Article: Studying Jainism

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Sociological, ethnographic and anthropological studies

Lay women take part in the procession that accompanies the installation of an idol in a temple – pratiṣṭhāmahot-sava. This is a major religious occasion among the sects that worship images. An idol of Neminath, the 22nd Jina, was at the centre of this day

Celebrating the installation of an idol
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

This trend in Jain studies has developed considerably since the late 1970s under the impulse of scholars working in the United Kingdom and North America. Though ethnographic studies of the Jains produced in continental Europe do exist and are valuable, they are rarer. This is changing these days, as the overall focus of Jain studies shifts from philological and classical studies to modern studies in the general academic context.

Sociological, ethnographic and anthropological Jain studies

Topic of study

Examples of publications

food habits

Mahias, France, 1985

Jain lay life including interaction with mendicants, worship, festivals and calendar

  • Cort, 2001, based on fieldwork in Patan, Gujarat
  • Carrithers & Humphrey, 1991
  • Laidlaw 1995

Jain diaspora in the UK

Banks, 1994

women, including literary images, the place of women in rituals and daily religious life

  • Reynell, 1985
  • Kelting 2001, 2009

Handbooks published outside India

The first two significant syntheses on Jainism were written in German in 1925 and in French the following year. Naturally, they have to be read against more recent works, but they still contain valuable material and information, giving an overview of what was known at that time.

Since the late 1970s key reference books have been published in English, namely:

  • Jaini – The Jaina Path of Purification in 1979
  • Dundas – The Jains in 1992, the second edition in 2002
  • Wiley – Historical Dictionary of Jainism in 2004.

It is often said that Padmanabh S. Jaini’s The Jaina Path of Purification marked a turning point in the field, so that scholars talk of a pre-Jaini and post-Jaini period of Jain studies. In particular, Jaini’s book gives much more attention to Digambara sources and viewpoints than ever before in general syntheses on Jainism.

Story collections

Jain story literature has been written in all the languages Jains have used, from Prakrit and Sanskrit and vernacular languages. The rich heritage of the traditional tales is a path often considered more accessible to a wider audience than the doctrinal scriptures themselves. Indeed, stories are a means of teaching that has always been believed essential by Jains themselves, as they provide examples to follow or not to imitate.

Major anthologies of Jain stories have been published since the 1960s, including:

  • Granoff – The Clever Adulteress 1991 and The Forest Thieves 1998
  • Mette – Die Erlösungslehre der Jaina – Legenden, Parabeln, Erzählungen, 2010 (Jaina Soteriology: Legends, Parables and Narratives)
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