Sikh Studies Conference 2015

Sikh scriptures

A Vision of Sikh Studies: issues of academic integration and legitimacy, Pashaura Singh, Key note Speaker

The early twenty first century continues to be a very exciting time for Sikh Studies. Within the last generation scholars have begun to question the prevailing attitudes towards the study of Sikhism in both the west and India itself to the point that this least examined and perhaps most misunderstood of South Asia’s religious and cultural traditions now occupies seven academic chairs within the United States and one in Canada, with more proposed. It should therefore elicit little surprise that undergraduate and graduate courses in Sikh Studies, particularly Sikh history and religion, have been increasing dramatically over the last decade, a rise which corresponds in part to Sikh immigration into Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In the beginning of the keynote speech I will briefly talk about the origins of the Sikh tradition and the rationale of integrating the newly emerging field of Sikh Studies in the academic mainstream of western universities. Then I will focus my attention on the central place of the Guru Granth Sahib in every walk of Sikh life around the globe to show how the millennial generation is redefining the Sikh identity in the diaspora. In the final section of my talk I will discuss the two important stages in the development of Sikh Studies in North America and offer some ideas on the possibilities of establishing such programs in the United Kingdom. Then I will address the question of how I personally envision this field of inquiry and its contribution to the life at the University.

Dr. Pashaura Singh, Professor at University of California, Riverside, is the chief of its Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Language Studies. The Chair, created with the help of contributions from The Saini Foundation and a number of individuals, under the aegis of The Sikh Foundation, based in Palo Alto, California, is intended to further the study of Sikhism and Sikh culture.   As the world's youngest major religion, Sikhism has had to address academic issues and divergent approaches in a more "compact" time frame and within a context of persistent political turmoil, Dr. Pashaura Singh said: 

"Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major religions have spent centuries working through various theological, philosophical, and cultural dilemmas, while Sikhism has only just begun to make its impact in both the scholarly field and the world of comparative religion and ethics. Although we now have seven chairs of Sikh studies established in North America with the active financial support of the members of the Sikh community, a great deal of ignorance still persists in North America about the Sikhs and their religious traditions".  Teaching about Sikhism "will reach far beyond the boundaries of the campus and will play a significant role in addressing urgent community concerns", he added. "It will bring academic respectability to the field of Sikh Studies. As the first chair-holder, it is my cherished goal to develop this into one of the leading centers of Sikh studies in the world". 

Dr. Pashaura Singh taught at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for thirteen years and joined the UCR faculty in religious studies in 2005. 

He has written and edited several books, including his most recent Life and Work of Guru Arjan: History, Memory and Biography in the Sikh Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2006), and authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, book reviews and encyclopedia entries. His current scholarly project focuses on the music of the Sikh tradition.

Further information on  Dr. Pashaura Singh 


College of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

Religious Studies


  • Ph.D., Religious Studies, 1991 University of Toronto
  • M.A., Religious Studies, 1987 University of Calgary
  • M.A., Religious Studies, 1973 Punjabi University


Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), 1991-93.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) Doctoral Fellowships for three academic years, University of Toronto, Canada, 1988-91.

Gold Medal in M.A. for standing "First in the order of Merit in the University", Punjabi University, Patiala, India, 1973.

Research Area

Textual Criticism: Canon Formation and Hermeneutics; Historical Analysis: Historically-grounded critical method based upon contextual depth; Sikh Studies: Religion, History and Society; Indian Studies: Religion in Modern India; Punjabi Language: Modern and classical/scriptural (Sacred Language of the Sikhs).


  • The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning, and Authority(Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000). 
  • The Bhagats of the Guru Granth Sahib: Sikh Self-Definition and the Bhagat Bani (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003). 
  • Life and Work of Guru Arjan: History, Memory and Biography in the Sikh Tradition (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006). 
Co-Edited Books: 
  • The Transmission of Sikh Heritage in the Diaspora, co-editor with N. Gerald Barrier, (Manohar Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1996). 
  • Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, co-editor with N. Gerald Barrier, (Manohar Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 1999). 
  • Sikhism and History, co-editor with N. Gerald Barrier, (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004).


