Keeping the tradition alive: An analysis of contemporary Jain religious education for children in India and North America
How do Jains, adherents of one of the oldest minority religions in India, maintain their identity and protect their way of life when surrounded by non-Jain religions? Even more striking, how do Jains in the United States, where they constitute a minority within the Indian minority, maintain their traditions amidst a multi-cultural American society? Seeking upward mobility, Jains in post-independence India, have migrated locally, regionally, and internationally and these migrations have disrupted their social, religious, and cultural practices. My thesis looks at the ways in which Jains have addressed these disruptions. I analyse how they have restructured their traditional religious education, transforming it in a variety of ways, producing a range of contemporary Jain religious schools for children, both in India and the United States. I argue that these new religious schools serve an important function in maintaining ancient Jain traditions, but have, at the same time, initiated significant structural as well as curricular changes that have transformed some of those traditions: widening the gap between Jain children and Jain mendicants, and reallocating authority within the Jain community by enabling laywomen to shape the curriculum and to teach in part-time religious schools, to name a few. The thesis pays attention to these changes, the reasons for the changes, and their consequences. Using in-depth curriculum analysis and formal interviews, I examine contemporary Jain religious schools for children in the image-worshipping Digambar tradition and the non-image worshipping Shvetambar Terapanth tradition in India, and in mixed traditions in the United States. These Jain schools are growing exponentially in number and popularity within India and America, but have largely remained unexamined. This study aims to fill an important gap by closely analysing the rituals, leadership, and curricula of these new religious schools and their role in shaping modern Jain traditions.