Jainism is an ancient religion that has its origin in India. It is not a sect of Hinduism or of any other Indian tradition. As far as the present cosmic period is concerned it is understood to have begun with a man who lived in the sixth century B.C.E. named Nataputta Vardhamana or as the Jains later called him Mahavira, meaning "Great Man" or "Hero." He was so-called because in the course of his life he triumphed in putting an end to the passions that bind a person to the material and visible world. But Mahavira was by no means the first of those who achieved this purpose. The Jain tradition holds that he was precede by 23 other such figures whose linage stretches back hundreds of millennia. They are called tirthankaras or "ford makers," distinctive teachers who revived and preserved the knowledge and practice of the path to renunciation of the world. The three most important principles of Jainism are a-himsa or non-violence, anekantavada or non-absolutism, and aparigraha or non-attachment.
Jainism is a minority religion with less than 4.5 million adherents in India and perhaps as many as seven million worldwide. Nevertheless, it is a significant minority in terms of its economic importance and its moral influence. The most distinctive and influential teaching of the Jain tradition is the doctrine a-himsa, or non-violence. Because of this commitment Jain lay people have traditionally been restricted to professions that do not directly take the life of living beings: merchandizing, publishing, law, and business in general. Considering the number of its adherents, the Jain community contributes significantly to the tax revenue of India. While Jainism has never actively sought converts outside of its community, its moral influence has been significant. Mohandas K. Gandhi's campaign of non-violence in the Indian struggle for independence was influenced on no small measure by the teachings of Jainism, with which he was acquainted as a youth. From that influence the doctrine of non-violence was likewise appropriated by Martin Luther King Jr, and became a critical feature of the civil rights movement in the United States.
With an endowment of $500,000.00 from the Jain Education and Research Foundation (JERF), the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) of the University of North Texas has now established the second Professorship in Jain Studies in the United States. JERF is a non-profit foundation committed to bringing the core principles of the Jain Tradition to the attention of students in American universities. Revenue from this endowment will be used at the University of North Texas to support research and scholarly activities, guest speakers and conferences, and the integration of the study of Jainism within the curriculum of the Department of Philosophy and Religion