It was in 2009 when a small Jain community in south Florida constructed a temple where they could gather with their families and practice one of the oldest religions – Jainism, which focuses on absolute non violence and spiritual indolence. The temple with an amazing white marble sculpture of Swami Mahaveer and an unparallel holy ambience was perhaps the first milestone for the community. This milestone indeed gave them a space to assemble but little did it help to cultivate the beliefs of Jainism in South Florida. To achieve the same, the Jain community approached a married Jain couple – Geetika and Sapan Bafna, who were alumni of Florida International University.
The couple and the family are deeply rooted with the Jainism philosophies and beliefs and they aimed to develop an education curriculum which incorporated and celebrated spiritual understandings along with the regular courses. The Florida International University appreciated their efforts and the ideas were accepted with open arms. Within a year, scholars of Jain religion flocked to FIU from all across the world to form a first of its kind professorship which was devoted to the study of Jainism.
The professorship was named as Bhagwan Mahaveer Professorship of Jain studies, named after the 24th and the last Jain Trithankara (spiritual fathers of Jain religion). After establishing this professorship, the next target was to develop an interdisciplinary centre which would focus on religious pluralism at the university. To avoid any sort of chaos or misunderstanding in the region, Geetika clarified that they are not aiming to convert anyone to Jainism. Rather, it is an attempt to develop and promote a mutual understanding which is beneficial for society as a whole.
While Sapan came to US after his graduation, Geetika lived here since her family immigrated to US after her high school. The couple had planned to complete education, get married and head back to their native country. However, destiny led them to bring a part of their nation in the foreign land to live with 100 other Jain families in South Florida and do something so miraculous that no one had thought before.
Since Charitra Prajna, a member of Jain clergy known as Samani, was already teaching in FIU, the couple had absolutely no doubts about the university being the best place to start. The couple admits that having a Samani in the US was more than inspiring to take the first step.
As the impact of such curriculum can be observed now, the faculty, administration and the society is seeing this change as something positive and supporting it in all the ways it can be. The dean of the university himself finds the idea motivating and sees it as a unique and brilliant opportunity to learn about different spiritual beliefs.