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Contemporary Jainism

Although it was once a proselytizing religion and continues vigorously to promote vegetarianism and animal welfare, Jainism has become a religion into which one is born by virtue of birth in a particular family, lineage, or caste. The castes to which Jains belong are typically merchant castes, although there are many Jains in other occupations, including agriculture. The Jains cannot be said to constitute a single community. Even in situations where they live in close proximity, relations between Shvetambaras and Digambaras are usually minimal because they belong to different castes, and are frequently adversarial, especially because of disputes over control of sacred sites claimed by both sects.

A major recent development in Jainism is the emergence of a diaspora-based religious subculture. The spread of Jainism beyond the subcontinent has been inhibited historically by the requirement that monks and nuns travel only on foot, but in recent times the number of Jains living outside India has risen to around 100,000, most of whom live in North America, Great Britain, and Africa. The difficulty of practicing Jainism in the traditional way abroad has led to a weakening of sectarian differences. It has also given rise to a tendency to stress the contemporary relevance of Jainism by downplaying traditional soteriology and capitalizing on Jainism's emphasis on nonviolence and vegetarianism by recasting the tradition in an eco-religious and environmentalist mold.


Babb, Lawrence A. Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Banks, Marcus. Organizing Jainism in India and England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

Carrithers, Michael, and Caroline Humphrey, eds. The Assembly of Listeners: Jains in Society. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Cort, John E. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002. A comprehensive overview of Jainism and an excellent introduction to the subject.

Jaini, Padmanabh S. The Jaina Path of Purification. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. The standard general study of Jainism.

Laidlaw, James. Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy, and Society among the Jains. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Lawrence A. Babb

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Intuitionist logic to KabbalahJainism - Origin, Canonical Texts, Doctrine, Contemporary Jainism, Bibliography