law, arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution. He will pursue research on dispute processing in the Jain diamond trade in Mumbai and the western state of Gujarat.
Gómez is particularly interested in exploring whether the Jain approach to dispute processing differs from the methods employed by diamond dealers from other groups (namely, other ethnic or predominantly religious communities) and what factors might contribute to determine the differences.
A double major in psychology and religious studies, Miami native Tucker will study at Jain Vishwa Bharati University with tuition, room and board scholarship at JVBU.
In her application for the scholarship, she wrote: “I have become frequently troubled by the problem of consumerism, primarily because of its violent effects on human behavior. Obsession with material objects has driven the individual away from religion and into an illusory state of autonomy. In actuality, the individual has less discipline, less control, and problems of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. The teachings of Jainism reinforces a more peaceful way of living that allows the subject to strive for freedom from attachment and hatred. I am hoping that I can learn to apply Jain teachings to my own life, as well as share these ideas with my community.”
Berman, an environmental studies major who also hails from Miami, will spend three weeks at Jain Vishwa Bharati University with a similar scholarship for his studies at JVBU.
Tal wrote about his interest in this opportunity: “ I have found that most of what can be learned about the world is in the world, not necessarily in books. I can read about a stream, but I will never know a stream without seeing its water effortlessly flowing around its stones… Going through the journey to India, interacting with those practicing Jainism directly, including myself in the practices and teachings of Jainism, and reflecting on each day spent in India will enhance my understanding of a unique religion held by my fellow citizens of the earth. It is a moral responsibility to seek the perspective of the world through the eyes of many. This is what I hope to achieve by studying Jainism in India.”
Stefan Vishal Mahabir
Stefan Vishal Mahabir, a double major in psychology and religious studies, has won the Department of Religious Studies annual grant of $2000 to cover his airfare and travel costs, and JVBU is providing a scholarship for his tuition, room and board. He will take classes on Jainism for three weeks, and then travel to ashrams and holy sites around India.
Mahabir is a Trinidadian of Indian descent. This award, he said, “offers me a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the Jain religion in the land where it originated, surrounded by earnest followers of the faith, with a rare chance to observe and participate in their way of life. In my view, the theoretical knowledge we obtain in the classroom is far removed from the reality of direct experience.”
In addition to these five, three other FIU students are planning to attend the JVBU summer session or a similar program at the International School for Jain Studies, based in New Delhi. The eight, along with JVBU administrators, Katz, and an Indian travel agent, have formed a Facebook page to share travel ideas and remain connected during their journeys.