Inaugural Jain Studies Lecture on April 9 to Explore House Shrines

April 1, 2022

A Jain house shrine

Candler’s inaugural Jain Studies Lecture on the evening of April 9 will feature John E. Cort, professor emeritus at Denison University, on “Indian Art Meets American Arts and Crafts: Jain Wooden House Shrines in American Museum Collections.” The lecture is free and open to the public and will be held at 6:00 p.m. in Ackerman Hall of the Michael C. Carlos Museum on Emory University’s campus. No registration is required.

Organized by Ellen Gough, an assistant professor in Emory’s department of religion, the lecture will also serve as the keynote address at the XXth Biennial Symposium of the American Council for Southern Asian Art, who is co-sponsoring the event.

According to lecturer John Cort, there are at least ten elaborately carved wooden Jain domestic shrines in American museum collections, which raises a number of questions in his mind—chiefly, how and why did so many of these large objects move from their original location as essential components to Jain devotional culture in nineteenth-century Gujarat to become desirable art commodities in the twentieth-century United States?

The lecture will explore this question by considering changing economic, residential, ritual and aesthetic patterns in India and the United States. The migration of Jains to the bustling metropolis of Bombay (now Mumbai) resulted in house shrines becoming expendable. Jain protocols for the daily worship of consecrated Jina images meant that the shrines in the now vacated houses lost their ritual function. Jains in their new, modern urban locations wanted shrines that also were new. At the same time, practitioners of the arts and crafts movement in Great Britain and the United States publicized and praised Gujarati woodwork, so that it became a desirable design feature for the houses of the elite, and these clients also wanted to purchase old shrines that came on the art market.

John Cort is professor emeritus of Asian and Comparative Religions at Denison University, where he taught for nearly three decades. He also taught in the East Asian Studies, Environmental Studies, and International Studies programs. His research has focused on the Jain traditions in India, with a geographical focus in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and a temporal focus in the early modern and modern periods. His scholarship combines ethnographic fieldwork, study of material and visual culture, archival work, and textual study. He is the author of Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India (2001) and Framing the Jina: Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain History (2010), among other co-authored and co-edited works.

The lecture is one result of a $1 million gift Candler received last year to establish an endowment to support the Bhagawan Arnath Postdoctoral Fellowship in Jain Studies. Once named, the Fellow will serve two years, teaching two courses per year, one at Candler for master’s level students and another at the undergraduate level at Emory, while also furthering his or her own research and organizing lectures and events around Jain studies.