Image: Dr. Veena Howard during the opening plenary of the 2019 International Conference on Cohesive Societies in Singapore.
The Jain and Hindu Dharma Endowed Chair Announcement Ceremony was an intimate virtual event on Friday, April 9. Celebrating this historic initiative at Fresno State, generous members of the Jain and Hindu communities, Interim President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Interim Provost Xuanning Fu, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Honora Chapman, Interim Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Sergio La Porta, Chair of the Department of Philosophy Robert Maldonado and Department of Philosophy faculty gathered to appoint the inaugural Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma. This chair is historic and unique in the United States where these two ancient religious traditions of India join hands to share the teachings of both traditions at California State University, Fresno.
The virtual event began with Savita Jain’s melodious singing of the Jain prayer and culminated with Dr. Anita Shenoy chanting the Hindu Gayatri mantra.
Following opening remarks by Dr. Chapman, Dr. Jiménez-Sandoval announced Dr. Veena Howard, associate professor of religious studies in the Department of Philosophy, as the first Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma at Fresno State. Howard specializes in Asian religious traditions, including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. She is also the coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Fresno State.
“With this endowment, Fresno State will build bridges of understanding to these ancient and beautiful religious traditions. It will offer opportunities to ensure student success, and it will broaden their intellectual horizons and beyond,” said Jiménez-Sandoval. “Dr. Veena Howard is uniquely qualified to hold this chair. She has a background in the languages, philosophies and religious practices of both of these traditions, and with her expertise, she will lead us in expanding the study of dharma at our University.”
Dr. Fu added, “Dr. Howard has widely published various topics in dharma, Hinduism, Gandhi and Jainism and she values the dharma values in her personal life. In 2018, she received the Provost’s Promising New Faculty award, and in 2019 she was nominated and selected for faculty membership in Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. She is one of our star faculty.”
Dr. Maldonado underscored the importance of the Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma in the Department of Philosophy. “The Jain and Hindu Dharma Chair enters into and deepens a committed history in the department to Asian philosophical and religious traditions. Courses focusing on Jain and Hindu religious and philosophical thought will enhance the curriculum of philosophy, religious studies and peace and conflict studies, all of which are housed in the Philosophy Department.”
As Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma, Howard will teach Hinduism and Jainism along with other Asian religions and support Jain and Hindu scholarly endeavors for students, including scholarships, stipends and research funds.
Howard shared her personal story of growing up in both Hindu and Jain Dharma traditions and expressed her gratitude and enthusiasm for this appointment. “Like two rivers running parallel and at times intertwined create a rich ecosystem, Hinduism (traditionally known as Sanatana Dharma) and Jainism (Jain Dharma), originated on the Indian subcontinent, for over three millennia serve as a model to building pluralistic and peaceful relations. Mahatma Gandhi was a product of both Jain and Hindu traditions and teachings. Gandhi was born in a Hindu family but was strongly influenced and molded by Jain friends, monks and Jain vows.”
Over two dozen families, individuals and foundations came together to create the Endowed Chair in Jain and Hindu Dharma. The groundbreaking partnership between the Jain and Hindu communities and the University underscores a mutual commitment to educating current and future generations of students about the principles of nonviolence, dharma (virtue, duty), justice, pluralist philosophy, the interconnectedness of all beings and care for the environment through Hindu-Jain texts, philosophies and traditions.
“Because of the beautiful Peace Garden and what it represents here, we feel California State University, Fresno is the rightful place for this endowed chair. How beautiful and remarkable it is that both traditions will now be represented, taught and researched at Fresno State,” said Dr. Sulekh Jain of Las Vegas who has a prominent role in developing Jain education in the United States. “This is the first joint chair in the two traditions not only in North America but most probably in the whole world. This is historic.”
“I think this beginning will be a new era in the Valley and Fresno State where proudly we can teach our generation good values and traditions about Hinduism and Jainism,” JP Sethi, a local Hindu philanthropist, said.
“We hope that the younger generation when they come to the college, they’re exposed to this philosophy as we know that Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others followed a nonviolent way of solving the countries and the world’s problems,” a prominent Jain philanthropist and supporter of this chair, Dr. Jasvant Modi of Los Angeles said.
Dr. Harsh Sehgal, who was instrumental in organizing local efforts, said, “Most of us were born in India, grew up there, received our education there, learned our culture there. So we all owe it to our motherland. Then we came here to the U.S., then to the Valley. The land gave us opportunity and our livelihood. This is where we raised our families, so we owe a lot to this land too. We are so proud today to give back a little to this community, which gave us so much without demanding anything in return.”
Monika Joshi of Clovis, who collaborated with other local Hindu community members, expressed her enthusiasm, “In today’s world with conflict, fear and division, it becomes essential to explore and share the teachings of Hindu Dharma that have existed for thousands of years. Mutual respect, truth within, and working towards eternal happiness are the core values of Hinduism that can pave the way for unity as a common goal for all.”
“We are so grateful to the unprecedented number of generous donors who have collaborated to create this remarkable gift,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “This new chair represents an enhanced opportunity for Fresno State’s students to learn how they can change their own lives and the world through pursuing Jain and Hindu enlightenment in their studies while putting nonviolence and peace into action.”
“We are so grateful to the unprecedented number of generous donors who have collaborated to create this remarkable gift, and we are excited about Dr. Veena Howard’s appointment as the first Jain and Hindu Dharma Endowed Chair,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “Dr. Howard is a scholar of both traditions and loved by her students. Thanks to this endowment, Fresno State’s students will have expanded opportunities to learn how they can change their own lives and the world through pursuing Jain and Hindu enlightenment in their studies while putting nonviolence and peace into action.”
The Jain and Hindu community leaders and organizations that generously donated include J.P. Sethi, the Ravi & Naina Patel Foundation, Dr. Harsh Saigal, Anil Mehta, Dr. Vinod K. Gupta, Dina Bahl, Bankim Dalal, Dr. Girish Patel, Vardhaman Charitable Foundation made possible through a substantial gift, Andy Chhikara, Dr. Prem Kamboj, Dr. Madhav Suri, Dr. Krish Rajani, Monika Joshi, Ela and Bhavesh Muni, Rama Ambati, Dr. Shashi Sharma, Dr. Dinesh Sharma, Dilbagh Ghilawat, Sangita and Yogesh Shah, Rita and Narendra Parson, Komal and Prashant Desai, Kala and Surendra Jain, the Wadher Family Foundation, Jain Academic Foundation of North America, Ronak and Mitul Shah, and Pinal and Hardik Modi.
The Jain and Hindu community leaders and organizations that generously donated include J.P. Sethi, the Ravi & Naina Patel Foundation, Dr. Harsh Saigal, Anil Mehta, Dr. Vinod K. Gupta, Dina Bahl, Bankim Dalal, Dr. Girish Patel, Drs. Jasvant and Meera Modi of the Vardhaman Charitable Foundation made possible through a substantial gift, Andy Chhikara, Dr. Prem Kamboj, Dr. Madhav Suri, Dr. Krish Rajani, Monika Joshi, Ela and Bhavesh Muni, Rama Ambati, Dr. Shashi Sharma, Dr. Dinesh Sharma, Dilbagh Ghilawat, Sangita and Yogesh Shah, Rita and Narendra Parson, Komal and Prashant Desai, Kala and Surendra Jain, the Wadher Family Foundation, Dr. Sulekh Jain of the Jain Academic Foundation of North America, Ronak and Mitul Shah, and Pinal and Hardik Modi.