Yes we Jain! – Overcoming crises in the Jain tradition

Throughout its long history, Jainism has endured as a relatively small religious movement in the intricate and often choppy currents of the South Asian cultural and religious ocean. Although Jainism has often been stereotyped as austere, unyielding, and difficult to practice, this panel proposes to see this endurance as indicative of Jainism’s ability to transform and adapt to changing circumstances while always guarding continuity within the tradition. It will therefore foreground the adaptive capacities which have enabled the Jain tradition to continue to thrive, and successfully support and engage with its followers, even in less than ideal circumstances.

Under the affirmative title ‘Yes we Jain!’, this multi-session open panel will accommodate – and seek to attract – contributions from scholars approaching Jainism from a broad range of perspectives and disciplines, focusing on moments of crisis or adversity in the history of the tradition and in the lives of its practitioners. We explicitly invite both textual and sociological case studies discussing instances of adaptation within a specific context, as well as theoretical approaches examining the DNA of Jain resilience more generally.

The panel will be organized in sessions focusing on different types of challenges Jainism and its followers have faced. Although this division in sessions is subject to change depending on the number and content of the papers submitted, we tentatively expect to present three sessions: the first session will focus on ways in which Jainism has dealt with and continues to deal with the fundamental issues of human existence. Contributions to this session may include discussions of specific transformations of Jain praxis prompted by changes in circumstances related to pandemics, famine, or migration, as well as more general examinations of Jain teachings on issues such as (re)birth, disease, and death. The second session will examine concrete moments of crisis located within the tradition itself, such as a sectarian split or the death of a preceptor, which present a potential threat to the continuity and unity of the Jain (sub)tradition that needs to be mitigated. The third session will look at challenges emerging from Jainism’s interactions with its religious others, be it in the form of religious and philosophical polemics with Hindu and Buddhist thinkers or in the form of political power brokerage under non-Jain rulers. Such interactions have prompted Jainism to redefine and profile itself within the given context.

Together, the papers included in this multi-session panel will present a diachronic and multimodal exploration of resilience in the Jain tradition; it will feed into discussions on the adaptive capacities of Jainism, the ways the tradition can inspire resilience in the face of adversity, and the dynamics of religion in times of crisis in general.