With endowment, U of T Mississauga aims to become global leader in Jain Studies


Gyan and Kanchan Jain with U of T Mississauga Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

The University of Toronto Mississauga has received an endowment to establish a new chair dedicated to Jain Studies – its first-ever endowed chair in the humanities. 

The contribution marks a significant step in U of T Mississauga’s commitment to expanding its Centre for South Asian Critical Humanities (CSACH) and transforming the study of the global past and present. The establishment of an endowed chair signifies a vital investment in the study of Jainism, along with its history, culture, philosophies and far-reaching influence on South Asia. 

The endowment of $2.5 million from Gyan and Kanchan Jain and their family will be matched by the university for a total of $5 million. Many members of the Jain family attended U of T, including Gyan and Kanchan’s three sons, daughter and grandchildren.  

“Bringing Jain Studies to the University of Toronto Mississauga is an opportunity to cultivate a deeper understanding of Jain principles such as ahimsa, an idea that can bring peace and happiness to every living being and promote non-violence in our actions,” said Gyan Jain. 

A strong connection to the university combined with a rekindled passion to support and grow the study of Jainism motivated the family to offer their support. 

“My family and I are so pleased to see that the University of Toronto Mississauga has evolved into one of the top centres of South Asian studies in North America,” said Hans Jain. “To be able to contribute to its growth through the endowment of the Gyan and Kanchan Jain Chair in Jain Studies is truly an honour and privilege for all of us.”  

Hans Jain recalled a recent visit to India with his family. The emotional and breathtaking tour of ancient Jain temples, meetings with diverse communities and visits to older relatives inspired the family to spread knowledge of Jainism. 

“On behalf of the entire university community, I would like to thank the Jain family for their transformative investment in Jain Studies,” said U of T Vice-President of Advancement David Palmer. “This generous contribution will foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jainism and will position U of T as a leading academic institution in this field.” 

In addition to an endowed chair, the funds will support work in community collaboration and knowledge translation. The endowment will enable students, scholars and partners to study Jainism, an Indian religion with more than five million adherents worldwide. 

"Jainism continues to have vital influence in South Asia and Canada and around the world,” said U of T Mississauga Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie. “We have a great opportunity to promote new research and teaching about this ancient belief system and to partner with Jain communities – locally and globally – to share this knowledge openly." 

The Jainism belief system emerged in India around 600 BCE following the teachings of Mahavira Jain, but Jain tradition traces an even earlier history. Jainism emphasizes non-violence, truthfulness, non-possessiveness and self-discipline as core values, and is one of the oldest religions still practised today. Many of those principles have greatly influenced South Asian philosophies and belief systems. Today, most Jains live in India, with Jain communities found in Canada, Europe and the United States. 

Jainism’s influence on the history and culture of South Asia cannot be overstated, said Ajay Rao, vice-dean of graduate studies and postdoctoral affairs and associate professor in U of T Mississauga’s department of historical studies.

“Jains have been at the centre of South Asian history and at the heart of many major transformations,” he said. “Having an endowed chair in Jain Studies helps reframe the study of South Asia. Jainism was not marginal in history, but it is marginal in our study of the history, and to make that the centre of what we’re doing is really powerful.” 

As part of its community collaboration, U of T Mississauga will strengthen its ties to the Jain community and develop a direct line of engagement with Brampton’s Bhagwaan 1008 Adinath Swamy Jain Temple, Canada’s first Jain temple. The partnership will attract global experts, while graduate students will have the opportunity to connect their textual research with lived practice. 

Community partnerships are a critical element in expanding Jain Studies and bolstering CSACH. Census data from 2021 indicates that about half of racialized residents in Peel are of South Asian descent.

“South Asia is the present, it’s here,” Rao said, referring to the vast community residing in the Greater Toronto Area. “It really speaks to the diversity of South Asian communities in Peel Region.” 

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