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Jain Studies, Sikh Studies and  Modern India Studies

 Three Endowed Chairs in Jain Studies, Sikh Studies and  Modern India Studies Established at University of California,  Irvine

Buena Park, Californai, Aug. 14, 2015

A  historical celebration of the establishment of three endowed Chairs in the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine was held at the Jain Center of Southern California (JCSC),Buena Park on August 12, 2015:

  1. Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies
  2. Dhan Kaur Sahota  Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies
  3. Swami Vivekananda-DCF (Dharma Civilization  Foundation) Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies 

The agreements establishing two chairs (Jain and Sikh) were signed by UCI Dean of School of Humanities Dr. Georges Van Den Abbeele and the donors – Dr. Jasvant and Dr. Meera Modi and Mr. Rajesh (Raju) and Mrs. Neeta Shah for Jain Studies Chair and by Dr. Harvinder and Mrs. Asha Sahota for Sikh Studies Chair – in the presence of eight UCIbofficials including Associate Chancellor Michael Arias and Vice Provost for Academic

Affairs Herbert Killackey and about 100 invited guests. An agreement to establish a third endowed chair – Swami Vivekanand-DCF Chair in Modern India Studies – is also confirmed. A total of four chairs - these three chairs plus the Thakkar Family-DCF Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilization Studies signed earlier this year - will anchor the religious studies program at UCI by permanently securing faculty-led research and instruction in influential Indian religions and culture and help establish a multidisciplinary campus for Indian studies at a prominent public university in United States of America.

The agreement signing event, hosted at the Jain Center of Southern California, commenced with the traditional lighting of the lamps and chanting of a Jain (A video blessings from 93 year old Reverend Gurudev Chitrabhanuji), a Sikh and a Hindu prayer followed by messages from the host officials, UCI officials and invited guests.

Virendra Shah, JCSC President, welcomed the guests. He made an observation that two recently published books on World Religions had mentioned Jainism and Sikhism only in the footnotes. “Today’s historical event will have a profound impact on developing  academic opportunities for the study and research of these two religions which are not widely known or understood outside of India,” said Mr. Shah. Mahesh Wadher West Coast Regional Vice President of Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), an umbrella organization representing 71 Jain Centers in US and Canada, mentioned that the teaching of Jain philosophies and principles – Ahimsa (nonviolence), Aparigrah (non-possessiveness) and Anekantvad (Non-absolutism, Pluralistic perspective) – will be of great benefit in resolving world conflicts. Nicole Balsamo, Senior Director of Development, UCI School of Humanities, was invited to introduce UCI Dean of School of Humanities Dr. Georges Van Den Abbeele. She recognized the tireless efforts of many individuals - in particular Dr. Nitin Shah, Dr. Harvinder Sahota, Dr. Jasvant Modi, Mr. Rajesh Shah, Mr. Yogesh Shah, Dr. Manohar Shinde, and others – which led to the successful fruition of the initiative to establish these chairs. Nicole outlined Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele’s progress and accomplishments, and his vision to develop a multidisciplinary center in South Asian studies at UCI School of Humanities.

UCI Dean of School of Humanities Dr. Georges Van Den Abbeele began his remarks by noting that the establishment of these four endowed chairs is an unprecedented event in the history of UCI - the first public university to establish a meaningful partnership with several Asian organizations to develop a Center of Excellence in South Asian studies. The endowed chairs will support UCI’s strength in the study of Indian and global South Asian diaspora.

Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele expressed his gratitude to all the donors and thanked all the individuals including Dr. Nitin Shah for their tireless efforts and support for the successful outcome of this initiative. Dr. Nitin Shah, the event moderator and a key figure in leading the efforts for the establishments of two chairs (Jain Studies and Sikh Studies), began his remarks with a quote by Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” “These endowed chairs will prepare those citizens who will make that change,” said Dr. Shah. In addition to partnering with UCI, Dr. Shah also spoke about the ongoing efforts to promote and support Jain and Sikh studies at Claremont School of Theology and at Loyola Marymount University. He mentioned about the Ahimsa Center established in 2004 at Cal Poly Pomona under the direction of Dr. Tara Sethia and the opportunities to travel and study Jainism in India partly funded by the International School for Jain Studies (ISJS) which was started by Dr. Sulekh Jain (Houston), a past president of JAINA in 2004. Mr. Dilip Shah (Philadelphia) also Past President of JAINA and Dr. Nitin Shah are the other Directors of ISJS who have furthered the spread of Jain Education now in Southern California. Dr. Shah commented that the initiative to establish a chair in Jain Studies has the support of prominent Jain communities – the Jain Center of Southern California, the Jain Center of Los Angeles and Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA).

Dr. Manohar Shinde, founding chairman of DCF, spoke in support of establishing the  Swami Vivekananda-DCF Chair in Modern India Studies. He explained the mission and academic vision of DCF and how UCI, as the first public university to establish a partnership with the organization, plays a special role. He also mentioned about Professorships at University of Southern California and $ 4.2 M pledge to Graduate Theological Union by DCF.

The donors – Dr. Jasvant Modi, Mr. Rajesh Shah and Dr. Harvinder Sahota – offered their gratitude for the opportunity to support the faculty-led research and instructions for Jainand Sikh studies.

Each endowed chair is funded with $ 2 M of which the donors contribute $ 1.5 M and UC President as a matching donation provides $ 0.5 M. For Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies $ 1 M funds are pledged as follows - Dr. Jasvant and Dr. Meera Modi $ 750,000 and Mr. Rajesh (Raju) and Mrs. Neeta Shah $ 250,000. For the balance of $500,000 community members have been offered a unique opportunity to help raise the funds and be an active participant in this lifetime opportunity. In the meanwhile, the Modi and Shah families have graciously provided a warranty to UCI for the entire $ 1.5 M as required for the endowed chair commitment. For the Sikh Studies Chair, Dr. Harvinder and Mrs. Asha Sahota have pledged $ 1.5 M. An endowed chair is a fund that provides resources to recruit, retain, and reward the finest scholars. The annual interest in the endowment provides resources in perpetuity for faculty salary, teaching, research and related activities.

Following the conclusion of the messages, UCI Dean of School of Humanities Dr. Georges Van Den Abbeele and the donor families were invited to sign the agreements. The event concluded with recital of a prayer (Navkar mantra) by Mrs. Neeta Shah followed by a delicious Vegan lunch sponsored by Drs. Jasvant and Meera Modi and a tour of the JCSC facilities.