ASIAN 219: Introduction to Sikhism

Course Level: Undergraduate 

Course Description: Sikhism’s relatively short but eventful history provides a fascinating insight into one of South Asia’s most vibrant sub-cultures. By taking contemporary Sikhism’s preoccupation with the enigmatic figure of the “Warrior-Saint” (sant-sipahi) as its focus, this course will examine a variety of different themes including, but not limited to, problems of migration, racial stereotyping, the relationship between violence and mysticism, or politics and religion.  This interdisciplinary course begins by providing an introduction to the forms and central ideas of Sikh culture, ethnicity and religion. In weeks 1-3 we shall study the historical development of Sikh traditions and the construction and institutionalisation of its major beliefs, practices and festivals. In addition the course will aim to explore the Sikh textual and interpretive traditions. Students will be expected to analyse the complex interactions that have given rise to the contemporary interpretive scene, and will be encouraged to link their understanding of the various traditions to the present day problems of textual transmission and reception in global diasporas. In the second part of the course (weeks 8-14) we shall probe some of the central teachings and leading ideas in Sikhism (traditionally known as Gurmat). By focusing on the dual context of contemporary Sikhism situated between its Indian and modern Western diasporic contexts, we shall explore the possibility of a cross-cultural dialogue between Gurmat and some central concepts of Western philosophy and religion. In the latter part of the course we shall look at the visual perception Sikhs in the West, asking how the visual appearance of Sikhs has affected their treatment in film, literature and real life. Special reference will be made to the racial profiling of Sikhs in the US and Europe as result of world political events such as the US-Iran crisis in 1979 and 9/11, and the classification of Sikhs as a race in British law during the 1960s.


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Arvind-Pal S. Mandair
Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures 

Tara Singh & Balwant Kaur Chattha, Gurbax Singh & Kirpal Kaur Brar Professor of Sikh Studies

Philosophy/Religion/Postcolonial Theory/Sikh Studies/South Asian Studies

Office: 202 South Thayer Street
Office 6016
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1608

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