Revisiting Pashaura Singh and Punjabi and Sikh Studies

sikh27akfm_400.jpgThis post is sort of dedicated to P.Singh. Let me first begin by saying that I agreed with ALL (and I use that word only after re-reading all of his comments) of the points that he made in a prior post (not all of his comments in other posts, but I digress.).

However, I did want to revisit the topic of Dr. Pashaura Singh in light of some more news, posit a contrarian viewpoint based on an academic article, and then revisit the question of endowed Sikh chairs.

Update on Dr. Pashaura Singh

On Friday of last week, Sikhs throughout California organized buses down to the UC Riverside campus to protest Dr. Pashaura Singhs hire as the chair of the endowed Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Language Studies. While newspaper articles stated that over 300 people were in attendance, my own eye-witness sources claim that it was in excess of 500.

The group led by Altadena veterinarian Baljeet S. Sahi, president of Sikhs for Preservation of Sikhism and Sikh Heritage, was able to meet with UC Riversides Chancellor, Timothy White, and express the communitys concerns. White suggested that the group write a concise letter of their concerns with the hire. One hopes that this letter will receive due consideration and is not just an exercise in futility. Well keep an eye on the story.

Sikh Scholars

In the most recent edition of Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory, the most prestigious academic Sikh journal (coincidentally Dr. Pashaura Singh also is one among twenty-five scholars on the editorial collective and Dr. Narinder Kapany of the Sikh Foundation and a key supporter of Dr. Pashaura Singh is also one of the patrons. I mention this information in light of full transparency, however, in no way am I suggesting that they have influence on the publications as these are peer-reviewed journals and maintain strict academic rigor), there was an article published by Jaswinder Singh Sandhu and Kamala Elizabeth Nayar, titled Studying the Sikh-Diaspora: First-Year University Experience of Punjabi Sikh Students.

The methodology of the study was rather simple:

In the fall and spring semesters of 2004 and the fall semester of 2006, 82 students (75 Punjabi Sikh and seven non-Punjabi Sikh) who were registered in the Sikh Diaspora course volunteered to complete an evaluation questionnaire. The questionnaire took approximately 2030 minutes to complete. Students were requested to rate several statements relating to their classroom and cultural experiences, using a five-point Likert scale in which 1 – strongly disagree, 2 – disagree, 3 – uncertain, 4 – agree, and 5 – strongly agree. Three general open-ended questions were also included for students to elaborate on their classroom and cultural experiences.

The class Sikh Diaspora was offered at a post-secondary educational institution in the Vancouver Lower Mainland. The results were hardly surprising, but represented a real need for such classes in Canadian (and other) educational institutions:

Having said that, there is a need to utilize innovative approaches to making the classroom experience more than the simple acquisition of skills and knowledge, and rather to regard it as an opportunity to be welcomed, supported, and validated. The Sikh Diaspora course is, indeed, an innovative approach as it implicitly welcomes and validates students belonging to a specific ethnic group without marginalizing the students from the larger student body. This effort has proven to effectively make students consider themselves as included in the classroom setting as well as make them feel like contributors to mainstream society. Indeed, the approach of this culture-specific curriculum sheds light on the positive effect it can have on students when taking a course offered to all students (such as Sikhs, South Asians, Anglo-Saxons, and others), in that it is a lower level three-credit course as part of the regular curriculum.

Some interesting notes of the article also included:

Unlike a history or cultural course about the ethnic groups homeland (from which children of immigrant parents often feel alienated and distanced), the Sikh Diaspora course specifically addresses the social and cultural issues that the students are actually experiencing, making it more validating and encouraging for the students.

One hopes that even in Sikh institutions such as Khalsa Schools, Punjabi Schools, and other Gurdwara-run institutions, they would also include diasporic studies in their curriculums. To my knowledge, Sikh Research Institutes Sojhi program will try to include this key element in their historical study (tareekh) section.

Attempting to move beyond binary analysis (even though one that is a favorite of our Suki), the writers state:

The present article contends that South Asian youth should not be branded as being caught between two cultures, but rather ought to be viewed as varying along a continuum ranging from collectivism towards individualism. This variance can be attributed to certain variables, such as age upon arrival to the host country, exposure to ones ethnic group in the host country, ethnic settlement patterns in rural and urban areas in the host country, class, education, gender, religious commitment, and, most importantly, individual preferences.

While I am not sure if this spectrum type analysis is the best way to understand immigrant experience, I do think it is an important move and improvement over the clash of two cultures type analysis.

Another interesting finding (especially for a person from the US) was the authors comment about the self-reinforcing negative stereotypes held by some educators about the Panjabi Sikh youth of the Surrey, Delta, and Vancouver Area. (Surprisingly from a previous post, these same stereotypes are held by other Sikhs as well!)

In regard to out-group stress in education, South Asian students often report that their educators hold negative stereotypes of South Asians and that they are unfairly streamed in their secondary schooling (Abbas 2002b; Samuel and Burney 2003). Negative stereotypes and streaming can often lead to decreased levels of self-esteem and motivation in South Asian students (Abbas 2002b), with the result that such students develop feelings of alienation from the university milieu (Samuel and Burney 2003). These consequences can, in turn, result in limited aspirations and restricted choices (Samuel and Burney 2003), and at times make some of these students prone to high-risk behaviour (Tyakoff 2004).

There are key problems with the article (especially its belief that a discussion of the Laws of Manu are relevant to discuss gender hierarchies), but I will leave that aside. Returning to the key conclusions, it seems critical that we have these types of classes and coursework. Now the question involves who to teach them?

