Sikh Studies Conference to Draw Global Scholars

Riverside, Calif. — Scholars from three continents and leaders of the global Sikh community will convene in a three-day conference on Sikh studies at the University of California, Riverside beginning May 10.

“Dialogues With(in) Sikh Studies: Texts, Practices, and Performances” is the third international conference on Sikh studies presented by the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies and the Department of Religious Studies at UC Riverside, and will be the largest ever in North America.

Conference sessions are free and open to the public. There is a fee to park on campus and permits may be purchased at the kiosk near the entrance to UCR on West Campus Drive at University Avenue. All panel discussions will be held in Interdisciplinary Building South, Room 1113.

Renowned scholars from all eight Sikh studies programs in the United States and from Canada, England and India will discuss a variety of topics ranging from Sikh ethics and identity to sacred scriptures, music and wedding practices.

Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world with more than 24 million adherents. More than 500,000 live in the United States, about half of them in California. About 80 percent of the world’s Sikhs live in the Indian province of Punjab.

Delivering the keynote address will be Christopher Shackle, professor emeritus of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Shackle, one of the leading scholars of Sikh studies in the world, is a fellow of the British Academy, received the Award of the Royal Asiatic Society in 2004, and in 2005 received Pakistan’s highest award for the arts, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz. He has published numerous books on topics such as the Siraiki language of central Pakistan, Ismaili hymns from South Asia, Indian love poems, Punjabi literature, teachings of the Sikh gurus, and Sikh religion, culture and ethnicity.

“The academic field of Sikh studies is relatively young and rapidly growing,” explained Pashaura Singh, UCR professor of religious studies and the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies, noting that much of the research occurs within the disciplines of religious studies and South Asian studies.

“The growing turn in religious studies toward ‘lived religion’ and ‘everyday religion’ calls scholars to be aware that religions are at least as much about the things that people do as about the ideas, ideals and central narratives enshrined within their texts and scriptures,” Singh added. “Through this conference we hope to explore the many uses of sacred texts within Sikh communities around the globe.”

The conference also will examine how the emergence of Sikh studies as a field of academic inquiry has opened new lines of communication with the Sikh community and forced old modes of interaction and understanding to be reevaluated, he said. Leaders of the Sikh community will participate in the UCR conference for the first time.

“In many ways, models of academic inquiry have both challenged and promoted traditional understandings of Sikhism,” Singh noted. “We will not resolve everything. We do hope to set new directions in Sikh studies, to bridge the gap between the community and scholars, and to start a dialog between scholars and community leaders. We are hoping for cooperation rather than confrontation.”

The conference “promises to be an unprecedented gathering of minds and spirit, focused on an underemphasized and often misunderstood religious tradition,” and its anticipated success “attests to Dr. Singh’s dedicated scholarship and collegial outreach,” said Vivian-Lee Nyitray, chair of the UCR Department of Religious Studies and the Patricia McSweeny McCauley Chair in Teaching Excellence.

Attendees also will recognize the Sikh Foundation, which endowed the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at UCR and other chairs in Sikh studies elsewhere in the United States. The UCR chair honors the late Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini, who was known for his expertise in treating heart-rhythm problems and served as chief of the cardiology department at Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz.