A brief unit in a religious studies class quickly blossomed into a global undertaking for Brett Evans ’13.
Using his Lumen Prize funding, Evans, a religious studies major, studied the nonviolent religion of Jainism and the interpretations of its doctrine.
Through his research, he hoped to dispel existing stereotypes and shed light on a religion that has been relatively untouched or poorly explained by researchers.
Evans first learned of Jainism while taking a class with Amy Allocco, the religious studies professor who also served as his research mentor. Evans’ interest piqued when he learned about the non-violent religion’s adherence to vegetarianism. He was becoming vegan at the time.
Starting his research with the Jain’s common practice of running animal homes— similar to animal sanctuaries in the United States— Evans’ research expanded to include the differing interpretations of Jain doctrines and its socially engaging modern practices.
Many scholars rely on the interpretations provided by the leaders of the religion, while Evans collected the perspectives of the average Jain, both in India and in communities within the United States. He lived in India for a few months with a Jain family, which offered him an intimate perspective of everyday Jain practices.
Allocco said Evans is making make a significant contribution to the study of Jainism, considering the minimal scholarly attention it has received. Along with a handful of research papers, two of which were published, Evans hosted a photo exhibit at Elon as a way of presenting Jainism and dispelling stereotypes about the religion.
“Either people don’t know anything about Jainism or what they know is the stereotyped, simplistic version,” he says. “Their first thought might be ‘that’s really extreme’ or ‘that’s really radical’ or ‘I don’t get how people can do that.’
“That’s not really the whole picture. I’m trying to give back to the community by helping to bridge this gap.”