Hello, my name is Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair and I teach at the University of Michigan, where I am Professor in Asian Languages and Cultures, and hold an Endowed Chair in Sikh Studies. Although I now teach exclusively on humanities topics, my career began in the sciences. I hold a doctoral degree (and have held post-doctoral fellowships) in the fields of Chemistry and hold an additional doctoral degree in Philosophy/Asian religions. My early education was at King Henry VIII grammar school in the UK. As a whole, I regard myself as a second generation British Sikh who has lived and worked in the USA since 2001.
After completing a B.Sc. (1st class Hons.) and Ph.D (1989) in Chemistry and publishing a number of research papers in this field, I worked for several multinationals as a research scientist. However, in the mid-90’s I decided to change my academic field to study religion and philosophy. At the University of Warwick, I completed an MA (with distinction) followed by a Ph.D in Philosophy (1999). Having specialized in Sikh/South Asian studies and cross cultural philosophy, I started my teaching career in the humanities at Coventry University before taking up a post at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies as a Research Fellow. In 2001, I took up a post as Assistant Professor of Religion and first holder of the S.K.K. Bindra Chair in Sikh studies at Hofstra University, New York. After five years in New York, I then served two consecutive terms as S.B.S.C. Endowed Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of Michigan.
Early Science Career
In the early to mid-1980s I trained in the field of Applied Chemistry, earning a B.Sc. (with First Class Hons. – 1985) followed by a Ph.D (1989). My Ph.D supervisor was Professor W.R. McWhinnie, the leading global authority of the time on Organo-Tellurium chemistry. At the time, he also ran a major research program in clay silicate chemistry. After spending a year at Laporte Plc studying clay/silicate chemistry in their organoclay laboratories and an additional year researching Electron Spin Resonance techniques for surface adsorption of organo-complexes on silicate surfaces during the final year of my B.Sc. program, I joined Professor McWhinnie’s lab at Aston University. For my Ph.D project I specialized in examining a wide range of spectroscopic techniques to study the internal structures of silicate materials. Much of this work focused on developing the newly emerging technique of Solid State NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance – the precursor of today’s MRI) to look at the chemistry and physics of silicate surfaces and their internal environments. This early research resulted in a number of publications in leading chemistry journals such as Inorganica Chimica Acta and Polyhedron: International Journal of Inorganic and Organometallic Chemistry. Shortly after finishing my Ph.D, I was employed by multinationals such as Akzo Nobel and later Courtaulds Plc. Following this, in 1990 I was awarded a three year post-doctoral fellowship sponsored by the UK’s Science and Engineering Research Council, allowing me to transition back to academia. My post-doctoral fellowship was based at the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, where I joined Diane Holland’s team researching Superconductors. During this three year fellowship, I soon became involved in social activism and began to strongly consider changing my primary research to focus on the humanities—specifically Philosophy. Fortunately for me, across the road from the Physics department was one of the country’s leading departments of Continental Philosophy. I initially attended lectures sporadically but grew so interested in the subject area that I was eventually compelled to give up my science career and formally retrain in the humanities.
Current Research Interests
My research and teaching is highly interdisciplinary and wide-ranging. The early phase of my research focused on examining historical encounters and intersections between Sikhism, India and the West. This research drew on and contributed to fields such as theory of Religion, Secularism and Religion, Post-colonial Theory, Translation studies, Political theology, Violence and Religion.
The post-tenure phase of my research has focused on three areas. First, a monograph which looks at the study of cross-cultural encounter (especially the encounter between Sikh and Western concepts); this entails moving away from comparative frameworks and translation, instead focusing on ‘encounter’ as an event (rather than phenomenon) with an intent to develop new and creative ways in which non-Western concepts can operate in Anglo-Europhone languages. This particular research has implications for the way we think about ‘diaspora’ and theories of integration and interaction between host/foreign cultures, majoritarian/minoritarian cultures.
Second, a short monograph that examines the relationship between violence and religion, specifically in the context of Sikhism. This study tries to relocate the theory of violence beyond its liberal formulation in opposition to religion, and shows how violence, differently imagined, provides a way of breaking the prohibitions placed on how Western and non-Western concepts, societies and individuals can interact and associate in ways not sanctioned by the State-form.
Thirdly, two monographs exploring the intellectual formation called: ‘Sikh Philosophy’. One book is focused on Sikh Philosophy and the other on Sikh Philosophy of Religion.
I am the author of a number scholarly books including: Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation (Columbia University Press, 2009); Sikhism: A Guide For the Perplexed (Continuum: London and New York), forthcoming 2013. Teachings of the Sikh Gurus (Routledge, 2005), Secularism and Religion-Making, Oxford University Press, 2011; Sikh, Culture, Religion and Ethnicity, Routledge-Curzon, 2001. I have also edited several journal special issues in the field of post-colonial and cultural theory and have published numerous articles in the leading journals in my fields of study. In 2009 I delivered the Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. I have many additional lectures on various topics. Since 1990, I have organized over 30 major scholarly conferences and public seminars.
Journal and Book Series:
Since 2005 I have been lead editor of the journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture and Theory, published by Routledge. Sikh Formations is now the leading scholarly journal in Sikh Studies. I also serve on the editorial advisory boards of the journals Culture and Religion and Religions of South Asia. In addition, I have served on steering committees at the American Academy of Religion including the North American Religions Group, South Asian Religions group and the Sikh Studies group. More recently, I became co-editor of two new book series: Routledge Critical Sikh Studies and Routledge Studies in Translation and Religion.
B.Sc. Ph.D (Chemistry – Aston University, UK)
MA, Ph.D (Philosophy – University of Warwick, UK)
Other Information About Me