What: This workshop brought together scholars working broadly in the field of Sikh studies to discuss the theme of “Sikhism and Public Space”. A growing number of publications on Religion and the Public Sphere can be seen as one of many indicators of a change in the perception and attitudes of institutions which had previously considered religion to be an outdated phenomenon. Such a change can be envisioned as part of a transformation of the “secularist self-understanding” of the state and of public perception. One indicator of this transformation is the growing feeling in scholarly circles that the dominant stories about religion and public life that we’ve become accustomed to hearing may be no more than myths that bear little or no relation to our everyday experiences and to political reality. Spurred on by the perception that religion is neither merely private nor purely irrational, or that the public sphere is neither a realm of rational deliberation nor a smooth space of unforced assent, scholarship in this area has provided an increasingly sophisticated series of intellectual interventions that have challenged many of us to rethink our most basic categories of research, analysis and critique. Just as, in the past two decades, scholars in feminist, race and postcolonial studies raised fundamental questions about the construction of dominant social categories, so today, the very categories of religion and the secular are being revisited, reworked and reinterpreted. The rethinking of such categories provides an important opportunity (and in some senses a sense of urgency) in the case of minority traditions such as Sikhism and the Sikh community. While Sikhs and the Sikh community more broadly have been slow to interrogate the issue of secularization, events in the past three decades have had tangible ramifications in the areas such as law, society, media, scholarship/education and politics, amongst others, thereby compelling minorities such as the Sikhs to reflect on their place in a secular and increasingly globalized world. The purpose of this proposed workshop will be to analyze these ramifications and at the same time to explore ways in which the transformation of “secularist self-understanding” can be used to redefine the role of Sikhs and Sikhism in public life today and in the future.
Location and Date: University of Michigan, December 9-10, 2011