Taking a contrarian view, P.Singh objected to the scholars that had essentially written their PhDs with Hew McCleod as an advisor. I COMPLETELY agree with the politicization of the UBC Sikh Chair and anyone that does not believe that politics affects these decisions, whether it be Sikh Studies, Jewish Studies, Turkish Studies, Armenian Studies, etc. is completely NAVE. However, at Canadian/US institutions there is a hierarchy where those that receive their degrees from universities in India (or other non-European/non-N.American institutions) are not given equal weighting. Those professors that come from Indian universities usually have to work twice as hard. So that being said, I am not sure how many other well-qualified professors there would have been for Harjot Oberois position. I know in Sikh circles the favorite name is Balwant Singh Dhillon from GNDU in Amritsar (incidentally he is also part of the editorial collective of Sikh Formations). I have read his books and articles and have not usually found his scholarship up to a certain level (despite the facts that I agree or at least want to agree with much of his research.)

On the other hand, having talked to other South Asian scholars informally during my undergraduate days, I can say that outside Sikh studies, NOBODY takes people like Hew McCleod, Pashaura Singh, Jakobsh, Mann, etc. seriously (only Sikhs do!). However, the only academic of some merit is Harjot Oberoi. During my undergraduate years I read Oberois book and while I disagreed with its thesis and believed its popularity was also linked to academias then-interest in deconstruction it is an interesting, albeit flawed, argument.

So while many of us complain about the current state of Sikh Chairs, few people I know are going into such studies. Those that are, of course, are students of Pashaura Singh, Gurinder Mann, Harjot Oberoi, etc. The circle completes itself.

Revisiting Sikh Chairs

I think the biggest problem with the Sikh chair is that I, too, believe that as it is community-funded it should have community-input in the vetting process. I have no problem with Pashaura Singh being on UCRs faculty or any other faculty as per the universitys hiring guidelines. However, his salary should not be footed by the community, when even the largest patrons widow has serious questions about him.

However, I do have one word of comment to those that have threatened Pashaura Singh, his daughters, his wife, family members, and others involved in Sikh Studies. One Sikh scholar in Punjab had his family assaulted and he was later killed. ARE YOU STUPID? CUT IT OUT! I unequivocally CONDEMN such nonsense. It does not behoove a Sikh of the Guru to engage in such bullying and nonsense. Have peaceful protests, write articles, etc. but there is NO need to engage in physical violence over expression! Ok I am coming down from the soapbox.


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41 Responses to “Revisiting Pashaura Singh and Punjabi and Sikh Studies”

  1. mark h says:

    I don't know if this is a point that needs to be made here but i will say that many of the scholars mentioned in the article do play an important role in raising sikh studies to the same level of rigor that all other faiths have undergone through the academic lens.

    I have an MA in religious studies and learned about sikhism through many of the scholars mentioned. I even had the opportunity to tour the Punjab with some of them. And i can say without doubt that while the research is surely prone to human error, the intent is to raise awareness and questions.

    People dont dedicate their lives to this type of research without an intense love for their work and the desire to include others in the discussion. why else would one teach.

    The professors of Sikh studies, South ASian Studies, Jewish Studies, any religious studies always encourage asking those difficult questions, but most importantly, they encourage one to challenge their own findings.

    Sikhism is still yet to get its due in the broader field of religious studies and no doubt their will be difficult steps and likely controversy along the way. Never be afraid to challenge using your mind and words and do your research and of course, study lots of religions!!!

    who knows one, knows none…

  2. mark h says:

    I don’t know if this is a point that needs to be made here but i will say that many of the scholars mentioned in the article do play an important role in raising sikh studies to the same level of rigor that all other faiths have undergone through the academic lens.

    I have an MA in religious studies and learned about sikhism through many of the scholars mentioned. I even had the opportunity to tour the Punjab with some of them. And i can say without doubt that while the research is surely prone to human error, the intent is to raise awareness and questions.

    People dont dedicate their lives to this type of research without an intense love for their work and the desire to include others in the discussion. why else would one teach.

    The professors of Sikh studies, South ASian Studies, Jewish Studies, any religious studies always encourage asking those difficult questions, but most importantly, they encourage one to challenge their own findings.

    Sikhism is still yet to get its due in the broader field of religious studies and no doubt their will be difficult steps and likely controversy along the way. Never be afraid to challenge using your mind and words and do your research and of course, study lots of religions!!!

    who knows one, knows none…

  3. Jodha says:

    Marc,

    Thank you for visiting our website and sharing your thoughts.

    I completely agree with you that Sikhi is stil yet to "get its due in the broader field of religious studies." I think that some (but by no means would I conjecture all) of the protestors hope to see this in the future as well. There have been numerous objections to some of the texts used by Pashaura Singh and I feel that this is the crux of the matter. Many Sikhs feel that his research was actually conducted in bad faith as none of these questions have ever been adequately answered.

    With regards to the 'intense love' and dedication, this argument is ALWAYS used by academics. The problem is that politics does affect the academy, just as it does in other fields as well. I remember my one Middle East history class in college and the professor had nothing but contempt for Arabs. Some professors I have had definitely had a patronizing attitude, where the 'paternal' professor knows the community, its history, its theology, its culture, etc. better than the community knows itself. Edward Said has written extensively on this, most notably with his groundbreaking book, Orientalism.

  4. Jodha says:

    Marc,

    Thank you for visiting our website and sharing your thoughts.

    I completely agree with you that Sikhi is stil yet to “get its due in the broader field of religious studies.” I think that some (but by no means would I conjecture all) of the protestors hope to see this in the future as well. There have been numerous objections to some of the texts used by Pashaura Singh and I feel that this is the crux of the matter. Many Sikhs feel that his research was actually conducted in bad faith as none of these questions have ever been adequately answered.

    With regards to the ‘intense love’ and dedication, this argument is ALWAYS used by academics. The problem is that politics does affect the academy, just as it does in other fields as well. I remember my one Middle East history class in college and the professor had nothing but contempt for Arabs. Some professors I have had definitely had a patronizing attitude, where the ‘paternal’ professor knows the community, its history, its theology, its culture, etc. better than the community knows itself. Edward Said has written extensively on this, most notably with his groundbreaking book, Orientalism.

