Modern South Asian Studies seminar MT20: Week 6: Domestic Devotion: Jain Wooden House Shrines from Gujarat in American Museum Collections

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Nayanika Mathur, Polly O'Hanlon, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Professor John Cort (Denison)


In his presentation, Cort starts with the observation that there are ten carved wooden Jain domestic shrines (ghar derāsar) in American museum collections. This raises a question: how and why did these large objects (most of them are five to seven feet tall, and four to six feet wide) move from their original cultural location as essential components to Jain devotional culture in nineteenth-century Gujarat to become desirable art commodities in twentieth-century U.S. Investigation this question involves a study of changing economic, residential and ritual patterns in India, and concurrent changes in aesthetic taste in the U.S.


John E. Cort is professor emeritus of Asian and Comparative Religions at Denison University. His research has focused on the Jain traditions in India, with a geographical focus in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and a temporal focus in the early modern and modern periods. His scholarship combines ethnographic fieldwork, study of material and visual culture, archival work, and textual study. He is the author of Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India (2001) and Framing the Jina: Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain History (2010); coauthor with Lawrence A. Babb and Michael W. Meister of Desert Temples: Sacred Centers of Rajasthan in Historical, Art-Historical and Social Contexts (2008); coeditor with Paul Dundas, Knut Jacobsen, and Kristi L. Wiley of Brill’s Encyclopedia of Jainism (2020); and co-editor with Andrea Luithle-Hardenberg and Leslie C. Orr of Cooperation, Contribution and Contestation: The Jain Community, Colonialism and Jainological Scholarship (2020). He has also published two translations of Sanskrit poetry, both with Writers Workshop in Calcutta: Bhartṛhari, An Old Tree Living by the River (1983), and Paṇḍitarāja Jagannātha, The Saving Waves of the Milk-White Gaṅgā (Gaṅgālaharī).



Pre-registration required. Please visit to book either for this seminar or the whole series.