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Exploring Jainism in India, The World's Oldest Religion

Public Lecture Series with Linda Aïnouche

Little is known about Jainism outside of its followers, and due to misinformation occurring by the lumping of Jainism in to Buddhism or Hinduism, Jainism is often confused as their cousin. Yet nothing could be further for the truth; it is a completely singular religion separate from the former two.

In spite of its obscure origin, Jainism is the oldest religion in the world, or truly it is not a religion but more like a way of life. Jainism preaches complete non-violence, peace, and kindness towards all creatures of nature. It teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. Asceticism is considered the apogee of life and is the basis of communities of faithful.

Present historians have generally dated Jainism in the 7th–5th century B.C. in the Ganges basin of eastern India, the scene of intense religious speculation and activity at that time. Whereas Jains believe it to be eternal, Jainism is amply thought to have begun in the Indus valley civilization around 3000 B.C.

The Jain fourfold community follow in the teachings and personal examples of 24 “Thirthankars” or “Jinas” to grow spiritually. Lay men and lay women support the wandering monks and nuns, who vow to live like the Jinas. Jainism requires much from its monks and nuns, the requirements are less rigorous for lay people, yet nevertheless, their days are carefully regulated with periods of prayer, study, meditations, rituals, and fasting.

Known by a small number of eminent specialists on India and religions, the recent growing popularity of Jain studies demonstrates the continuing appeal of this ancient faith. Jains have been little studied in anthropology, and up to now academics have rather studied Jainism than Jains.

Explorers Club Fellow Linda Aïnouche landed in Mumbai determined to explore the universe of Jain monks, understanding how they live, and sharing hundreds of their daily rules. Until her arrival, no stranger had heretofore entered their "world". Her communication and presence with them was unprecedented, singular, engaging, and surprising. She spent six years researching them between 1999 and 2005.

Jains are aware of the fact that their perpetuity depends on themselves. In 2014, the Government of India explicitly awarded the status of a "minority religion" to the Jain community in India, where modernity is slowly transforming some components of the Jain ancestral and strict way of life.

But being under the spotlight does not guarantee their survival. Jain followers still constitute the smallest religious community in the country. Are Jains threatened? Not if we believe in their strengths of uniqueness, timeless duties, behavior, and religious codes.

Dr. Aïnouche is an anthropologist researcher and cultural analyst, specializing in misunderstood communities. She attempts to research the cross-cultural impacts that can emerge between out-cast peoples.

She is also an Award-winning Documentary Film Director and Producer, with a passion for challenging research fieldwork to dig hidden perspectives rarely touched on. Her film “Dreadlock Story” won “Best Feature Documentary” at five national and international film festivals.

Following her two-decade journey working in public, academic, and governmental sectors, her ethnographic work has been published widely in English and French and featured worldwide in media.

She received a BSc and an MSc from the Sorbonne, and her PhD from the University of Montreal in conjunction with the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Paris Nanterre University.

She is considered a leading expert in Jainism, Rastafari, and Hinduism. In using her global upbringing and anthropological training she synthesizes social issues and cultural heritage in her research and films.

She is a member of the American Anthropology Association, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, and the New York Women in Film and Television Association.

Enthusiastic about uniting artists and activists, she collaborates with cultural consultants and independent filmmakers around the world for education. She also enjoys producing live events and getting involved in the fight on the unexcused destruction of the planet.

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Presentation

Location: Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $10

Guest Ticket Price: $25

Student Ticket Price: $5 with a valid academic ID at the door

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