  5. Prem says:

    What a surprise. Another Sikh receiving death threats from other Sikhs. How many Sikh academics, journalists and writers are there who receive death threats, and have not at some time been threatened with violence by certain Sikhs over their views? The list is endless. It's so familiar, internet hate campaigns formed, crowds and mobs raised to intimidate and threaten, free speech jeopardised or denied, death threats issued. What an indictment of the standard of debate in the Sikh community, and what a shining example of the decrepitude of the idea of tolerance amongst some Sikhs.

  6. Prem says:

    What a surprise. Another Sikh receiving death threats from other Sikhs. How many Sikh academics, journalists and writers are there who receive death threats, and have not at some time been threatened with violence by certain Sikhs over their views? The list is endless. It’s so familiar, internet hate campaigns formed, crowds and mobs raised to intimidate and threaten, free speech jeopardised or denied, death threats issued. What an indictment of the standard of debate in the Sikh community, and what a shining example of the decrepitude of the idea of tolerance amongst some Sikhs.

  7. Is Pashaura Singh influenced by Hew McCleod?

    I read an article of his recently that was published on Sikhnet and I thought it was nice, it was about his relationship to Gurbani. I couldn't say much else about him.

    I read some of Jakobsh' "works" and think she is absolutely pathetic. Everything she writes is offensive and WAY off the mark.

    Being a Sikh is about Dharmic living, which includes being respectful to other people. Most of these "academics" don't have a concept of Dharmic living.

    If you want to understand the Sikh Dharma, then live it! Otherwise you're just talking out of one of the 9 holes where the five thieves enter and exit all day every day.

  8. Is Pashaura Singh influenced by Hew McCleod?
    I read an article of his recently that was published on Sikhnet and I thought it was nice, it was about his relationship to Gurbani. I couldn’t say much else about him.
    I read some of Jakobsh’ “works” and think she is absolutely pathetic. Everything she writes is offensive and WAY off the mark.
    Being a Sikh is about Dharmic living, which includes being respectful to other people. Most of these “academics” don’t have a concept of Dharmic living.
    If you want to understand the Sikh Dharma, then live it! Otherwise you’re just talking out of one of the 9 holes where the five thieves enter and exit all day every day.

  9. Camille says:

    We've discussed some of the difficulties and divisions in these areas of study in the past, but I think there's a fundamental tension that runs along two axes. The first is disciplinary — it revolves around what is considered appropriate or quality work under the rubrics of theology and religious studies, alternately (and in this is an underlying concept of the centrality of dharm). The second axis has to do with community funding and input, which is based in the egalitarian, democratic, and participatory model created in Sikhi but eschewed in the (U.S.) academy.

    On one hand, we can't get scholars in Sikh Studies without ponying up funds. But when it comes to discussing hiring criteria, universities are happy to take community money and run. I think the outcry is legit, and it would be great if Sikh Studies had a predominantly dharmic-orientation, but unfortunately we haven't seen that happen, yet. I think there's still room for amazing Sikh scholars, but we're more likely to see them come from Anthropology, Sociology, and Ethnic Studies than we are to see them come from the broader "Religious Studies" umbrella.

  10. Camille says:

    We’ve discussed some of the difficulties and divisions in these areas of study in the past, but I think there’s a fundamental tension that runs along two axes. The first is disciplinary — it revolves around what is considered appropriate or quality work under the rubrics of theology and religious studies, alternately (and in this is an underlying concept of the centrality of dharm). The second axis has to do with community funding and input, which is based in the egalitarian, democratic, and participatory model created in Sikhi but eschewed in the (U.S.) academy.

    On one hand, we can’t get scholars in Sikh Studies without ponying up funds. But when it comes to discussing hiring criteria, universities are happy to take community money and run. I think the outcry is legit, and it would be great if Sikh Studies had a predominantly dharmic-orientation, but unfortunately we haven’t seen that happen, yet. I think there’s still room for amazing Sikh scholars, but we’re more likely to see them come from Anthropology, Sociology, and Ethnic Studies than we are to see them come from the broader “Religious Studies” umbrella.

  11. Barbara says:

    A major issue with what goes in the name of "Sikh Studies" in the West is that it has been started by Dr W H McLeod. In itself that won't be an issue as Freud, Chomsky, Said, etc. are all considered originators of their special fields of study. The difference is that it is quite easy to find a debate going on between Freud and his students and those who disagreed with his conclusions. It is as easy to find a debate going on between Chomsky and his students and those who disagree with him (on the questions of modern linguistics). It is also easy to find the debate on Edward Said's theories. But try to find the debate on Dr McLeod's work and of his students (Pashaura Singh, Gurinder Mann, Doris Jakobsh, Louis Fenech, Harjot Oberoi, etc.). One is struck by a lack of engagement. In spite of the usual picture projected by the McLeodian group of "Sikhs threatening their academic freedom", this lack of engagement in a debate of issues is the sole responsibility of this group which at best may be described as pushing their selfish agenda.

    To read the criticism of the output of McLeodian group, please see articles listed at this link:
    http://sikhcentre.wordpress.com/category/analytic

    All these articles are peer-reviewed and challenge specific statements of, or aspects of methodology adopted by, Dr McLeod and his students. The fact that the McLeodian group has chosen to not only maintain their silence on the criticism but continue to repeat many of the challenged statements (through referring to each other's works to support their own arguments) in their latest writings. This is, in plain words, intellectual dishonesty.

    The current state of what goes in the name of "Sikh Studies" in the West may be equated to an in-bred family. Unless fresh blood is introduced, it will soon die its own ignominous death.

  12. Barbara says:

    A major issue with what goes in the name of “Sikh Studies” in the West is that it has been started by Dr W H McLeod. In itself that won’t be an issue as Freud, Chomsky, Said, etc. are all considered originators of their special fields of study. The difference is that it is quite easy to find a debate going on between Freud and his students and those who disagreed with his conclusions. It is as easy to find a debate going on between Chomsky and his students and those who disagree with him (on the questions of modern linguistics). It is also easy to find the debate on Edward Said’s theories. But try to find the debate on Dr McLeod’s work and of his students (Pashaura Singh, Gurinder Mann, Doris Jakobsh, Louis Fenech, Harjot Oberoi, etc.). One is struck by a lack of engagement. In spite of the usual picture projected by the McLeodian group of “Sikhs threatening their academic freedom”, this lack of engagement in a debate of issues is the sole responsibility of this group which at best may be described as pushing their selfish agenda.

