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. I continue to 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 came to the University of Michigan in 2006, where I am Professor in Asian Languages and Cultures and hold the Endowed Chair in Sikh Studies, known as theTara Singh and Balwant Kaur Chattha, Gurbax Singh and Kirpal Kaur Brar Professorship in Sikh Studies.
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 working with an NGO on issues relating to human rights abuses in Punjab. As the result of this activism I 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.
After a period of retraining I completed an MA in Philosophy with Distinction. My MA dissertation was basically a critique of hermeneutic theory in the context of emerging developments in the field of translation theory, with the project being culturally contextualized in the reception of Sikh scripture. The MA work opened up far more questions than I could answer at the time, and led me into a British Academy funded Ph.D project jointly supervised by Professor Martin Warner (Philosophy Department, Warwick University) and Professor Christopher Shackle (University of London, SOAS). I defended the Ph.D dissertation in 1999. It was titledThinking Between Cultures: Metaphysics and Cultural Translation. In a nutshell, the Ph.D thesis tried to develop the groundwork for a new way of doing Sikh Philosophy and re-categorizing Sikh concepts. I situated my understanding of Sikh Philosophy at the intersection of a variety of fields such as postcolonial theory, translation theory and the colonial history of Punjab. At the time, the dissertation was also struggling to identify new ways of thinking-between cultures, and experimenting with “post-comparative” modes of thought in the context of my Sikh and Punjabi heritage. Another aspect that innervated this dissertation, though it remained latent at the time, was a desire to ground the project of comparative philosophy in the context of my lived experience as a diasporic Sikh/Punjabi. In other words, I was trying to think through the question ‘what isdiaspora?’.
After the Ph.D I took up a Postdoctoral Fellowship at SOAS (1999-2001), where I began a collaborative project with Prof. Shackle on new translations and interpretations of the Sikh scripture (broadly conceived). This collaboration continued for 5 years, culminating in the jointly authored/translatedTeachings of the Sikh Gurus: Selections from the Scriptures(Routledge 2005). This project provided me the opportunity to apply my developing translation theories to actual translation practice, and to experiment with new frameworks for interpreting the major concepts of Sikh Philosophy. It also allowed me to dive deeper into the history philosophy of religion especially in the context of colonial Punjab. I did some archival and interpretive work on Singh Sabha commentaries, and examined the writings of Singh Sabha elites work through the lens of political theology in the context of emerging nationalisms in South Asia in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. This phase of my work came together between 2000-2007 and became the book:Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation(Columbia University Press, 2009).
By 2009, and largely as a result of the ‘Specter’ book, I also delved into critical studies of secularity and secularism, resulting in a major co-edited volume with Markus DresslerSecularism and Religion-Making(Oxford University Press, 2011). Also in 2009, I was invited back to SOAS to deliver theJordan Lectures in Comparative Religion. Instead of continuing to work on religion, these lectures gave me the chance to pick up where I had left my work on moving beyond comparative modes of philosophy and resituating Sikh Philosophy in a decolonial, diasporic context. This became the focus of my research for the next 9 years or so, culminating in 2019/2020 in a major monograph:Geophilosophical Encounters: Sikh Thought, Decolonial Praxis and Diasporic Logicswhich is being published by Routledge in 2022.
Between 2011 and 2017, I worked on several other books: (i)Sikhism: A Guide For the Perplexed, monograph with Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2013; (ii)Sikhism– Vol. 8 of theEncyclopedia of Indian Religions(Springer: 2017, 477 pages); (iii)Spiritual Warriors: Logics of (Non)Violence in Sikhismwith Cambridge University Press, which is eventually being published in 2021.
My current research interests are focused on the intersection between World Philosophies, studies of Spirituality, Political Theory, Philosophy of Religion, Diaspora Studies and Postcolonial theory. The main output of this research nexus is a book called Geophilosophical Encounters (forthcoming 2023) which investigates different way of thinking about cross-cultural philosophy (based on encounters between Sikh and Western concepts). This entails moving away from conventional 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 project has implications for the way we think about ‘diaspora’ and theories of integration and interaction between host/foreign cultures, majoritarian/minoritarian cultures.
I have already begun work on two follow up monographs which build on my work in Sikh Philosophy. One is called War Machines which extends my earlier work on theories of violence for thinking about political & spiritual sovereignty. Another monograph Sikhi(sm): A Philosophical Investigation provides a Sikh perspective on the Philosophy of Religion.
I’m also working on a couple of major edited volumes including: The Sikh World (ed. With Pashaura Singh. Routledge).
- Violence and the Sikhs (Cambridge University Press, 2022)
- Sikh Philosophy(Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2022)
- Geophilosophical Encounters: Sikh Thought, Decolonial Praxis and Diasporic Logics
- Sikhism– Vol. 8 of theEncyclopedia of Indian Religions(Springer, 2017)
- Sikhism: A Guide For the Perplexed(Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2013)
- Secularism and Religion-Making(Oxford University Press, 2011)
- Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation(Columbia University Press, 2009)
- Teachings of the Sikh Gurus(with Christopher Shackle, Routledge, 2005)
- Sikh, Culture, Religion and Ethnicity (with Cristopher Shackle and Gurharpal Singh, Routledge-Curzon, 2001)
Book Projects in Progress:
- “War Machines”– solo authored book.
- Diasporcities– edited volume
- The Sikh World– edited volume (with Pashaura Singh).
Selected Journals Special Issues:
- “(Dis)Locations: Autobiography and Identity in Dialogue With Jacques Derrida,” special issue for the journal Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture ed. with Pal Ahluwalia, May 2007
- “Refusals: Opening and Difference in Dialogue,” editorial and edited special issue of Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, ed. with Cosimo Zene, Vol. 12, No. 1, Jan. 2006
- “Dialogue as an Inscription of the ‘West,’” editorial and edited special issue of Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, ed. with Cosimo Zene, Vol. 11, No. 3, May 2005
- “After 1984: Reflections on Violence, Politics and Survivor Memories”, special issue for Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture and Theory, Vol. 11, No’s 1-2, 2015
- “Encountering Sikh Texts, Practices & Performances”, ed. with Pashaura Singh, specially issue for Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture and Theory, Vol. 11, No. 3, 2015
Journals and Books 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.
Education / Degrees
B.Sc. Ph.D (Chemistry – Aston University, UK)
MA, Ph.D (Philosophy – University of Warwick, UK)
Other Information About Me
Sikh Studies Portal (ALC)
Amazon Author Page
Routledge Author Page
ALC Faculty Page
Diversity Scholars Network
LSA Website (U-M)
International Institute Page
Global Theories of Critique Initiative