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.