Teaching and researching religions, languages, literatures, films, and ecology of India: http://philosophy.unt.edu/people/faculty/pankaj-jain

Dr. Pankaj Jain

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Dr. Pankaj Jain is the author of Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability (May 2011), which won the 2012 DANAM Book Award and the 2011 Uberoi Foundation Book Award. His 2nd book is Science and Socio-Religious Revolution in India: Moving the Mountains (Routledge 2017).

He is co-founder of American Academy of Indic Studies (www.AAIndicStudies.org) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Springer).

He is Associate Professor in the department of Philosophy & Religion. He has published articles in journals such as Religious Studies Review, Worldviews, Religion Compass, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, and the Journal of Visual Anthropology. He also contributes to the Huffington Post, Washington Post’s forum On Faith, and Patheos.
His research has been supported by the Fulbright fellowship and by the Wenner Gren grant. His teaching interests include Religion and Ecology, Indian films, and Religions and Cultures of South Asia and South Asian Diaspora in North America. Before joining UNT, he taught at North Carolina State University, Rutgers, Kean, and New Jersey City University. Interested in connecting ancient practices with contemporary issues, he is exploring the connections between religious traditions and sustainability in Hindu and Jain communities in India and the Indian diaspora. He serves as a research affiliate with Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, as scholar-in-residence with GreenFaith, as a board member of the Society for Hindu Christian Studies, and as a board member of the Executive Advisory Council of Hindu American Seva Charities, an NGO working with the White House Office for the faith-based initiatives. He has presented his research at Columbia University, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, University of South Florida, Florida International University, University of Toledo, Texas Christian University, High Point University, Lancaster University (UK), Andhra University (India), Univ of Rajasthan (India), and several conferences, high schools, radio and TV stations, temples, churches, Yoga centers, and other community centers.
He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and an M.A. from Columbia University (both in Religious Studies). In his “previous life” he had also earned a B.S. in Computer Science from India and had worked as a software engineer in India and in New Jersey. Dr. Jain is an active member of several academic and community organizations, is fluent in several Indian languages, and has published poems in Hindi. He was born in Rajasthan and had also lived in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Karnatak (in India) and in New Jersey, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas (in the USA). Some of his papers and articles are at:http://unt.academia.edu/PankajJain/Papers and videos are at http://www.youtube.com/pj2017. The Facebook page for his book is at:https://www.facebook.com/DharmaAndEcology

Friday, December 26, 2008

More from Indian trip...(Dec 08)

After a brief stay in Rajasthan, I went back to Mumbai and then to Nagpur, Maharashtra. Almost at every place, my thoughts kept turning optimistic and pessimistic. Almost every field where government continues to play a role, continues to suffer, most notably the civic amenities, the environment, and security. Just read a news story in Economic Times that 2008 was perhaps the best year ever for Indian sports with spectacular success in cricket, olympics, and many other sports. Wherever and whenever Indians can perform with their skill without the red-tape of the government, they have outperformed their rivals.

However, one major disappointment continues to be the environment. During the wedding ceremony that I attended, I saw unbelievable amount of wastage of food and plastic. After 12 years of stay in the USA, I naively wanted to recycle the plastic water bottles, only to be disappointed not to find even a garbage can. Sometimes, the train platforms had blue trash cans which I mistook for recylcing bins! Of course, littering continues to be a birthright of every Indian. Another birthright is to break every law while driving. Coming back to garbage generation and disposal, in 1960s and 1970s, the Western countries also had extremely polluted cities and rivers, but with tougher laws and active civic participation, they successfully cleaned their cities and rivers. Alas, India and China are making the same mistakes of early Western countries which Infosys co-founder has also noted in his latest bestselling book "Imagining India" but what he has missed is the situation with the agriculture and farmers. He criticizes Indian farmers for using outdated practices. However, I think that the traditional farming practices of India will be the future for farmers not only in India but even in the West. Soon, both the top-soil quality and even the quality of the food grains will be judged by the kind of farming practices. I visited the Ashrams of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, at Vardha and Pavnar, both near Nagpur. At both the places, there are dozens of NGOs inspired by their visions of Agriculture as the backbone of Indian life and economy. All these NGOs use traditional farming such as organic fertilizers and prohibition of chemical fertilizers. It is these traditional Indian ideas that the West is just waking upto. In November, Bill Moyers, the anchor at the PBS, the "national" TV channel in the USA aired a major interview on the evils of Industrial farming in the USA. Sadly, I also found that the Indian big farmers elsewhere also use the similar Western agricultural practices that were adopted by Indian "green revolution". It seems like the perfect time to take the U-turn to traditional farming...

