A Workshop held at the University of Michigan
Rackham East Conference Room
December  9th to 10th, 2011


Workshop Theme

This workshop brought together scholars working broadly in the field of Sikh studies to discuss the theme of “Sikhism and Public Space”. A growing number of publications on Religion and the Public Sphere can be seen as one of many indicators of a change in the perception and attitudes of institutions which had previously considered religion to be an outdated phenomenon. Such a change can be envisioned as part of a transformation of the “secularist self-understanding” of the state and of public perception. One indicator of this transformation is the growing feeling in scholarly circles that the dominant stories about religion and public life that we’ve become accustomed to hearing may be no more than myths that bear little or no relation to our everyday experiences and to political reality. Spurred on by the perception that religion is neither merely private nor purely irrational, or that the public sphere is neither a realm of rational deliberation nor a smooth space of unforced assent, scholarship in this area has provided an increasingly sophisticated series of intellectual interventions that have challenged many of us to rethink our most basic categories of research, analysis and critique. Just as, in the past two decades, scholars in feminist, race and postcolonial studies raised fundamental questions about the construction of dominant social categories, so today, the very categories of religion and the secular are being revisited, reworked and reinterpreted.  The rethinking of such categories provides an important opportunity (and in some senses a sense of urgency) in the case of minority traditions such as Sikhism and the Sikh community. While Sikhs and the Sikh community more broadly have been slow to interrogate the issue of secularization, events in the past three decades have had tangible ramifications in the areas such as law, society, media, scholarship/education and politics, amongst others, thereby compelling minorities such as the Sikhs to reflect on their place in a secular and increasingly globalized world. The purpose of this proposed workshop will be to analyze these ramifications and at the same time to explore ways in which the transformation of “secularist self-understanding” can be used to redefine the role of Sikhs and Sikhism in public life today and in the future.


Session One:   Historical Formations of Public Space

Moderator: Varuni Bhatia, University of Michigan

Anne Murphy, University of British Columbia
Defining the Religious Sphere: The Administration of Sikh Religious Sites in Colonial India and the Making of the Public Sphere

Guriqbal Sahota, University of California, Santa Cruz
Reason in the Vernacular: Deshaja Adhunikata and its Implications

Session Two:   Youth Activism and Diaspora

Moderator: Ram Mahalingam, University of Michigan

Rita Verma, Adelphi University
Sikh Youth in Uncertain Public Spaces: Redefining Self in the Diaspora

Michael Nijhawan, York University
Sikh Youth Activism in the Greater Toronto Area: Old Predicaments and New Constellations in Local Activism and Networking

Session Three:   Multiculturalism, Citizenship& Religion
Moderator: Parvinder Mehta, Davenport University

Katy Sian, University of Leeds
Losing My Religion: Sikhs in the UK

Rita Dhamoon, University of the Fraser Valley
Exclusion and Regulated Inclusion: The Case of the Kirpan in Canada

Session Four:   Ethics and Representation
Moderator: Arvind-Pal S. Mandair, University of Michigan

Jakeet Singh, Illinois State University
Sikhi as an Ethico-Political Practice

Parvinder Mehta, Davenport University

Sikhs in Bollywood Cinema: the Ethics of Representation and the Spectacle of Otherness