    To read the criticism of the output of McLeodian group, please see articles listed at this link:
    http://sikhcentre.wordpress.com/category/analytical-essays/sikh-studies-in-west/

    All these articles are peer-reviewed and challenge specific statements of, or aspects of methodology adopted by, Dr McLeod and his students. The fact that the McLeodian group has chosen to not only maintain their silence on the criticism but continue to repeat many of the challenged statements (through referring to each other’s works to support their own arguments) in their latest writings. This is, in plain words, intellectual dishonesty.

    The current state of what goes in the name of “Sikh Studies” in the West may be equated to an in-bred family. Unless fresh blood is introduced, it will soon die its own ignominous death.

  13. Satinder says:

    While public protests in the mind of some may be the best way to proceed, some other questions need to be answered as well. As Sikh Studies takes its place alongside Hindu/Islamic/ Christian studies, how is it going to attract the best talent out there? Within the community the best seem to head for medicine, law, finance, and other high prestige professions. If the scholars in the field are constantly harassed, and the field is made unattractive, graduate students will have no compulsion to think of a career in Sikh Studies. From what I read, Oberoi has quit Sikh Studies. His book on the Sikhs was published 1n 1994. If others follow his lead, the field will continue its decline. Somebody here mentioned that we could bring in scholars from Punjab. But then they get no mileage here. This is a big dilemma and we need to stem the talent-flight.

  14. Satinder says:

    While public protests in the mind of some may be the best way to proceed, some other questions need to be answered as well. As Sikh Studies takes its place alongside Hindu/Islamic/ Christian studies, how is it going to attract the best talent out there? Within the community the best seem to head for medicine, law, finance, and other high prestige professions. If the scholars in the field are constantly harassed, and the field is made unattractive, graduate students will have no compulsion to think of a career in Sikh Studies. From what I read, Oberoi has quit Sikh Studies. His book on the Sikhs was published 1n 1994. If others follow his lead, the field will continue its decline. Somebody here mentioned that we could bring in scholars from Punjab. But then they get no mileage here. This is a big dilemma and we need to stem the talent-flight.

  15. Barbara says:

    [quote comment="6410"]If the scholars in the field are constantly harassed, and the field is made unattractive, graduate students will have no compulsion to think of a career in Sikh Studies. From what I read, Oberoi has quit Sikh Studies. His book on the Sikhs was published 1n 1994. If others follow his lead, the field will continue its decline. … This is a big dilemma and we need to stem the talent-flight.[/quote]

    I will be very much surprised if you have read Harjot Oberoi's book "Construction of Religious Boundaries". For your comment seems to be based on hearsay rather than on facts. Though Jodha finds his argument "interesting" I found it shallow. My forefathers served with East India Company and some of the books of those times have been passed down in my family. Oberoi's argument around Sikh identity and the flimsy picked-and-chosen data that he bases it on fits in well with the Indian politics of the times (when his book was written) but it cannot stand even a cursory scrutiny when read against the extant writings of pre-1839 Punjab when the British were trying to create a picture of the enemy (the Sikhs) in order to bring about their (the enemy's defeat). The British took years understanding the Sikhs before they ventured out to defeat them. Even though the tone of British writers is often derisive, they list all the characteristics that provide Sikhs their distinct identity and which authenticate their tradition, which McLeod (and his students like Oberoi) dismiss as hagiography and without any historical value. If the same criteria are applied to any nation's or religion's history, Sikhism will come across as the most authentic of religions/nations.

    Finally, Dr McLeod claims in his autobiography, which incidentally was never released in New Zealand, that he was never really a missionary and that he was struggling with his faith even when he left for India as a missionary. If his methodology of a "skeptic" is applied to his statement I am sure we can reach "the truth" about our good doctor. This whole argument of "skepticism" fails miserably when one realises that the "skepticism" that Dr McLeod claims to apply to traditional Sikh historical sources, is not applied to those sources that fit in with his thesis of (a) Sikhism being part of "Bhakti movement"; (b) Sikhism being a Hindu reformist sect; (c) Nanak offered nothing that had not already been written in Puranas.

    The "traditional sources" like Chaupa, Chibber, Santokh, etc. are accepted at face value while sources like Sainapat, Bhangu, Gurdas, etc. are dismissed as "hagiographers".

    That is no scholarship.

  16. Barbara says:

    [quote comment=”6410″]If the scholars in the field are constantly harassed, and the field is made unattractive, graduate students will have no compulsion to think of a career in Sikh Studies. From what I read, Oberoi has quit Sikh Studies. His book on the Sikhs was published 1n 1994. If others follow his lead, the field will continue its decline. … This is a big dilemma and we need to stem the talent-flight.[/quote]