Some of us in the West wonder whether India will be able to sustain itself during this global recession. But everywhere I went in India, the first question people asked me was about the American recession and its cause. My answer was simple, one of the reasons for American recession was the "Chaarvak" habit of misusing the money taken on loan/credit/debt. Since most Indians even today spread themselves only within the bounds of their limitations, India will be able to sustain itself much better than the USA where even government has broken all past records of blowing the budget with huge debt and deficit. And nobody is talking of changing the lifestyle of the people and the government of spending within the means. On the other hand, Obama has generated optimism about USA even among Indians acknowledging that he has no magic wand.

Coming to Indian economy and its ability to match the growth of China, I think, India should NOT join the rat race of rapid growth. Instead of going for the rapid Chinese growth model, which leads to butchering of the environment and growing discontent among the farmers and other neglected sectors, India would do better to develop its own indigenous growth model which must be sustainable (based on the green technologies) and inclusive (where every part of its population shares the fruits of the economy). Of course, it is easier said than done, but wasn't Gandhiji had such a vision for India once? Unfortunately, the ecological disaster and attacks on Indian elite locations, once again highlights the mistakes India has made in its urge to imitate the West. The sooner India realizes that it must not become a mini America of the 1960s and 1970s, better for itself...

I will soon post my answers to the questions from Banswara children under the comments to the previous posting...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In India, after 2.5 years

This time I felt a real change in even a small town like Banswara which now enjoys wireless broadband internet with international quality but unfortunately Mumbai has not changed even a bit in last 20 years or so that I have been observing, same pollution, traffic, negligible security even after the attack at the CST station.

Delhi, I have heard, has very aggresively improved its environmental situation with stringent pollution control, though I have not visited Delhi recently but Mumbai still lacks the political will. It is still very chaotic politically with Shiv Sena and other equally divisive organizations. Even congress has shown little interest to deal with the infrastructure or pollution or secutiry so far....may be that is why Sheela Dixit in Delhi keeps winning by working hard to improve Delhi.

Maybe the future is in towns like Banswara. I wish India sees its future in towns and villages like Banswara, the vision Gandhiji had once. After my Bachelor's degree, when I was working in Jodhpur and Udaipur, they seemed like a distant places compared to Mumbai. Now with internet and mobile phone revolution, every "sleepy village" of India has the same access to information as the big cities and that is a huge step forward...

The Gandhian vision could not be actualized while most of the villages were poor. So maybe it can happen now. Only if the people themselves were given more power to take their destiny in their own hands like the Panchayati Raj system that Gandhi had suggested...may be the information revolution will help further...

I went to a high school here in Banswara and about 2000 kids came to interact with me in their auditorium for two hours. I was astonished to see the intellectual energy of boys and girls. They had really challenging questions about India, USA, NRIs, their career, the dominance of English, importance of studying history, etc...
This is one of the biggest change at the grass root of India: a new energy unleashed because of the information revolution. The kids challenged me with the questions about Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri! Hopefully this young empowered generation will prevent idiots from assuming too much political control - although in the US that never happened. The promise of democracy at least allows the people to kick the idiots out every 5 years.

Fortunately, the liberalized economy keeps the govenment and politicians out which was not possible 20 yrs back, unfortunately the pollution contol and the action against terrorism still needs government intervention hence no hope in the near future for India's security and pollution control: thanks to the politicians.

Also visited couple of ancient temples in Chittorgadh, amazing Shiva Lingam
with scars of the sword of Ghazani, according to the local legends...

The questions from the students of New Look High School:

1. Is brain drain good for India? Shouldn't all Indians return to India and help India?
2. What is the need of studying history which is all about old forgotten people and places?
3. What is so glorious about Indian heritage which is full of child marriage, caste problems and sati (widow burning)?
4. Aren't NRIs like Sulman Rushdie and Arundharti Roy only after their personal gains? How are they helping India when they have even left their Indian citizenship.
5. How to deal with poverty and corruption of India?
6. What and how do you teach Indian films?
7. How to deal with huge population of India? Is there any hope?
8. How to think of Indian culture when we all want to focus on our career? Our parents also have limited info about both our future and about Indian culture.
9. Why dont you come back and teach all these cultural subjects right here in India?
10. Why should English be given importance in India?
11. Aren't foreign MNCs are all about profit? Why dont they invest in Indian villages?

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पंकज जॆन

पंकज जॆन