DENTON (UNT), Texas — George Alfred James, a faculty member in the University of North Texas Department of Philosophy and Religion, has been named the university's first Bhagwan Adinath Professor of Jain Studies, after the professorship was created in UNT's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences with a $500,000 gift from the Jain Education and Research Foundation.
The professorship was established by the foundation to promote the study of Jainism, an ancient religion of India, in the United States. The central tenet of Jainism is nonviolence and love toward all living beings, with nonviolence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness as the three main principles. Mahatma Gandhi adopted many Jain principles in his life, although he was born and raised Hindu.
The Jain Education and Research Foundation established the first Jain professorship in the U.S. in 2010 at Florida International University. The professorship at UNT is named for the first Tirthankara, a spiritual guide in Jain tradition who preaches the dharma, or righteous path.
James, who joined the UNT faculty in 1983, has included information about Jainism in the courses on South Asian philosophy and world religions that he teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. The department also occasionally offers a course on Jainism, which was created after Pankaj Jain was hired as an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and the Department of Anthropology. Jain taught a similar course at North Carolina State University.
James also studies environmental movements in India and has traveled extensively to the nation for his research.
He said a Jain professorship at UNT "will help to fortify the religion program and provide UNT with distinction."
"Not every university includes information about Jainism as part of its courses, but there's a long legacy of the influence of Jainism throughout history. The religion’s idea of nonviolence was extremely influential on Gandhi and also Martin Luther King, who adopted Gandhi’s actions during the civil rights movement," he said. "Unfortunately, the idea of nonviolence is now getting less and less attention in the world."
Interest from the professorship's endowment will eventually fund conferences focusing on nonviolence as it pertains to contemporary issues and bring speakers with expertise in Jainism to UNT, James said.
David Holdeman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, said many faculty members and students in the college and at UNT are interested in cultural and social issues pertaining to India.
"We hope that the Jain professorship will help to foster additional discussion not only of Jainism in particular but also of Indian religion and culture more generally. We are excited and grateful to be able to launch this new professorship," he said.