    I will be very much surprised if you have read Harjot Oberoi’s book “Construction of Religious Boundaries”. For your comment seems to be based on hearsay rather than on facts. Though Jodha finds his argument “interesting” I found it shallow. My forefathers served with East India Company and some of the books of those times have been passed down in my family. Oberoi’s argument around Sikh identity and the flimsy picked-and-chosen data that he bases it on fits in well with the Indian politics of the times (when his book was written) but it cannot stand even a cursory scrutiny when read against the extant writings of pre-1839 Punjab when the British were trying to create a picture of the enemy (the Sikhs) in order to bring about their (the enemy’s defeat). The British took years understanding the Sikhs before they ventured out to defeat them. Even though the tone of British writers is often derisive, they list all the characteristics that provide Sikhs their distinct identity and which authenticate their tradition, which McLeod (and his students like Oberoi) dismiss as hagiography and without any historical value. If the same criteria are applied to any nation’s or religion’s history, Sikhism will come across as the most authentic of religions/nations.
    Finally, Dr McLeod claims in his autobiography, which incidentally was never released in New Zealand, that he was never really a missionary and that he was struggling with his faith even when he left for India as a missionary. If his methodology of a “skeptic” is applied to his statement I am sure we can reach “the truth” about our good doctor. This whole argument of “skepticism” fails miserably when one realises that the “skepticism” that Dr McLeod claims to apply to traditional Sikh historical sources, is not applied to those sources that fit in with his thesis of (a) Sikhism being part of “Bhakti movement”; (b) Sikhism being a Hindu reformist sect; (c) Nanak offered nothing that had not already been written in Puranas.
    The “traditional sources” like Chaupa, Chibber, Santokh, etc. are accepted at face value while sources like Sainapat, Bhangu, Gurdas, etc. are dismissed as “hagiographers”.
    That is no scholarship.

  17. Satinder says:

    Thanks Barbara for your response to my comments. You did not really address my key point about how the field of Sikh Studies is being made unattractive and will fail to attract fresh talent given the constant intimidation and harassment of those who daily work in this specialisation. But the merit of your post is that you do not demonize these scholars and are writing about key ideas and formulations in their works ( although towards the end you do have a rather derisive tone towards McLeod). Yes, indeed I have read Oberoi's book and other works on Sikh history and theology. In fact one of my passions is to collect books on Sikh history. So what is Oberoi saying in his award-winning book( the American Academy of Religion, gave it the best-book prize for 1994).

    The way I read it, all he is saying, nothing earth shaking, is that early Sikh community had besides the Khalsa, plenty of diversity . This diversity is tremendously reduced by the late nineteenth century not just because of the Singh Sabha, but other institutional developments like the printing-press, census, Christian missionaries and the British state. So let us not present caricatures of what these guys write. And yes, Oberoi in Chapter one of his book does cite the great Sainapat. My big problem withe Oberoi book is that it is so full of what Jodha says is deconstruction theory. What does it matter for Sikhs, as to what Foucault says.

    As for McLeod, many books, positive and negative have been written on his writings. So in one post I will not be able to sum up what I take from his work. And that never was the intention of my first post anyways. It was about the talent-flight, people quitting Sikh Studies.

    Since you raise some interesting points about hagiography and traditional sources, let me for the sake of brevity point out to you that Sainapat, Gurdas, and Bhangu are all translated by McLeod and presented in his book: Textual Sources for the Study Of the Sikh Tradition. His more recent book: The Rahit of the Khalsa delves even deeper into the writings of classical Sikh writers. So he does not by any means ignore classical Sikh authors. He may not take from them, what you do. And these are two different things. Ignoring a source and interpreting a source.

    Finally, while we may find some interesting observations in early British writings on the Sikhs, by no means, do these writings share a single view-point about the Sikhs. Malcom is very different from Joseph Cunningham. I have never liked the patronizing tone of these British writers. And Barbara, if you have some books from the time of East India company in your family attic, do share with us what they say about the Sikhs. It will be most enlightening.

  18. Satinder says:

    Thanks Barbara for your response to my comments. You did not really address my key point about how the field of Sikh Studies is being made unattractive and will fail to attract fresh talent given the constant intimidation and harassment of those who daily work in this specialisation. But the merit of your post is that you do not demonize these scholars and are writing about key ideas and formulations in their works ( although towards the end you do have a rather derisive tone towards McLeod). Yes, indeed I have read Oberoi’s book and other works on Sikh history and theology. In fact one of my passions is to collect books on Sikh history. So what is Oberoi saying in his award-winning book( the American Academy of Religion, gave it the best-book prize for 1994).

    The way I read it, all he is saying, nothing earth shaking, is that early Sikh community had besides the Khalsa, plenty of diversity . This diversity is tremendously reduced by the late nineteenth century not just because of the Singh Sabha, but other institutional developments like the printing-press, census, Christian missionaries and the British state. So let us not present caricatures of what these guys write. And yes, Oberoi in Chapter one of his book does cite the great Sainapat. My big problem withe Oberoi book is that it is so full of what Jodha says is deconstruction theory. What does it matter for Sikhs, as to what Foucault says.

    As for McLeod, many books, positive and negative have been written on his writings. So in one post I will not be able to sum up what I take from his work. And that never was the intention of my first post anyways. It was about the talent-flight, people quitting Sikh Studies.

    Since you raise some interesting points about hagiography and traditional sources, let me for the sake of brevity point out to you that Sainapat, Gurdas, and Bhangu are all translated by McLeod and presented in his book: Textual Sources for the Study Of the Sikh Tradition. His more recent book: The Rahit of the Khalsa delves even deeper into the writings of classical Sikh writers. So he does not by any means ignore classical Sikh authors. He may not take from them, what you do. And these are two different things. Ignoring a source and interpreting a source.

    Finally, while we may find some interesting observations in early British writings on the Sikhs, by no means, do these writings share a single view-point about the Sikhs. Malcom is very different from Joseph Cunningham. I have never liked the patronizing tone of these British writers. And Barbara, if you have some books from the time of East India company in your family attic, do share with us what they say about the Sikhs. It will be most enlightening.

  19. Jasjit Singh Dhanoa says:

    being a student at UC Riverside and a part of the Sikh Student Association. I would truly appreciate it if someone was to send me a detailed email regarding the complete argument against pashaura singh so I am better able to adress the sikh population on campus. Though I have read some of his work, I was hoping that along with the input of fellow Sikhs, the views of the Sikh's would be better adressed in the next general meeting.

    email me at. jdhan001 [at] u c r . e d u

  20. Jasjit Singh Dhanoa says:

    being a student at UC Riverside and a part of the Sikh Student Association. I would truly appreciate it if someone was to send me a detailed email regarding the complete argument against pashaura singh so I am better able to adress the sikh population on campus. Though I have read some of his work, I was hoping that along with the input of fellow Sikhs, the views of the Sikh’s would be better adressed in the next general meeting.

    email me at. jdhan001 [at] u c r . e d u

  21. Prem says:

    Satinder asks a very pertinent question. When Sikh studies become synonymous with harassment, demonisation, and death threats, who will go into the field? The whole thing is just a demonstration of how unprepared for rational debate and discussion some Sikhs are, they would rather hysterically demonise and use mob rule than engage in rational discussion of issues.

