Sikh, Jain and modern India studies chairs in US varsity

Washington, Oct 24 (IANS) Funded by $6 million in donations, the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) has announced three new endowed chairs in Sikh, Jain and modern India studies.

The chairs are named the Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies, Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies, and Swami Vivekananda-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies.

Donations of $4.5 million, plus another $1.5 million from the Office of the California University President, will fund these chairs, intended to expand UCI’s scholarship in South Asian religions and culture.

Drs. Harvinder and Asha Sahota established the Sikh Studies chair in honour of his late mother.

The chair holder will be a scholar with in-depth knowledge of, and research interests in, Sikh religion and culture, including the history of the Sikh religion from its origins in 1469 in the Punjab region of India to the current worldwide diaspora of the Sikh population.

The Jain Studies chair has been set by Drs. Meera and Jasvant Modi and their children – Dr. Rushabh and Shruti Modi and family, Rajesh “Raju” and Neeta Shah and their children, Avani and Aakash Shah and family.

The chair holder will be a scholar with wide-ranging knowledge of, and research interests in, Jain ethics, philosophy, religion, history and culture, including the fundamental principles of Jainism – nonviolence, nonpossessiveness and a pluralistic perspective – and familiarity with Indian languages such as Sanskrit and Prakrit.

The chair is named in honour of Bhagvan Parshvanath, the 23rd savior of Jainism.

The Dharma Civilization Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that seeks to promote philanthropic giving to further the systematic study of Indian religious traditions, established the chair in Modern India Studies.

The endowed chair is inspired by and named after Vivekananda (1863-1902), a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and an institution builder, philosopher, orator, teacher, poet and musician in modern India.

Earlier this year, Dr. Ushakant Thakkar, chairman of the DCF, and his wife, Irma, contributed $1.5 million to establish the Thakkar Family-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilization Studies.

Thakkar has worked with the university’s senior religious studies faculty – Keith Nelson, professor emeritus of history; Jack Miles, distinguished professor of English and religious studies; and Gerald Larson, professor emeritus of religious studies – and the officers of DCF to enhance the study of Indian religions in American universities.

“The establishment of three endowed chairs in South Asian religious studies within the School of Humanities is a prime example of how UCI is a vibrant

intellectual and cultural centre with strong ties to its community,” said chancellor Howard Gillman.

California University’s religious studies programme is directed by Miles, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his book God: A Biography.

“2015 will be remembered as annus mirabilis – a year of wonders – in the history of religious studies at UCI,” Miles said.

“Thanks to the vision and great generosity of these leaders in the Indian American diaspora – a community of 3.2 million that well represents world religions in microcosm – Orange County will now become a major centre for the study of the religions of India.”

Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the School of Humanities, said: “By integrating Jain, Sikh and modern Indian studies into our curriculum we’re creating a panoramic study of India’s rich cultural, historical and religious traditions.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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