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Rice University and UT Austin at Jain Society of Houston

Ms. Chini Mehta, Dr. Donald Davis and Dr. Claire Maes reciting Navkaar mantra in Sanskrit. (Photo credit: Amisha Kapadia)

Ms. Chini Mehta, Dr. Donald Davis and Dr. Claire Maes reciting Navkaar mantra in Sanskrit. (Photo credit: Amisha Kapadia)

by Parag Shah, Houston
HOUSTON – On a beautiful and very pleasant sunny morning on Sunday April 15, Jain Society of Houston (JSH) hosted leading Jainism scholars from Rice University and University of Texas – Austin to share Jainism academic programs in their respective universities. The 90-minute presentation started with a warm welcome from the JSH President Mrs. Urvashi Jain followed by presentation and discussions. Ms. Chini Mehta and the Jain Pathshala team at JSH coordinated the entire program. This program and the presentations were unique because leading scholars of Jainism from two very prestigious universities in Texas came to JSH and shared their progress and future plans in Jain Studies. Both Drs. Maes and Prof. Davis, in their very passionate and impressive presentations told the audience why the teaching and study of Jainism is so important to the world.
Judging from many standing ovations and comments, the presentations were very well received by the community members and several of them requested that such kinds of programs be held often. The program ended with mangal Arti and a delightful Vegan lunch sponsored by Vinay and Sanmati Deshmane.
Both universities have introductory and post-graduate classes in Jainism providing a unique exposure of Jainism to Jains and non-Jains.
Dr. Sonia Ryang who is a Social Anthropologist and a Director of the Chao Center at Rice University presented under the topic of “Building Jain Studies at Rice University. Dr. Brianne Donaldson is a Bhagwan Mahavir and Chao Family Post-Doctoral Fellow in Jain Studies at Rice established in 2016. Dr. Donaldson is continuing her research in Jainism while teaching very popular subject – classes are oversubscribed and closed within a day of open registration!
The presentation covered the uniqueness of this program at Rice University where the fellowship is setup as a partnership between the Chao Family Foundation and the Houston Jain community sharing yearly expenses of the fellowship program. This is an exceptional opportunity for community’s involvement with a shared responsibility.

Dr Sulekh Jain and Dr. Donald Davis discussing UT Jainism studies program. (Photo credit: Amisha Kapadia)

Dr Sulekh Jain and Dr. Donald Davis discussing UT Jainism studies program. (Photo credit: Amisha Kapadia)

Dr. Claire Maes and Prof.. Donald Davis from UT Austin presented “Teaching and Scholarly Activities in Jainism at UT Austin”. Dr. Maes and Prof. Davis are Master in Sanskrit language and deeply passionate about Jainism. The Jainism program at UT Austin has been around for number of years being popular with students. Few Jainism students also made the 2-hour journey from Austin to share their experience with the community.
The presentation concluded with an overview of the JSH ‘Pathshala’ program that is preserving Jain values and culture through children. This year’s enrollment exceeded 200 students ranging in age from toddlers to adults. This amazing program is a result of countless hours spent by dedicated volunteers of the Jain Society if Houston.
Rice U and UT Austin are just 2 of over several dozen similar programs at universities worldwide. Initial dialog has started for a possibility of a similar program at University of Houston.
Establishment of such programs at the universities worldwide is responsibility of JAINA Academic Liaison Committee led by our Houston’s own Dr. Sulekh C. Jain. JAINA (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) is an umbrella organization that preserves and shares Jain Dharma and the Jain Way of Life.


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