Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures

Books and Edited Volumes

Violence and the Sikhs

About: Violence and the Sikhs interrogates conventional typologies of violence and non-violence in Sikhism by rethinking the dominant narrative of Sikhism as a deviation from the ostensibly original pacifist-religious intentions and practices of its founders. This Element highlights competing logics of violence drawn from primary sources of Sikh literature, thereby complicating our understanding of the relationship between spirituality and violence, connecting it to issues of sovereignty and the relationship between Sikhism and the State during the five centuries of its history. By cultivating a non-oppositional understanding of violence and spirituality, this Element provides an innovative method for interpreting events of ‘religious violence’. In doing so it provides a novel perspective on familiar themes such as martyrdom, Martial Race theory, warfare and (post)colonial conflicts in the Sikh context.

Year Published: 2022

Link to the Cambridge Elements publishing page

Sikh Philosophy

About: Sensitive both to the historical formation of Sikh thought, and to the decolonial context in which he writes, Mandair examines some of the key concepts of Sikh philosophy and how they inform his vision of life. He asks what Sikh philosophical concepts tell us about the nature of reality, the relationship between mind/self/ego, and whether it is possible to discern broad contours of a Sikh logic, epistemology and ontology. Additionally, the book looks at how these concepts address broader themes such as the body, health and well-being, creation and cosmology, death and rebirth, the nature of action and intention, bioethics and, a theme that undergirds every chapter, spirituality. Each chapter concludes with a set of bullet points highlighting the key concepts discussed.

Through this much-needed introduction we understand the place of Sikh Philosophy within modern Sikh studies and why the philosophical quest became marginalized in contemporary Sikh studies. Most importantly, we recognize the importance of looking beyond the well-trodden terrain of Hindu and Buddhist thinkers and involving Sikh philosophical thought in the emergent field of world philosophies.

Year Published: 2022

Link to the Bloomsbury publishing page

Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation

About: Arguing that intellectual movements, such as deconstruction, postsecular theory, and political theology, have different implications for cultures and societies that live with the debilitating effects of past imperialisms, Arvind Mandair unsettles the politics of knowledge construction in which the category of “religion” continues to be central. Through a case study of Sikhism, he launches an extended critique of religion as a cultural universal. At the same time, he presents a portrait of how certain aspects of Sikh tradition were reinvented as “religion” during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

India’s imperial elite subtly recast Sikh tradition as a sui generis religion, which robbed its teachings of their political force. In turn, Sikhs began to define themselves as a “nation” and a “world religion” that was separate from, but parallel to, the rise of the Indian state and global Hinduism. Rather than investigate these processes in isolation from Europe, Mandair shifts the focus closer to the political history of ideas, thereby recovering part of Europe’s repressed colonial memory.

Mandair rethinks the intersection of religion and the secular in discourses such as history of religions, postcolonial theory, and recent continental philosophy. Though seemingly unconnected, these discourses are shown to be linked to a philosophy of “generalized translation” that emerged as a key conceptual matrix in the colonial encounter between India and the West. In this riveting study, Mandair demonstrates how this philosophy of translation continues to influence the repetitions of religion and identity politics in the lives of South Asians, and the way the academy, state, and media have analyzed such phenomena.

Year Published: 2009

Link to the Columbia University Press publishing page

Reviews, Symposia and More about this book can be found here

Secularism And Religion Making

About: Co-edited with scholar of Ottoman religion Markus Dressler, this book conceives of “religion-making” broadly as the multiple ways in which social and cultural phenomena are configured and reconfigured within the matrix of a world-religion discourse that is historically and semantically rooted in particular Western and predominantly Christian experiences, knowledges, and institutions. It investigates how religion is universalized and certain ideas, social formations, and practices rendered “religious” are thus integrated in and subordinated to very particular – mostly liberal-secular – assumptions about the relationship between history, politics, and religion.

