School of History, Religions and Philosophies & Centre of Jaina Studies

Kanji Swami: History, Teachings, Community

This Centre of Jaina Studies project explores the impact of the 20th century Jaina philosopher Kanji Swami and his followers.

The project was made possible by generous donations of members of the global Kanji Swami community.

Overview

The project centres upon the teachings of Kanji Swami (1890–1980), a Digambara Jain lay reformer active in mid-20th century Gujarat, and has since attracted a global following with established centres in India and among diaspora communities across Australia, Belgium, Kenya, Singapore, Uganda, the UK, and the USA. The research aims to provide a detailed overview of the history, philosophy, religious practices, and organisation of this recently developed Jaina school. 

Kanji Swami had much influence in India during his lifetime, attracting significant numbers of followers across the country, inspiring many to take vows of celibacy (brahmacarya) whilst still retaining the status of a householder - an indication of his overall rejection of institutionalised forms of monasticism and asceticism in favour of individual efforts to gain spiritual liberation through the self-experience of the soul (ātman). 

Although the existing scholarship makes references to Kanji Swami, to date there have been no academic studies dedicated to him or his followers in English, despite the global reach and the enduring appeal of the teachings he promulgated. Therefore, it is the intention of the research to fill this gap in the scholarly literature and contribute to the wider, ongoing academic project at the Centre of Jaina Studies of delineating the particularities of the different Jain schools, and sects, especially those of the Amūrtipūjaka Śvetāmbara traditions and of Jaina lay movements Digambara groups which have been neglected in the academic field of Jaina Studies. 

The research will involve interviews and the collection of oral histories, observations, archival work, and textual analysis of primary sources to bring to light the nature and scope of Kanji Swami’s philosophy and his legacy, in both philosophical and practical terms, for his followers and the wider Jaina tradition.

Outputs

Pure Soul (documentary)

The documentary "Pure Soul" draws on material from interviews with followers and sceptics as well as archival recordings and textual sources to give an intimate but rounded exploration of the impact made by Kanji Swami.

It is a documentary of many voices, giving space for the stories of different people and their relationships with and interpretations of the Jaina tradition. It is a film of listening, opening discussions, and contemplating the outlook on life inspired by Kanji Swami.

This film was made in collaboration with Kanji Swami community members and the SOAS Centre of Jaina Studies by Anna Sowa and Remi Sowa of Chouette Films.

The documentary can be viewed in full on Vimeo.

શુદ્ધાત્મા – Pure Soul (Official Trailer)

શુદ્ધાત્મા – Pure Soul (Official Trailer)

Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions (exhibition)

The exhibition "Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions" aimed to acquaint a wider public with some unique aspects of Jaina traditions.

The exhibition reflects the pluralism of Jaina thought and practice with focus on previously underrepresented facets of the Jaina way of life:

  • Non-image venerating Śvetāmbara mendicant traditions and their lay supporters
  • Lay traditions rooted in the spiritual teachings of the Digambara monk Ācārya Kundakunda

Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions was supplemented by a conference including film screening on Kanji Swami with Q&A panel discussion, lectures, and a cultural programme co-organised by the Centre of Jaina Studies SOAS and Jaina communities in London within a Knowledge Exchange framework. Supported by SOAS and the global Kanji Swami Society, the exhibition is timed to celebrate the 20 years of the Centre of Jaina Studies at SOAS.

The following are films displayed as part of the Pure Soul exhibition. More can be learned about the films in the descriptions beneath each one in the Pure Soul YouTube playlist.

Events

Books

  • Flügel, Peter, De Jonckheere, Heleen and Söhnen-Thieme, Renate, eds. (2023) Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions. London: Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS, pp 195, ISBN: 9781399946865. (Distributed by bookstore@soas.ac.uk & Amazon) 

Articles

  • The Trimandiras of the Akrama Vijñāna Mārga, Flügel, Peter (2023). In: Flügel, Peter, (eds.), De Jonckheere, Heleen, (eds.) and Söhnen-Thieme, Renate, (eds.), Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions. London: Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS, pp 172-193
  • Pure Soul: Conceptions and Representations, Flügel, Peter (2023). In: Flügel, Peter, (eds.), De Jonckheere, Heleen, (eds.) and Söhnen-Thieme, Renate, (eds.), Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions. London: Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS, pp 4-14
  • Six Jaina Bronzes, Flügel, Peter, Krüger, Patrick and Shah, Priyanka (2023). In: Flügel, Peter, (eds.), De Jonckheere, Heleen, (eds.) and Söhnen-Thieme, Renate, (eds.), Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions. London: Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS, pp 96-103
  • The Kānjī Svāmī Tradition: Adhyātmik Revivalism in the 20th Century, Smith, Corinne (2023). In: Flügel, Peter, (eds.), De Jonckheere, Heleen, (eds.) and Söhnen-Thieme, Renate, (eds.), Pure Soul: The Jaina Spiritual Traditions. London: Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS, pp 152-162 

PhD dissertation 

  • Kānjī Svāmī: History, Teachings, Community. In preparation by Corinne Smith.  

Further information

Personnel

And SOAS Brunei Gallery staff, associated institutions, and Jaina community members.

Schedule

Start date: 01/10/2020. End date: 31/09/2023

Learn more