Jun-Prof. Dr. Claire Maes joined the Department of Indology at the University of Tübingen in September 2021. She is specialized in Jainism and Indian Buddhism. Her two principal research topics are the Jain understandings of what constitutes a good death and the development of the Buddhist monastic community in ancient India. In addition, given the importance of preserving the history of the COVID-19 pandemic, she also started to document and analyze the effects of the pandemic on the religious practices and the public discourse of Jains.
Claire Maes studied Indian languages and cultures at Ghent University, Belgium, and Indian Philosophy at the University of Mysore in India. She earned her Ph.D. degree in 2015 from Ghent University with a dissertation that examines the influence of Jain thought and practice on the Buddhist monastic community in early India. Soon after, she joined the University of Texas at Austin where she worked for several years at the Asian Studies Department, first as a postdoctoral fellow of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies, and subsequently as a Sanskrit lecturer. In 2020, she accepted the Bhagwan Ajitnath Endowed Professorship position in the Religious Studies Department at California State University, Northridge in Los Angeles.
Articles, Book Chapters, and Essays
- “Jain Life Reimagined: A Study of Some Jain Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” for a special edition on “Religion and Pandemic. Shifts in Interpretations, Popular Lore, and Practices,” Entangled Religions, under review.
- “The Buddha is a Raft. On Metaphors, the Language of Liberation, and Religious Others in Early Buddhism.” In Buddhism and its Religious Others, edited by Christopher V. Jones. Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press.
- “The Pandemic and My Conversation with a Young Jain,” Ahimsa Center Newsletter 2019-2020, pp. 4-5, 2020.
- “Teaching Jainism Today: An Essay,” Jain Digest, Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), pp. 103-108, 2020. www.jaina.org/page/JainDigest
- “Jain Education in South Asia.” In Handbook of Education Systems in South Asia, edited by P. Sarangapani and R. Pappu. London: Springer Nature, pp. 1-29, 2020.
- “Gāhāvaï and gihattha. The Householder in Early Jaina Sources.” In The Householder in Ancient Indian Religious Culture, edited by Patrick Olivelle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 75-91, 2019.
- “Flirtation with the other. An Examination of the Processes of othering in the Pali Vinaya,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, pp. 1-23, 2016.
- “Jaina Narratives: SOAS Jaina Studies Workshop 2011,” Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter7, pp. 12-15, 2012.
- “A Camouflaged Debate Between Early Buddhists and Jains: A Critical Analysis of Buddhist Monastic Rules Laid Down to Protect One Sensed Facultied Life (ekindriyam jīvam),” Bulletin d’Études Indiennes 28-29, pp. 85-204, 2011.
- “A World Religions Reader. Edited by Ian Markham & Christy Lohr Sapp. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2020,” H-Asia, H-Net Reviews, book review, pp. 1-4, 2021. www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php
- “Language of the Snakes. Prakrit, Sanskrit, and the Language Order of Premodern India. Andrew Ollett. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017,” Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni, book review, pp. 808-811, 2020.
- “The Snake and the Mongoose: The Emergence of Identity in Early Indian Religion. Nathan McGovern. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018,” Entangled Religions 11 (1), book review, pp. 1-4, 2020. er.ceres.rub.de/index.php/ER/article/view/8575
- “Strange Tales of an Oriental Idol: An Anthology of Early European Portrayals of the Buddha. Edited by Donald S. Lopez. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, book review, pp. 1-4, 2017.
Since 2010, she has been teaching a wide variety of language and content courses, including Sanskrit (both at the undergraduate and graduate level), Prakrit, Introduction to Buddhism, Hinduism in US Pop Culture, Jainism: the Religion of Non-Violence, next to general introductory courses on South Asia. This winter semester she will be teaching two seminars: Death and Dying in South Asia (Wednesdays 10:15-11:45) and Indian Philosophy and the Practice of Non-Violence (Wednesdays 14:15-15:45).
Regarding her research on death and dying in Jainism, she is currently working on a monograph that examines the poorly understood voluntary Jain practice of fasting to death (sallekhanā). To a large extent, Jain religious practice is fluid, flexible, and varied. Fasting, however, is the most common religious practice among Jain ascetics and householders across space and time. Jains have a wide constellation of different types and lengths of fasts. Within this constellation, sallekhanā is the summum bonum. While the rite went uncontested for over two millennia, in recent years it became a matter of the courts. The Rajasthan High Court criminalized the practice as illegal on 10 August 2015. Soon after the Supreme Court of India lifted the stay on sallekhanā, but the final ruling is still pending. Analyzing both classical and contemporary sources, Claire Maes seeks to map out the shifting cultural perceptions of sallekhanā in India.
With respect to the history of Indian Buddhism, Claire Maes is especially interested in examining the effects of interreligious contact on the development of the Buddhist monastic community in ancient India. She focusses on analyzing the dialogical influence of ascetic others, in particular the Jain other, on the early Buddhist monastic community’s identity development and boundary negotiation. More specifically, starting from the premise that ascetic others played a central role in the early Buddhist community’s development, her research investigates how and how much of their dialogical influence can still be traced in the Pāli Vinaya, the monastic code of the Theravāda school. How does the Pāli Vinaya acknowledge, integrate, and deal with the Buddhist monk’s ascetic others, and how does this monastic text develop a ‘Buddhist’ identity rhetoric vis-à-vis these others? Underlying her research questions is the concept of identity as relational. Embracing the contemporary discourse on anti-essentialism, she defines identity as a dynamic, changing, and dialectically negotiated notion, requiring and resulting from the so-called processes of othering.
Fasting and the Ethics of Dying: Voluntarily Stopping Eating in India and the Contemporary West
Claire Maes, Department of Indology, University of Tübingen
Jens Schlieter, Science of Religion, University of Bern
Among Indian Buddhists and Jains, extreme forms of fasting, including fasting to death, were from early on a “bone of contention”. While Jains considered the voluntary abandonment of eating and drinking (sallekhanā) to be a non-violent and meritorious death, Indian Buddhists generally saw such extreme forms of fasting as fruitless, if not unmeritorious. In early Buddhist texts, the intentionally ending of one’s life is usually strongly criticized as unwholesome. The collaborative project aims to explore the larger context of the ethics of fasting, including its assumed relevance for health and salvation, in Jainism, Buddhism, and the Hindu traditions across space and time. Relevant aspects include their different positions on the relation of intentionality, action, and retribution, as well as on nourishment, maintenance of the body, and the liberation of the soul. These questions will be explored not only through the study of relevant texts, but also by interviews of contemporary Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus.
In addition, the project will aim to contextualize the recent shift of cultural, religious, legal, and medical implications of the ethics of fasting to death in India and the West. While today certain Indian actors aim to make the Jain practice of fasting to death illegal, a growing number of Western ethical, legal, medical and health care specialists consider, in contrast, the “Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking” (VSED) as a legitimate and widely available option to hasten death. The project will thus explore the recent jurisdiction and the legal-ethical debates on fasting to death (including VSED) in India, European countries, and in North America. The study of a unique pre-modern Indian practice of fasting to death and its contemporary debate can add interesting and relevant aspects to the global discussion on the ethics of dying, which will also be the topic of a workshop in 2022.