Thanks to generous sponsorship from within the Jain community, a Chair for Jain Studies was established at Ghent University in 2022, with the aim to provide visibility and focus to the research group’s decades-long specialization in Jain Studies and spread awareness about Jainism in Belgium. Professor Dr. Tine Vekemans – who obtained her PhD from Ghent University in 2019 based on research on the intersections of Jainism, migration, and digital media – was selected as the first holder of this position.
The Chair is named after Ācārya Mahapragya, a highly influential Jain mendicant leader, known for his spiritual as well as academic versatility and his dedication to non-violence.
Ācārya Mahapragya (1920 – 2010) was the tenth head of the Śvētāmbara Terapanth order of Jainism. He took initiation as a Jain monk in 1931, accepting the eight head of the Terapanth order, Acharya Kalugani, as his guru. He soon began to study under Muni Tulsi, who would become the ninth head of the Terapanth order, and would have a significant influence over Mahapragya. It was also this Tulsi who gave the name ‘Mahapragya’ – ‘the very knowledgeable’ – as even as a young monk, Mahapragya showed extraordinary aptitude in his studies of philosophy, languages, history and literature.
Mahapragya showed a keen interest in the self-improvement and wellbeing of lay people as well as mendicants, being convinced that the sum of many small individual steps would create a collective transformation which could materially benefit humanity. As such, he played a major role in Anuvrat movement launched by Acharya Tulsi in 1949, formulated a new system of meditation, called Preksha meditation, and developed “Science of Living”, a system of education which sought to balance knowledge transfer and moral character development.
In 1994, Acharya Tulsi declared that Mahapragya would now have the title of ‘Acharya’ also and that the former was renouncing this position forthwith. Subsequently, on 5 February 1995, Mahapragya was formally consecrated as the 10th Ācārya – the supreme head – of the Terapanth religious order, which he led until his death in 2010.
Throughout his life, Ācārya Mahapragya wrote and published profusely on topics ranging from Jain scripture to environmentalism and social justice.