The individual contributions, written by a new generation of scholars with decisively interdisciplinary approaches, examine the processes of translation and globalization of historically specific concepts and practices of religion – and its dialectical counterpart, the secular – into new contexts. This volume contributes to the relatively new field of thought that aspires to unravel the thoroughly intertwined relationships between religion and secularism as modern concepts.

Editors: Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair and Markus Dressler

Year Published: 2011

Link to the Oxford University Press publishing page

Reviews:

Peter Admirand, The Heythrop Journal, Vol. 55.3, 2014: 529 – 530
Rupa Viswanath, Religious Studies Review, Vol. 38.4, 2012: 218
Nurulla Ardiç, Insight Turkey, Vol. 16.1, 2014: 216 – 221
Jeffrey Haynes, Democracy, Vol. 20.2, 2013: 378 – 379

Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed

About: Sikhism’s short but relatively eventful history provides a fascinating insight into the working of misunderstood and seemingly contradictory themes such as politics and religion, violence and mysticism, culture and spirituality, orality and textuality, public sphere versus private sphere, tradition and modernity. This book presents students with a careful analysis of these complex themes as they have manifested themselves in the historical evolution of the Sikh traditions and the encounter of Sikhs with modernity and the West, in the philosophical teachings of its founders and their interpretation by Sikh exegetes, and in Sikh ethical and intellectual responses to contemporary issues in an increasingly secular and pluralistic world. Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed serves as an ideal guide to Sikhism, and also for students of Asian studies, Sociology of Religion and World Religions.

Year Published: 2013

Link to the Bloomsbury publishing page

Reviews:

Eleanor Nesbitt, British Journal for Religious Education, Vol. 37, 2015: 213 – 215

Teachings of the Sikh Gurus

About: Teachings of the Sikh Gurus presents a new selection of translated hymns and key concepts derived from the Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth, translated into modern English by two leading experts. Thematically organized by topics such as Time, Impermanence, Mind/Self/Ego, Ethics, Authority, the book’s accessible and carefully chosen extracts distill the essence of Sikhism’s remarkable textual and intellectual legacy, showing how its message of universal tolerance suits the contemporary world. Complete with a detailed introduction, these lively and accurate translations are an essential resource for Sikhs and students of Sikhism.

Editors:Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair and Christopher Shackle

Year Published:2005

Link to the Routledge publishing page

Sikh Religion, Culture and Ethnicity

About: This book brings together new approaches to the study of Sikh religion, culture and ethnicity being pursued in the diaspora by Sikh academics in western universities in Britain and North America. An important aspect of the volume is the diversity of topics that are engaged – including film and gender theory, theology, hermeneutics, deconstruction, semiotics and race theory – and brought to bear on the individual contributors’ specialism within Sikh studies, thereby helping to explode previously static dichotomies such as insider vs. outsider or history vs. tradition. The volume should have strong appeal both to an academic market including students of politics, religious studies and South Asian studies, and to a more general English-speaking Sikh readership.

Editors:Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair, Christopher Shackle, Gurharpal Singh

Year Published:2001

Link to the Routledge publishing page

Sikhism: Encyclopedia of Indian Religions Volume 14

About: This volume describes Sikhism, the youngest member of the Indic religious traditions. It looks at the striking features of this tradition and describes its birth in the fifteenth century and its continual evolution between the sixteenth and late twentieth centuries into an independent formation often described as the “world’s fifth largest religion”. The volume explains how Sikhism arose at a time of religious and political ferment, a fact which left its mark on its interactions with other traditions, notably Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. The volume illustrates that Sikhism’s  political aspirations may not have been fully met by the establishment of the nation state of India in 1947, as indicated by the demand by its adherents for greater autonomy which occasionally has spilled over into claims for independence. It pays attention to the fact that Sikhism is isomorphic with Buddhism and Jainism inasmuch as the demographically minority status of all of these religious traditions conceals the vast influence they have exerted on the Indian landscape. In addition the volume analyses the relationship between complex themes such as violence and mysticism, politics and religion, tradition and modernity, as they have manifested themselves in the historical evolution of the Sikh community. It provides a useful introduction to the lives of its founders, their philosophical and ethical teachings and to Sikh responses and interactions with the world’s major religious traditions in an increasingly pluralistic world.