  22. Prem says:

    Satinder asks a very pertinent question. When Sikh studies become synonymous with harassment, demonisation, and death threats, who will go into the field? The whole thing is just a demonstration of how unprepared for rational debate and discussion some Sikhs are, they would rather hysterically demonise and use mob rule than engage in rational discussion of issues.

  23. P.Singh says:

    Jodha – I don't believe I've ever had anything dedicated to me before – thank you sir.

    Prem,

    I'm glad you said "some Sikhs" would rather hysterically demonize and use mob rule; in such matters, and in my experience, these Sikhs are the minority.

    Many of the scholars in question have been academically challenged on the works they have produced, and have refused or been unable to address the critisisms put forth. The Sikh community, in general, is fully within its rights to challenge the positions put forward by these scholars. The inability of these scholars to address these questions, and their nonchalant dismissal of anything critical of their works, shows an outright lack of academic integrity.

    These scholars have failed to engage in academic debate, and have almost wholly refused to change their flawed positions. If continued pressure against such scholars is termed "harrassment", then bravo to such harrassment.

    I would much rather that there be no such scholars in Sikh studies, than scholars holding (and teaching) flawed views, unable to address academic criticism, and lacking the integrity to engage in debate.

    And this being said, without taking into consideration the nefarious politics involved in the appointment of some of these scholars.

  24. P.Singh says:

    Jodha – I don’t believe I’ve ever had anything dedicated to me before – thank you sir.

    Prem,

    I’m glad you said “some Sikhs” would rather hysterically demonize and use mob rule; in such matters, and in my experience, these Sikhs are the minority.

    Many of the scholars in question have been academically challenged on the works they have produced, and have refused or been unable to address the critisisms put forth. The Sikh community, in general, is fully within its rights to challenge the positions put forward by these scholars. The inability of these scholars to address these questions, and their nonchalant dismissal of anything critical of their works, shows an outright lack of academic integrity.

    These scholars have failed to engage in academic debate, and have almost wholly refused to change their flawed positions. If continued pressure against such scholars is termed “harrassment”, then bravo to such harrassment.

    I would much rather that there be no such scholars in Sikh studies, than scholars holding (and teaching) flawed views, unable to address academic criticism, and lacking the integrity to engage in debate.

    And this being said, without taking into consideration the nefarious politics involved in the appointment of some of these scholars.

  25. Mohinder Singh Bains says:

    I have personaly known Bhai Pashaura Singh since mid 1980s, when he was doing Masters in Religious studies at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and he was also the Granthy at the Sikh Society Gurdwara Sahib in Calgary. He had great background in relgious studies from Punjabi University, Patiala,wherefrom he had Masters in Sikh Studies with distinction of a Gold Medal. He also had teaching experience at Gur Harkrishan Khalsa School, New Delhi prior to his immigration to Canada in early 80s. Eventually he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and his Ph.D. thesis was challenged by some Sikh Scholars. While at Calgary, he provided great leadership to the Sikh youth, and religious service to the congregation. As far as I remember, his weekly lecturers at the congregation were enthrilling, very well prepared and delivered. The whole community had nothing but great appreciation for his service to the Sikh Community. That said, whatever, the differences with other scholars at the Akal Takhat, and SGPC, those should be sorted out with SAMBAD, scholarly discussions, and an atmosphere of usual Sikh brotherly atmosphere of mutual respect and greater understanding. Dr.Singh has a life time dedication to Sikh cause, and natural apptitude for learning and research as a true sikh, which means a disciple or learner. He had the previledge of learning from great scholars such as Dr. Tarn Singh and others at the Punjabi University, Patiala. I have no hesitation in giving Dr. Singh due respect and position in the worldwide Sikh Community, failing which any future sikh scholars will be afraid to do reasearch.

  26. Mohinder Singh Bains says:

    I have personaly known Bhai Pashaura Singh since mid 1980s, when he was doing Masters in Religious studies at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and he was also the Granthy at the Sikh Society Gurdwara Sahib in Calgary. He had great background in relgious studies from Punjabi University, Patiala,wherefrom he had Masters in Sikh Studies with distinction of a Gold Medal. He also had teaching experience at Gur Harkrishan Khalsa School, New Delhi prior to his immigration to Canada in early 80s. Eventually he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and his Ph.D. thesis was challenged by some Sikh Scholars. While at Calgary, he provided great leadership to the Sikh youth, and religious service to the congregation. As far as I remember, his weekly lecturers at the congregation were enthrilling, very well prepared and delivered. The whole community had nothing but great appreciation for his service to the Sikh Community. That said, whatever, the differences with other scholars at the Akal Takhat, and SGPC, those should be sorted out with SAMBAD, scholarly discussions, and an atmosphere of usual Sikh brotherly atmosphere of mutual respect and greater understanding. Dr.Singh has a life time dedication to Sikh cause, and natural apptitude for learning and research as a true sikh, which means a disciple or learner. He had the previledge of learning from great scholars such as Dr. Tarn Singh and others at the Punjabi University, Patiala. I have no hesitation in giving Dr. Singh due respect and position in the worldwide Sikh Community, failing which any future sikh scholars will be afraid to do reasearch.

  27. Barbara Ratner says:

    You did not really address my key point about how the field of Sikh Studies is being made unattractive and will fail to attract fresh talent given the constant intimidation and harassment of those who daily work in this specialisation.

