SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Non-Violence in Jain Literature, Philosophy and Law

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the Jain ethics of non-violence, ahiṃsā, in Jaina scriptures, philosophy and law. In cultural history, the Jain scriptures are unique in their exclusive focus on the religious significance of strictly non-violent practice, in mind, speech and action. Jain literature offers a millennia old tradition of philosophical and legal reflection on solutions for practical dilemmas faced by individuals or groups intent on the implementation of non-violent principles in everyday life.

Based on key texts in translation, selected from the canonical and post-canonical Jaina literature, and illustrated by ethnographic examples, the course discusses the distinct contribution of Jain literature to the philosophy of consciousness and applied ethics (asceticism, vegetarianism, discourse ethics, philosophical pluralism, conflict resolution, and legal philosophy and procedure).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course students should be familiar with the most important sources and developmental stages of the Jaina philosophy of non-violence, the principal issues of structuring ethical and legal debates within the Jaina tradition, and their practical implications for contemporary discourse and practice of non-violence as a way of life.

Scope and syllabus

The first part of the course will provide an overview of the history and genres of Jain literature, and of the social and political role of scripture in Jain discourse and ritual practice.

Students will be introduced to:

  • the analysis of Jain techniques of hagiographic writing (the concept of human omniscience and the construction of Mahāvīra’s biographies)
  • historiography
  • canonisation
  • textual hermeneutics
  • and to representations of non-Jain schools in Jain texts.

The second part of the course will trace the main stages and themes in Jain philosophy by analyzing pivotal texts for the development of Jain ontology and epistemology, such as the early canonical Āyāranga, Umāsvāti’s classical Tattvārtha-sūtra, accepted by both Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras, Kundakunda's Samayasāra, the principal text of Jain mysticism, and Samanthabhadra’s Āptamīmāṃsa, a central text of the Jain philosophy of anekāntavāda, or non-one-sideness.

Method of assessment

2 essays (3,000 words each) (30% each), 3-hour exam (40%).

Suggested reading

  • Alsdorf, Ludwig. The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India. London: Routledge, 2010.
  • Kapadia, H R (2000) A History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas, Ahmedabad: SCERC. 
  • Schubring, W (2000) The Doctrine of the Jainas Described After the Old Sources, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas. 
  • Winternitz, M (1988) Buddhist Literature and Jaina Literature, (A History of Indian Literature Vol. 2) Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules