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Jainism: An Introduction (Introduction to Religion) [Paperback]

Jeffery D Long

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Book Description

25 Jun 2009 Introduction to Religion
Jainism evokes images of monks wearing face-masks to protect insects and mico-organisms from being inhaled. Or of Jains sweeping the ground in front of them to ensure that living creatures are not inadvertently crushed: a practice of non-violence so radical as to defy easy comprehension. Yet for all its apparent exoticism, Jainism is still little understood in the West. What is this mysterious philosophy which originated in the 6th century BCE, whose absolute requirement is vegetarianism, and which now commands a following of four million adherents both in its native India and diaspora communities across the globe?In his welcome new treatment of the Jain religion, Long makes an ancient tradition fully intelligible to the modern reader. Plunging back more than two and a half millennia, to the plains of northern India and the life of a prince who - much like the Buddha - gave up a life of luxury to pursue enlightenment, Long traces the history of the Jain community from founding sage Mahavira to the present day. He explores asceticism, worship, the life of the Jain layperson, relations between Jainism and other Indic traditions, the Jain philosophy of relativity, and the implications of Jain ideals for the contemporary world. The book presents Jainism in a way that is authentic and engaging to specialists and non-specialists alike.

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'This highly readable book provides an excellent introduction to an ancient and complex tradition that predates the birth of the Buddha. The author skillfully explores Jain doctrines regarding the nature of the soul and the observance of nonviolence, placing Jainism within the context of Hinduism and Buddhism. He also highlights the influence that Jainism had upon the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. The book corrects misperceptions that have characterized Jain ethics as extreme, and discusses how Jainism is being practiced globally, including in the US heartland.' --Christopher Key Chapple, Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

'Jeffery Long's book admirably accomplishes two goals. The first half of Jainism: An Introduction does exactly what his subtitle indicates. Long provides a succinct and accurate overview of the history, beliefs and practices of the Jains that draws in an excellent manner upon the most recent scholarship. The second half of the book - in a fine example of the practice of comparative theology and comparative philosophy of religion - moves beyond description to engage with what Jainism has to say to anyone living on Planet Earth in the twenty-first century. In particular, Long is concerned to explore what the Jain philosophical doctrines of 'relativity' can contribute to the pressing problem of how people respond to the fact of profound religious diversity. Jainism: An Introduction will therefore be of interest to anyone interested in the global religious history of humanity, and additionally to anyone striving to construct a morally responsible stance on how humans can learn to live together in all their religious differences. The book will also be a fine choice for undergraduate students in a variety of fields, including religious studies, south Asian studies, the history of religion and comparative philosophy.' --John Cort, Professor of Asian and Comparative Religions, Denison University, and author of Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India

About the Author

Jeffery D Long is Associate Professor of Religion and Asian Studies, and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania. He is the author of A Vision for Hinduism: Beyond Hindu Nationalism, published by I.B.Tauris in 2006.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside Indic Thought: Historical Context and Modern Relevance 6 Sep 2009
By Darren L. Hackler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Professor Long's book, Jainism: An Introduction, is a thoroughly researched overview of the Jain tradition, a religion and set of philosophical constructs that have influenced Indian thought for over 2500 years. This succinct, completely engaging overview of Jainism, the historical contexts of Jain intellectual thought, and the relationship of Jainism and Jain philosophers within the greater context of Hinduism, brahminical/Vedic thought, Buddhism, and Indic philosophical movements is indeed quite relevant to understanding and appreciating the Jain communities in India and in the West.

This highly-readable monograph is intended as a an introduction to the Jain tradition; and it is aimed at a college-level audience, but it is also a book with considerable relevance to any person interested in philosophy, religion, history, India, or the evolution of intellectual movements. I highly recommend this book for every reader--it is accessible, engaging, and provocative. One of the aims of the book is to put core Jain (and for that matter, Buddhist and Hindu) beliefs and assumptions about the nature and meaning of existence into an intellectual context, both historical, and applicable to modern-day societies. With an exceptionally clear explanation of core Jain beliefs including non-violence, non-absolutism (or perhaps more easily understood as religious pluralism), detachment from materialism, and the karmic cycle, the author has indeed put the evolution of Jain thought into an appropriate historical context vis-à-vis Buddhism and Hinduism.