    Satinder, if this is your key point the answer should not come from me but you should have had a look at the whole situation to find the answer. I have been associated with research all my life and I have seen the kind of cabalistic control being exercised over Sikh Studies in other fields as well. The only difference has been that this kind of control never lasted more than a few years and never extended beyond one institution.

    In case of Sikh Studies, it is astonishing how a cabal could extend its control over the institutions of entire Western world wherever Sikh Studies were sought to be established.

    My interest in this cabalistic control began in December 2003 when a conference was organised in University of Otago by this group. What struck me was an utter lack of debate. To borrow the use of a term from Dr McLeod himself – all the paper presenters sounded more like hagiographers (paying homage to Dr McLeod) than scholars.

    That my friend is the tragedy – your answer lies in trying to find a difference of opinion amongst this cabal.

  28. Barbara Ratner says:

    You did not really address my key point about how the field of Sikh Studies is being made unattractive and will fail to attract fresh talent given the constant intimidation and harassment of those who daily work in this specialisation.

    Satinder, if this is your key point the answer should not come from me but you should have had a look at the whole situation to find the answer. I have been associated with research all my life and I have seen the kind of cabalistic control being exercised over Sikh Studies in other fields as well. The only difference has been that this kind of control never lasted more than a few years and never extended beyond one institution.
    In case of Sikh Studies, it is astonishing how a cabal could extend its control over the institutions of entire Western world wherever Sikh Studies were sought to be established.
    My interest in this cabalistic control began in December 2003 when a conference was organised in University of Otago by this group. What struck me was an utter lack of debate. To borrow the use of a term from Dr McLeod himself – all the paper presenters sounded more like hagiographers (paying homage to Dr McLeod) than scholars.
    That my friend is the tragedy – your answer lies in trying to find a difference of opinion amongst this cabal.

  29. Home Deepu says:

    Friends, If you think Sikh Studies is a monolithic field, you need to do some (re)reading. Sikh Studies factions are far more stratified than this discussion is letting on, even amongst the "usual suspects" (Mann, Pashaura, McLeod, Oberoi, etc.) There are lineages, but there lots of divergences.

    Second, "the cycle" DOES NOT "repeat itself" when a student of one scholar becomes a scholar in her own right. There may be overlap of methodology, but there is so much divergence between scholars from generation to generation. Hang out with grad students, sometime (if you're masochistic) and listen to them complain about their advisors.

    Third: this is a slow process. have some patience with it. It will take 25 years to see a new wave of good scholarship come out, but I guarantee you, that scholarship will be written by scholars influenced by (if not trained by) the people you are today so demonizing.

    In the meantime, if you have some real guts, quit your day jobs and get in the field yourself. And please don't think jingoism and threats of violence make us look all that good as a community. If you really want to hurt the panth, follow the rest of the mob. If you want to help it, embody the etymology of the word "Sikh".

    … Post script: argue the points on their actual merits. It may take some self education. ASK: Why is MS 1245 an unreliable document? What is its textual relationship to the Kartarpur Pothi? Who are the scholars who have attempted to date the Janam-Sakhis, and what are the diiferent opinions of that dating? What does Pashaura really mean when he says "editing"? Where do Mann and Pashaura substantly diverge on the historiography of Sikh scriptural development? What is Oberoi's central thesis and what evidence does he use to make his point? Is his lining up of theorists (Ortner, Foucault, Said, and Benjamin) coherent?

    … if you're not educating yourself on the real issues, but still participating in these debates, you're just pointing and shouting… from a distance, you are making us all look very bad.

  30. Home Deepu says:

    Friends, If you think Sikh Studies is a monolithic field, you need to do some (re)reading. Sikh Studies factions are far more stratified than this discussion is letting on, even amongst the “usual suspects” (Mann, Pashaura, McLeod, Oberoi, etc.) There are lineages, but there lots of divergences.

    Second, “the cycle” DOES NOT “repeat itself” when a student of one scholar becomes a scholar in her own right. There may be overlap of methodology, but there is so much divergence between scholars from generation to generation. Hang out with grad students, sometime (if you’re masochistic) and listen to them complain about their advisors.

    Third: this is a slow process. have some patience with it. It will take 25 years to see a new wave of good scholarship come out, but I guarantee you, that scholarship will be written by scholars influenced by (if not trained by) the people you are today so demonizing.

    In the meantime, if you have some real guts, quit your day jobs and get in the field yourself. And please don’t think jingoism and threats of violence make us look all that good as a community. If you really want to hurt the panth, follow the rest of the mob. If you want to help it, embody the etymology of the word “Sikh”.

    … Post script: argue the points on their actual merits. It may take some self education. ASK: Why is MS 1245 an unreliable document? What is its textual relationship to the Kartarpur Pothi? Who are the scholars who have attempted to date the Janam-Sakhis, and what are the diiferent opinions of that dating? What does Pashaura really mean when he says “editing”? Where do Mann and Pashaura substantly diverge on the historiography of Sikh scriptural development? What is Oberoi’s central thesis and what evidence does he use to make his point? Is his lining up of theorists (Ortner, Foucault, Said, and Benjamin) coherent?
    … if you’re not educating yourself on the real issues, but still participating in these debates, you’re just pointing and shouting… from a distance, you are making us all look very bad.

  31. Home Deepu says:

    Just wondering, is the supposed blasphemy of academics a substantive threat to our community? Is Pashaura Singh threatening the well-being of the next generation of SIkhs and Punjabis?

    I hope the people who are getting in buses to protest the terrible outrage that is Pashaura Singh's academic career also pack rallies to voice their objection to…

    – infanticide in Punjab and the resulting gender gap that is sociological suicide by our people

    – alcoholism and drug abuse in our diaspora and homeland communities

    – the ever-dwindling water table in Punjab, the subsequent threat of land salinization

    – Punjab's impending ecological-economical catastrophe (see previous)

    – domestic violence in our homes

    – the criminal activity being passed along as "government" in our homeland (can you start an NGO or buy a plot of land to live on in Punjab without stuffing the coffers of the thugs who run the place?)

