AAS Member Spotlight: Pankaj Jain

Pankaj Jain is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Texas. Follow him on Twitter @ProfPankajJain.

Your discipline and country (or countries) of interest

Philosophy and religion; India and the Indian diaspora in the Americas (USA, Canada, Suriname, Trinidad, Guyana).

How long have you been a member of AAS?

I was a member in 2004-06, then became a member again recently.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

As a co-founder of the American Academy of Indic Studies, AAS seems like the perfect association to network with other scholars of Indic Studies.

How did you first become involved in the field of Asian Studies?

As an M.A. student at Columbia University and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa, I studied Indic religions and their environmental ethics. After completing the Ph.D., I taught Hindi-Urdu, Sanskrit, Bollywood, Hinduism, Jainism, and other Indic subjects at North Carolina State University for two years as a lecturer. In 2010, I moved to the University of North Texas for my tenure-track position in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and taught Indic philosophy, religion, and culture courses.

Tell us about your current or past research.

In 2011, I published my first monograph, Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities, based on my research about the Bishnois, Swadhyayis, and Bhils in India. In 2012, I received a Fulbright Nehru Environmental Leadership Fellowship to research in Uttarakhand’s Himalayan villages. This research led to my second monograph, Science and Socio-Religious Revolution in India: Moving the Mountains. Now, I am working on my third monograph, Hindus in the Americas, based on my research about the Hindu diaspora in the USA, Canada, Suriname, Trinidad, and Guyana.

What do you enjoy most or what were your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I enjoy trying to develop non-Western theories to study religion and ecology. Unfortunately, after more than two centuries of Western encounters with Asia, Asian Studies across the world remains dominated by Western concepts and theories based on such Western categories as “religion,” “history,” “ethics,” and “nation.” Most of these terms grew out of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment developments in Europe that bear little resemblance in Asian contexts. We need to start using Indic (and other Asian) categories based on the concepts such as dharma that have multivalent significances overlapping religion, ethics, and sustainability. This is what I argue in my first book based on my fieldwork. Similarly, in my second book, I argue that while Euro-American history of religion and science is interesting, the history of dharma and science has quite a different scenario in India (and rest of Asia) where rarely if ever theologians and scientists are seen in conflict.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Students of Asian Studies must have solid training in Asian languages and philosophies. Without these prerequisites, we will continue to churn out colonial ideas.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself (your interests, hobbies, skills, etc).

I love Indian classical music, ghazals. Also like Hollywood classics and Indian films.