Jainism: An Introduction provides the historical context of the Jain founders, Mahavira, and other philosophers; and, how their intellectual thought challenged historical, philosophical movements within Buddhism and Hinduism. Additionally, the book provides a survey of current literature and academic thought concerning the importance of Jain thought within its historical, philosophical, and religious context. I found the examination of current academic thought quite well presented. The examination of Jainism (like Buddhism) as a reaction (in the literal sense) in many regards to brahminical religious structures and thought is quite interesting. The analyses of academic views concerning Jainism and Buddhism as part of the Greater Magadha culture, recent archaeological evidence, and new postulations on the influence of north Indian philosophers provide a greater understanding of core Jain beliefs, and the subsequent influence of the Jain community in India. This book argues for the relevance of Jain thought as a potential solution to many modern crises of religious intolerance, violence, consumerism, materialism, and ecological disasters that the human community continually faces. Interestingly enough, there is also an overview of how Jain thought has actually influenced modern history with a brief examination of Jain influence upon Gandhi and the Indian independence movement.

It is fascinating to learn that the small Jain community has influenced Indic and world religious thought in a variety of ways, and the book provides a thorough overview of the internal logic and consistency of Jain thought over 2500 years. Professor Long presents both the historical context of Jainism, and its relevance to modern society--particularly Jain views on non-violence, religious tolerance, renouncing materialism, ecological sustainability, and vegetarianism. Jainism indeed has a great deal to teach western societies about environmental sustainability and social justice, and may provide a solution for sustainable populations living in balance with nature.

I highly recommend this book to students and to anyone interested in the subject. And, if you happen to believe that Jain thought is just too exotic to read about, think again, for the Jain tradition has a great deal to teach western societies. Perhaps, if more people adopted some of the core beliefs of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, we might just find ourselves living in a better world. One should fully understand the historical context and evolution of Jain thought, but perhaps more importantly, one should appreciate the relevance of Jainism in order to solve some of the difficulties modern societies confront.

And...don't forget to read the footnotes and historical chronology!

Do yourself a favor and get this book, and Long's outstanding first book--A Vision for Hinduism: Beyond Hindu Nationalism--about the nature of modern Hindu identity, nationalism, and the relevance of Hindu thought for all contemporary societies.

Note: Jan, 2012--Be sure to check out Professor Long's new book in the Scarecrow Press reference series. Professor Long's exceptional reference work on everything Hindu is entitled Historical Dictionary of Hinduism (Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements Series) (published Sept. 2011). This is essential for any library collection and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Hindu at large.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right Book For The Job 17 Jan 2011
By markss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Within weeks of finishing this book for the first time, I read it again from introduction to ending for a second time. I think that in and of itself can speak for this book.

It seems to me that this book lived up to its intentions extremely well. It presents Jainism, a topic likely quite foreign to readers, in an "accessible and user-friendly" way--to use the author's words. Technical writing and 'jargon' are used when necessary to do the topic justice, but don't make the reader feel labored--only instructed. Indeed, the author's personal and conversational style makes the book highly enjoyable to read; I have no doubt that this comes from his teaching experience. The width and depth of content leaves the reader both wanting to continue onward to learn more and also satisfied with what they have learned thus far. You feel neither overwhelmed by details nor cheated by brevity. To again use the author's words, the Middle Path was achieved.

It is impossible to explain a complex subject like a religion without having to bring up multiple topics at once or raising questions in the reader's mind. However, the all-in-due-time style and structure of the book helps allay any fears the reader might have that a topic will go unexplained or a question unanswered. We are always told when things will be explained. And even should one have an unanswered question, the concluding chapter of the text is a "recommended reading" section. The reader is always in good hands.

While inserting personal perspectives and opinions on some of the presented topics the tone remains objective and professional. There is absolutely no feeling of the facts being misrepresented in order to prove a point. As well, the author is forthright when doing so and always clearly states what is fact and what is personal perspective. I find this ability to properly present a topic and then engage it refreshing in an academic book.

A great buy and a great read all around.
6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Wish I Hadn't Bought This Book 10 May 2010
By Stewart St John - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a book for academics and students - not casual readers just interested in having their curiosity and interest sated. If fact, it will likely crush any future intellectual pursuit of Jainism.

Imagine if you wanted to research Protestantism and bought an introductory book to help you. What if that book taught you all about Catholicism and contrasted it with Protestantism in a condescending way. What if you had to learn the Latin word for every concept while doing it.

Mind you, every critical concept of Jainism is represented in the book - if you can sift through all the other stuff about Vedic Hinduism and Buddism. I'll admit, you can't completely understand Jainism without understanding the context of when and where it originated. But for an introduction to the subject it should have been in its own chapter at the end of the book.

Also, for me, it is sufficient (but not necessary) to have the Hindu word for a concept given once - in italics - when first introduced. From then on use the translation and let anyone interested use a glossary.

I've seen other reviews call this book "highly readable" but found I had to work continually to keep my interest level high enough to continue reading. I wish I could recommend a book on Jainism that did appeal to me, but I'm afraid I'm done with the subject for the foreseeable future.
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