Sikhism: A Guide For the Perplexed serves as an ideal guide to Sikhs and Sikhism, and will also be useful for students of Asian studies, Sociology of Religion and World Religions.

Year Published: 2017

Link to the Springer publishing page

After 1984: Reflections on Violence, Politics and Survivor Memories [Sikh Formations 10th Anniversary Issue]

About: It is perhaps fitting that this Tenth Anniversary issue of Sikh Formations is devoted to ongoing reflections on the 1984 tragedy. In June 1984 the Golden Temple, which Sikhs regard as their holiest shrine, was invaded by the Indian Army in an operation codenamed ‘Blue Star’. The operation was ordered by then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi in an effort to purge the Golden Temple complex of militant Sikhs led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, head of the Damdami Taksaal. The operation began on 5 June, as Sikhs were celebrating the martyrdom day of their fifth Guru, Arjan. It lasted several days and resulted in the destruction of the Akal Takht building and the loss of several thousand lives. A few months later in November 1984 the Indian prime minister was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards as revenge for Operation Blue Star. Over a period of three days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Sikhs in the capital New Delhi and in other cities around India were brutally massacred, many burned alive, in a series of orgies of state-sponsored violence. This series of events in 1984 spawned a fiercely militant nationalist movement which pursued a guerilla war against the Indian state that lasted until 1992 and resulted in the loss of at least eighty thousand lives. In addition to those who were killed by the state police, many more thousands of Sikhs were subjected to torture, falsely incarcerated and killed in fake police encounters. This was surely one of the darkest episodes in post-independence India, and one that many Sikhs still find difficult both to remember and to forget.

Featured Authors: Arvind-Pal Mandair, Gurharpal Singh, Giorgio Shani, Jugdep S. Chima, Radhika Chopra, Darshan Singh Tatla, Anshu Saluja, Parvinder Mehta, Himadri Banerjee and Gurmukh Singh

Year Published:2015

Link to the Sikh Formations publishing page

Encountering Sikh Texts, Practices and Performances: Essays in Honour of Professor Christopher Shackle [Sikh Formations 10th Anniversary Issue]

About: This volume grows out of a three-day international conference hosted by the Dr Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies and the Religious Studies Department of the University of California from 10 to 12 May 2013 held at the University of California, Riverside. Addressing the theme of the conference, ‘Dialogues with(in) Sikh Studies: Texts, Practices and Performances’, 30 participants from 4 continents focused on the lived experience of the global Sikh community. The main purpose of this conference was to explore interdisciplinary approaches, resulting from academic inquiries into Sikh texts, as well as the practices that surround them and their performance. The dialogues to be explored were made possible by the environment of the university, which served as a place where scholars from many fields and disciplines came together to pursue critical inquiries and comparisons. In many ways the Sikh community has been very supportive of academic inquiries – though, at times, they have voiced outright criticism. Our hope for this conference was to provide a forum that focused on how academic discussions and those arising in the community at large could complement one another, rather than being at odds.

Featured Authors: Arvind-Pal Mandair, Pashaura Singh, Christopher Shackle, Francesca Cassio, Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, Louis E. Fenech, Bob van der Linden, Anne Murphy, Robin Rinehart, Doris R. Jakobsh, Michael Hawley, Susan E. Prill and Balbinder Singh Bhogal

Year Published: 2015

Link to the Sikh Formations publishing page

Books In Progress

(i) “War Machines”: Sovereignty, Violence & Civic Space

(ii) Diasporic Dialogues

(iii) The Sikh World (Edited Volume with Pashaura Singh)