Prof. Pashaura Singh comes to UCR from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he taught Sikh studies, Punjabi language and Religions of India for thirteen years. He combines a command of classical and colloquial Punjabi and Hindi languages (including a working knowledge of Sanskrit) and a sound knowledge of traditional Sikh learning, manuscripts in archaic forms of Gurmukhi script and Indian religious traditions, with a mastery of contemporary issues in textual studies, canonicity, hermeneutics, literary theory, and history of religions. His work on the Adi Granth (sacred Sikh scripture) and early Sikh history is widely noted. His most recent monograph, Life and Work of Guru Arjan, was on the "Best Sellers List" in India (The Tribune, August 6, 2006)

Dasam Granth: A historical perspective of the Khalsa from Eighteenth Century texts, Gurinder Singh Mann, Gurinder Mann, Independent Researcher

The main focus of research on the scripture Dasam Granth (Dasven Patshah Ka Granth) has centred on the authenticity of the text. This focus has blurred the importance the scripture holds not only for Sikhs but also the historical context of the compositions. The Granth can be considered by considering manuscripts and by the praxis in Khalsa rituals. Mcleod (2005), states that the early Khalsa viewed the Dasam Granth as a revealed scripture. As a result this paper considers eighteenth century sources; and the historical aspects of the Guru Gobind Singh’s life in relation to the compositions.  How do the texts engage with pivotal points of Sikh history like the formation of the Khalsa, political intricacies of Emperor Aurangzeb, dialogues with Brahmical priests and ultimately the status of the Granth. Many works including those of Jaggi (1966) and most recently Rinehart (2011) consider only select historical sources.  As a result this paper addresses the gap within scholarly research on the different eighteenth century sources that interpret the Dasam Granth.  Whilst modern opinions on the Dasam Granth neglect historical sources, this paper shows them to be central, to any academic investigation on the scripture. These sources are also considered to see if they hold any relevance to modern Sikh living and how they can be interpreted in the present day.

Gurinder Singh Mann has ‘17 years of research at various libraries and museums and private collections in the UK and abroad. Including British Library, Welcome Trust, British Museum, Khalsa College Amritsar, Punjabi University Patiala, and various Gurdwaras and Sikh thrones of Polity (Takhts).  Advisor to New Walk Museum, Leicester City.  Research and manuscript preparation for UKPHA in the digitization and preparation of the Sikh and Punjabi Manuscripts project. Advisor to Just War Theory Project, Royal Military College, Ontario, Canada and Department and Centre for the Study of Religion,University of Toronto.  The release of the first Sikh and Panjabi translations by Dr John Leyden: Supporting undergraduates and postgraduates on Sikh MA, MPhil and PHD Courses, worldwide. Resource material created and used by various Sikh temples in the UK, USA, and Canada etc. ‘

The Textual History of the Dasam Granth Sahib, Dr. Kamalroop Singh, University of Birmingham

W.H. McLeod (1979/2007) states that ‘Research on the Dasam Granth has been very limited, with the result that most of the major questions which it raises cannot be answered at present.’ The previous research has been limited to the examination of its poetry, with the exception of one detailed study of Dasam Granth manuscripts (Jaggi 1966). Very little research has been undertaken on the development of the Dasam Granth (DG) in the lifetime of the Tenth Guru, and therefore this paper addresses this gap. This paper begins with an examination of the editing and dating of primary sources, so that an accurate chronology can be constructed of the textual history. This has been explored in reference to late seventeenth and eighteenth century hagiographies which are examined alongside several extant seventeenth century DG manuscripts; and with supplementation from later secondary sources. A major development in the textual history of the DG was its standardisation and subsequent printing in 1897, however some original manuscripts contain extra ‘apocrypha’ which are absent from the printed edition. The compositions in the standard version of the DG will be discussed, along with new translations and discussion of the ‘apocrypha.’ By re-examining the earliest sources, it is clear that the Scripture of Guru Gobind Singh was compiled in his Court. The juxtaposition against later sources brings the modern Singh Sabha theory that the compilation of the DG was compiled by Bhai Mani Singh into question.

‘My name is Dr. Kamalroop Singh, I am a Sikh and a member of the Khalsa, and belong to the Nihang Singh order. I began my journey back in 1995, when I met some inspirational Sikhs. I have been reading about and practising as a Sikh from a young age, I took initiation into the Khalsa in 1999. I have travelled around India and stayed with the Nihang Singhs and Sants, and I also took basic Santhia from the Dam Dami Taksal in Amritsar. After finishing my degree in Chemistry I completed an MPhil and PhD in Sikh Studies. My chosen subject was the Dasam Granth Sahib, my thesis was titled ‘Dasam Granth Re-examined’. A book titled ‘Dasam Granth Questions and Answers’ has been published which was written with a colleague, please see it at Another book 'Dasam Granth: Essays, Lectures, and Translations' is forthcoming (2015) from Oxford University Press, India. I am an expert linguist and have worked for the Crown Prosecution Services and taught languages at the School of African and Oriental Studies. I have been a consultant to a number of museums and galleries and I regularly travel and teach about related subjects around the world.’

