SOAS University of London

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

Readings in Jaina History and Culture

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This course is aimed at students without prior knowledge of Jainism. On the basis of readings of selected primary and secondary sources, it introduces students to the principal methods in Jaina studies and guides students to Jaina scriptures, teachings and practices.

The course focuses on the key debates both within the Jaina tradition and between the Jaina tradition and competing religious traditions in South Asia, which contributed to the formation of Jainism as independent religious tradition. Important themes are the progressive self-demarcation of the Jaina tradition through the construction of a religious biography and image of Mahāvīra, the critique of Indian materialism and spiritualism alike, the development of distinct and influential teachings of non-violence and vegetarianism, and the elimination of variant interpretations and lifestyles within the early Jaina tradition.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:


  • Demonstrate familiarity with the principal sources and methods of Jaina Studies.
  • Locate the key readings within the transmitted textual corpus of the Jaina tradition and the history of Indian literature in general.
  • Identify and discuss key textual passages identified by modern scholarship for the historiography of the Jaina tradition, the construction of the biographies of Mahāvīra, early schisms, the history of Jaina doctrine of ahiṃsā and Jaina ethics and law, and stock arguments used in Jaina texts against heretics and competing traditions.


20 contact hours total (2 hours per week)

Scope and syllabus

Lecture 1: How to Study Jainism?

Lecture 2: Genres of Jaina Literature

Lecture 3: Sources of Jaina History

Lecture 4: Biographies of Mahāvīra

Lecture 5: Lives of the Jinas

Lecture 6: Pre-History of Jaina Vegetarianism

Lecture 7: Dialogue on Materialism

Lecture 8: Orthodoxy and Heresy

Lecture 9: Jaina Ethics and Law

Lecture 10: Asceticism & Meditation


Core suggested reading

  • Alsdorf, L. Jaina Studies: Their Present State and Future Tasks. Tr. B. Patil. Mumbai: Hindi Grantha Karyalaya, 1965/2006.
  • Alsdorf, L. The History of Vegetarianism and Cow-Veneration in India. Translated from German by Bal Patil. Revised by Nichola Hayton. Edited With Additional Notes, A Bibliography and Four Appendices by W. B. Bollée. London: Routledge, 2010
  • Bollée, W.B. The Story of Paesi (Paesi-kahāṇayaṃ). Soul and Body in Ancient India. A Dialogue on Materialism. Text, Translation, Notes and Glossary. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002.
  • Doniger, W.  (ed.). Purāṇa Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina
  • Texts. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.
  • Fynes, R.C.C. The Lives of the Jain Elders. Translated with an Introduction and Notes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Winternitz, M. A History of Indian Literature. Vol. 2: Buddhist Literature and Jaina
  • Literature. Tr. V.S. Sarma. 1920/1988.

Further suggested reading

  • Daśavaikālika Sūtra. Translation and Notes by K. C. Lalwani. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1973.
  • Jacobi, Hermann (tr.). Jaina Sūtras I-II. Sacred Books of the East Vol. 22 & 45. Ed. M. Müller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884, 1895.
  • Jain, C. R. Jaina Law. Madras, 1926.
  • Jain, H.L. Contributions of Jaina Religion to Indian Culture. Tr. N.P. Madan & A. Mathur. Ahmedabad: Shardaben Chimanbhai Educational Research Centre, 2004. 
  • Jain, J.C. Prakrit Narrative Literature: Origin and Growth. New Delhi: Manohar, 1981.
  • Jain, J.C. History and Development of Prakrit Literature. Delhi: Manohar, 2004.
  • Kāpaḍiā, H.R. A History of the Canonical Literature of the Jainas. Surat: Hiralal
  • Rasikdas Kapadia, 1941 (Reprint: Ahmedabad: Shree Shwetambar Murtipujak
  • Jaina Boarding, 2000).

Method of assessment

Students will complete one essay of 3,000 words (100%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules