An Interview with Jesse Weaver

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An Interview with Jesse Weaver
By Jesse Weaver

Master of Arts - Engaged Jain Studies Graduate Student 

Arihanta Institute & Claremont School of Theology


“To find a home in a spiritual tradition was not a straightforward process for me. Fortunately, in finding Jain Dharma I was finally able to articulate my worldview and build the foundation of my moral life which will inform my professional and personal future.”

– Jesse Weaver


What inspired you to undertake graduate studies at Arihanta Institute?


I believe sincerely that Jain teachings can save the world—that the core Jain principles can heal and liberate and the “ethical science” of Jain Dharma can transform our broken institutions and relieve the suffering of human and nonhuman beings. Jain virtues, with ahimsaat the forefront, can be applied universally, regardless of one’s faith practice or lack thereof, throughout systems domestic and global and within all inter- and intrapersonal relationships. Regardless of worldly identity or sectarian considerations, everyone can learn from Jain teachings and benefit from living the Jain way of life, which is a timeless, universal vehicle for personal growth and social change.


My educational and professional background in political science, psychology, and sociology provides a strong foundation for undertaking Jain studies and applying my learnings. I have served as a communications director in the field of education, community organizer in the fields of sustainability and access to healthcare, and field organizer for political campaigns. These leadership roles demonstrate my commitment to mission-driven work and ability to practically apply my education and values.


I have also independently studied Jain texts and engaged enthusiastically with coursework through Arihanta Institute. The guidance of this program’s leaders has already made me a better Jain scholar, and I am eager for the opportunity to do [more] work that reflects my abilities, intellect, and inextinguishable desire to help build a better world.


How do you see yourself connecting your studies in the classroom with community, organizations, etc. that you are involved in, or which are around you? How do you plan to use what you learn in the world?


This unique Engaged Jain Studies program empowers me personally and professionally, and continued studies equip me to do mission-driven work. I currently serve as the director of communications for a not-for-profit foundation in the field of social and emotional learning. Though my ultimate goals and most deeply held values are best aligned with conservation and animal liberation, education is the foundation by which we can build a better world, and education must include the development of the whole person rather than simply the “hard skills” we traditionally associate with academics. Having served over 100,000 educators and exponentially more students, I believe that my learnings will make me a better leader in the field and enhance my ability to facilitate change through a framework of non-violence.


From an ecological standpoint, I want to first apply my learnings in my own city, leading with ahimsa, anekantavada, and aparigraha to encourage environmental stewardship and a more peaceful, open-minded community based on interdependence. I plan to reach far beyond my current commitments of performing neighborhood trash cleanup and radically reducing fossil fuel-based transportation. I come from an area of incredible biodiversity that demands protection, and I know firsthand that practicing ahimsa brings understanding of the dharma. I believe that modeling and encouraging even seemingly small acts of non-violence and non-consumerism can illuminate Samyak Darshana and promote Samyak Charitra. I seek to embody and model Jain virtues and demonstrate expertise, ideally earning the opportunity to teach Jain studies.


I am also a poet, writer, photographer, voice actor, and more broadly a creator. My poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, but I dream of reintroducing my artistic self as a specifically Jain creator. I want to write through a Jain lens, with particular focus on ethics, ecology, and anthrozoology. My educational, professional, and personal background informs the way I think and write, and I will surely incorporate my varied areas of knowledge and experience into my ongoing Jain studies. Regardless of whether artistic endeavors pay the bills, I believe it is vital for those of us who are artistically inclined to continue creating. I see art as essential to expanding an ethic of nonviolence in the West.


What is your background in Jain education and Jain tradition?


Prior to entering the MA in engaged Jain Studies graduate program, I engaged enthusiastically with courses through Arihanta Institute, gaining a greater grasp of Jain epistemology, historical Jain texts, and practical application of the dharma. I also independently read Jain sutras, along with scholarly texts like Dr. Aidan Rankin and Dr. Kanti Mardia’s Living Jainism: An Ethical Science, Dr. Brianne Donaldson and Dr. Ana Bajželj’s Insistent Life: Principles for Bioethics in the Jain Tradition, and Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Zero Point of Jain Astronomy: The Origin of Malava Era. I had been working to develop a basic grasp of Sanskrit before beginning the program and intend to develop a working knowledge of Hindi and Gujarati as well. I regularly attend lectures from Jain scholars to support my studies and listen to Jain podcasts to reinforce my academic learnings and better apply Jain ethics to my daily life. 


With no prior exposure to Jain teachings, I had to start my learning from scratch. Queer kids in the U.S. receive the message that theology isn’t for us. “Gifted” kids receive the message that to be intelligent is to be rational, skeptical, and analytical, and that if we possess these qualities, we should recognize them as at odds with religion and spirituality. To find a home in a spiritual tradition was not a straightforward process for me. Fortunately, in finding Jain Dharma I was finally able to articulate my worldview and build the foundation of my moral life which will inform my professional and personal future. Partly because I was not raised in the Jain tradition, I am especially motivated to deeply study the teachings and earn my place as a Jain practitioner-scholar.


Are you interested in pursuing higher studies in Jain education or another tradition’s higher studies? Would you pursue a career in engaged education or a similar profession?


I am committed to excelling in the program and opening the door to continuing my studies beyond the graduate level. I am interested in pursuing higher studies in Jain education and am excited that the field is continuing to grow and present new opportunities for scholarship and engagement. Jain studies offer limitless potential for transformative personal and societal change, and it is an honor to be a member of this program’s first cohort. My interests are varied and as mentioned above, I feel that I can apply engaged Jain studies across my personal, professional, artistic, and spiritual goals. I would like to continue my studies in the MA program before making a definitive decision around what my career will look like a few years from now, as I feel that I still have much to learn. But I can confidently say that I would love the opportunity to continue my scholarship, teach Jain studies, and apply Jain teachings to my work and advocacy. My strongest area of interest currently is in ecotheology and I hope to apply my continued studies toward conservation efforts. I think my unique experience and perspective as a young adult cancer survivor also presents an opportunity to connect personal healing with environmental healing. My wife, who has an MTS with a focus in ethics and social justice, will be beginning a mission-driven, conservation-based MA program soon, and we are eager to collaborate on ecological projects through a Jain lens, likely incorporating our shared expertise and lived experience around multi-dimensional wellness and healing. Regardless of which professional and academic opportunities may arise, I look forward to creating new opportunities to practically apply my studies and help catalyze change.




The MA in Engaged Jain Studies graduate program emphasizes application of Jain principles with expert faculty who have been using an “engaged Jainism” pedagogical technique at the university level for years. This approach brings Jain wisdom down to earth, making it relevant for the many challenges we face as a human society.


We are so fortunate to have Jesse in our first class of Engaged Jain Studies graduate students. And we look forward to accepting more scholars like Jesse who will also engage Jain philosophy and wisdom teachings and cultivate positive change in their communities and the world. This is central to the Arihanta Institute mission.


To ensure success in this endeavor, we need your support. 


In this season of giving, we urge you to donate to our mission.  Every level of contribution helps us continue the path to spreading knowledge about the Jain philosophy and tradition and its relevance in our daily lives. 


Your generosity can significantly impact our success and is immensely valued. If you feel compelled to contribute, visit arihantainstitute.org/donate or email us at learn@arihantainstitute.org.


If you are interested in applying to our MA – Engaged Jain Studies program, schedule an appointment with one of our advisors to learn more, please email study@arihantainstitute.org.