Gurmukhi Literature in the Court of Guru Gobind Singh, Poets, Translations and Developments, Satnam Singh, University of Copenhagen

Though Guru Gobind Singh is mostly portrayed in contemporary art and memory as a great warrior and spiritual leader, history shows that the Guru spent 25 years of his life in literary pursuits. During the years 1679 – 1704 the Guru was a patron for more than 52 scholars who spent a quarter of a century translating the classics of the ancient Sanskrit world. Literature and poetry ranging from themes such as history, mythology, hagiography, prosody, political theory, zoology, medicine, philosophy, mysticism, eulogy and lexica were either translated or composed anew under the patronage of the Guru and his associates.

However, the absence of detailed court descriptions in early Sikh literature is surprising considering the background of many of the 18th and 19th century writers. For instance, Kavi Sainapat who completed his Sri Gursobha Granth in 1711 was himself a court poet of the Guru. His account of the Guru’s life primarily offers a narrative of Guru Gobind Singh as a military leader as does the writings of Bhai Kesar Singh Chibbar who was the grandson of Bhai Chaupa Singh who likewise served as one of the Guru’s court poets. Kavi Santokh Singh, Rattan Singh Bhangoo and Giani Gian Singh likewise herald from lineages that traces themselves back to Guru Gobind Singh’s court assembly. Yet, the voluminous writings of these authors offer very little in regards to the intellectual court activities that took place for almost three decades. The legacy of the court seem to be scattered in the writings of the various authors above, while the extant manuscripts of the court poets offer details on some of the works that were produced.

This paper will seek to analyze the court activities that spanned these 25 years by focusing on:

  • Guru Gobind Singh as a patron of scholars and editor of writings.
  • The introduction of Gurmukhi as a script for scientific and courtly writings.
  • The poet scholars, their background and literary repertoire prior to joining the Anandpur court.
  • The court as a medium of social advancement.
  • Break down of literary developments – an analysis of the three decades and what sort of literature arises from each decade. Is there any themes that are recurring and any evolutionary developments that can be traced?
  • The influence of the court activities on later 18th and 19th century Sikh writers.

The paper will draw heavily on the works of Pyara Singh Padam and 18th-19th century Sikh literature. The paper will be based on my preliminary research on secondary sources. As such, research on extant manuscripts is left for my future research in what I plan to become a decade long project. The focus of the paper will not be to shed light on the court of the Guru, as this has already been done by historians Louis Fenech and Pyara Singh Padam, but rather to build upon their works and findings and thereby extrapolate the existing material.

The paper will seek to answer the following questions: What is the significance of the Guru choosing Gurmukhi as the main script for mainly braj writings? What is the significance of the background of the court poets and their geographical locations? What is the significance of identifying the evolution and various patterns that arise in the translated literature? And what is the significance of many of the later Sikh writers having lineages going back to the Guru’s court?

List of publications of Satnam Singh

  • Singh, S & Bains, S (Future publication) The Killing Fields of Gurdaspur: Extra-judicial killings in the Punjab state of Northern India. Nd: Nd
  • Singh, Satnam (2013) Islamisk medborgerskab – Socialt engagement i et forandret Danmark [Islamic citizenship – social work in a new Denmark]. Dissertation: Københavns Universitet [Copenhagen University – not published]. Graded with an A. 

  • Singh, Satnam (2013) “Rise of the Warriors - Awakening the Warrior Spirit in British Sikhs” – Research paper presented at the “Young Sikhs in a Global World” conference at Lund university, Sweden, on 19 June 2013.

  • Sikandar, Q & Singh, Satnam (2012). Kortlægning af yderliggående salafimiljøer i København – grupperinger, udviklinger og bekymringsvurdering [Mapping radical salafi groups in Copenhagen: Cells, developements and threats]. Municipality of Copenhagen [internally classified working report]

  • Singh, Satnam (2012) “Worshipping the Sword: Early Military Rituals in the Sikh Khalsa Tradition” –Research paper presented at the annual "European Conference on South Asian Studies" at Lisabon University, Portugal, 27. Juli 2012 The paper will be published in 2015 in the anthology “Objects of Worship in the Lived Religions of South Asia: Forms, Practices, and Meanings”.

  • Singh, Satnam (2012). “Attending the Cyber Sangat - The use of online discussion boards among young European Sikhs” i Kristina Myrvold & Knut A. Jacbsen (eds.), Sikhs Across Borders: Transnational Practices of European Sikhs. UK: Bloomdale