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Additions will expand School of Humanities’ course offerings in South Asian religions, culture

Newswise — Irvine, Calif., Oct. 19, 2015 — The School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine has three new endowed chairs: the Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies, Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies, and Swami Vivekananda-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies. Donations of $4.5 million, plus another $1.5 million from the UC Office of the President, will fund these chairs, intended to expand UCI’s scholarship in South Asian religions and culture.

Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies

Drs. Harvinder and Asha Sahota established the Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies, named in honor of his late mother. The chair holder will be a scholar with in-depth knowledge of, and research interests in, Sikh religion and culture, including the history of the Sikh religion from its origins in 1469 in the Punjab region of India to the current worldwide diaspora of the Sikh population. Additionally, he or she will have an understanding of the ethics and philosophy of Sikhism as well as familiarity with Punjabi – the language of the Sikh scriptures.

Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies

Drs. Meera and Jasvant Modi and their children – Dr. Rushabh and Shruti Modi and family, Rajesh “Raju” and Neeta Shah and their children, Avani and Aakash Shah and family – established Shri Parshvanath Presidential Chair in Jain Studies. The chair holder will be a scholar with wide-ranging knowledge of, and research interests in, Jain ethics, philosophy, religion, history and culture, including the fundamental principles of Jainism – nonviolence, nonpossessiveness and a pluralistic perspective – and familiarity with Indian languages such as Sanskrit and Prakrit. The chair is named in honor of Bhagvan Parshvanath, the 23rd savior of Jainism, with “Shri” being a Sanskrit title of veneration akin to “holy.”

Swami Vivekananda-DCF Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies

The Dharma Civilization Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that seeks to promote philanthropic giving to further the systematic study of Indian religious traditions, established the Swami Vivekananda-DCF Presidential Chair in Modern India Studies. The endowed chair is inspired by and named after Vivekananda (1863-1902), a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and an institution builder, philosopher, orator, teacher, poet and musician in modern India.

Earlier this year, Dr. Ushakant Thakkar, chairman of the DCF, and his wife, Irma, contributed $1.5 million to establish the Thakkar Family-Dharma Civilization Foundation Presidential Chair in Vedic and Indic Civilization Studies. Thakkar has worked with senior UCI religious studies faculty – Keith Nelson, professor emeritus of history; Jack Miles, Distinguished Professor of English and religious studies; and Gerald Larson, professor emeritus of religious studies – and the officers of DCF to enhance the study of Indian religions in American universities.

“The establishment of three endowed chairs in South Asian religious studies within the School of Humanities is a prime example of how UCI is a vibrant intellectual and cultural center with strong ties to its community,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “We are grateful to the leaders and community groups who came together to cement the School of Humanities’ foundation in South Asian studies and look forward to the educational and cultural impact on our students that the scholarship from these chairs will produce.”

UCI is acclaimed in the field of religious studies. Its program is directed by Miles, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his book God: A Biography. Additionally, he recently served as general editor of The Norton Anthology of World Religions, a landmark work integrating the six major, living, international world religions, with the first volume centering on Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism.

“2015 will be remembered as annus mirabilis – a year of wonders – in the history of religious studies at UCI,” Miles said. “Thanks to the vision and great generosity of these leaders in the Indian American diaspora, Orange County – a community of 3.2 million that well represents world religions in microcosm – will now become a major center for the study of the religions of India. I look forward with great optimism to the teaching, learning, research and cultural enrichment that these gifts will make possible.”

Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the School of Humanities, said: “By integrating Jain, Sikh and modern Indian studies into our curriculum – and specifically into our renowned religious studies program – we’re creating a panoramic study of India’s rich cultural, historical and religious traditions and enabling our students to be global citizens with empathy and respect for the different ways we all see and interact with the world.”

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit

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