    – the mafia rule that the "Akali Dal" is perpetrating in the name of the Sikh panth

    If we want to get outraged let's get outraged. Let's just direct our anger at the stuff that really matters, for God's sake.

    To paraphrase the great Punjabi Poet Surjit Patar: there is much injustice yet to fight.

  32. Home Deepu says:

    Just wondering, is the supposed blasphemy of academics a substantive threat to our community? Is Pashaura Singh threatening the well-being of the next generation of SIkhs and Punjabis?

    I hope the people who are getting in buses to protest the terrible outrage that is Pashaura Singh’s academic career also pack rallies to voice their objection to…
    – infanticide in Punjab and the resulting gender gap that is sociological suicide by our people
    – alcoholism and drug abuse in our diaspora and homeland communities
    – the ever-dwindling water table in Punjab, the subsequent threat of land salinization
    – Punjab’s impending ecological-economical catastrophe (see previous)
    – domestic violence in our homes
    – the criminal activity being passed along as “government” in our homeland (can you start an NGO or buy a plot of land to live on in Punjab without stuffing the coffers of the thugs who run the place?)
    – the mafia rule that the “Akali Dal” is perpetrating in the name of the Sikh panth

    If we want to get outraged let’s get outraged. Let’s just direct our anger at the stuff that really matters, for God’s sake.

    To paraphrase the great Punjabi Poet Surjit Patar: there is much injustice yet to fight.

  33. singh says:

    In My opinion Pashaura singh is a much better sikh and human being than some who had arranged this stupid show against him.

    Some people have double standards.

  34. singh says:

    In My opinion Pashaura singh is a much better sikh and human being than some who had arranged this stupid show against him.

    Some people have double standards.

  35. Jagiasoo says:

    Critics of Pishoura Singh and other Hew Mcleodians to me appear to claim to be surgeons whose argument is that in order to be a good physician one has to be a patient. Or to be able to be a judge one should be a practicing criminal.

    For me a good researcher on a religious trdaditon is the one who is adept in Scientific Method where subjective allegiance to the tradition is sometimes a distraction and even a disqualification.

    If someone honestly feels that there is some flaw in the arguments or the facts brought out by a researcher he/she should in all honesty should invest time and effort to bring forward these in a civilised way rather than mere polemics or gathering a horde of stormtroopers. I am confident that the persons being targetted would humbly accept the new arguments for enriching the study.

  36. Jagiasoo says:

    Critics of Pishoura Singh and other Hew Mcleodians to me appear to claim to be surgeons whose argument is that in order to be a good physician one has to be a patient. Or to be able to be a judge one should be a practicing criminal.

    For me a good researcher on a religious trdaditon is the one who is adept in Scientific Method where subjective allegiance to the tradition is sometimes a distraction and even a disqualification.

    If someone honestly feels that there is some flaw in the arguments or the facts brought out by a researcher he/she should in all honesty should invest time and effort to bring forward these in a civilised way rather than mere polemics or gathering a horde of stormtroopers. I am confident that the persons being targetted would humbly accept the new arguments for enriching the study.

  37. SikhCentre says:

    I came to this article as my blog (http://sikhcentre.wordpress.com) was receiving hits from here. It seems that most of the comments have been responded to, except the last few.

    Regarding “Singh” and “Jagiasoo” — Firstly, I am no supporter of agitations and “nareybaaji”. Having said that, I think you may not be aware of the full picture concerning Dr McLeod and his students. One fact that might be relevant here is that the first critique of Dr McLeod’s work (published in 1968) was published sometime in mid-1970s (I am unable to recall the exact year off-hand, but the info should be available on my blog). Dr McLeod chose to not respond to the questions raised by the reviewer of his work (Daljeet Singh, who died in 1994). After that everytime McLeod published a book, there were reviews, which were published in different university journals. But Dr McLeod, in a very unacademic way, chose to simply ignore criticism of his methodology, his “pick & choose” way of quoting sources conveniently supporting his unsubstantiated statements, and in many cases patently false statements — for instance he suggested that Guru Nanak never left Punjab on the basis that some place names which contemporary accounts say he visited, may also be found in Punjab. So he claimed that showed Guru Nanak did not journey outside Punjab.
    At best, Dr McLeod’s work may be understood in terms of Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” — Dan Brown picks and chooses his historical sources (in his case gnostics accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings) and spins a tall tale. To understand the parallel, please follow this link:
    http://www.spotlights.org/Gospels1.htm

    I hope this helps.
    Regards,

  38. SikhCentre says:

    I came to this article as my blog (http://sikhcentre.wordpress.com) was receiving hits from here. It seems that most of the comments have been responded to, except the last few.

    Regarding "Singh" and "Jagiasoo" — Firstly, I am no supporter of agitations and "nareybaaji". Having said that, I think you may not be aware of the full picture concerning Dr McLeod and his students. One fact that might be relevant here is that the first critique of Dr McLeod's work (published in 1968) was published sometime in mid-1970s (I am unable to recall the exact year off-hand, but the info should be available on my blog). Dr McLeod chose to not respond to the questions raised by the reviewer of his work (Daljeet Singh, who died in 1994). After that everytime McLeod published a book, there were reviews, which were published in different university journals. But Dr McLeod, in a very unacademic way, chose to simply ignore criticism of his methodology, his "pick & choose" way of quoting sources conveniently supporting his unsubstantiated statements, and in many cases patently false statements — for instance he suggested that Guru Nanak never left Punjab on the basis that some place names which contemporary accounts say he visited, may also be found in Punjab. So he claimed that showed Guru Nanak did not journey outside Punjab.

    At best, Dr McLeod's work may be understood in terms of Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" — Dan Brown picks and chooses his historical sources (in his case gnostics accounts of Jesus' life and teachings) and spins a tall tale. To understand the parallel, please follow this link:
    http://www.spotlights.org/Gospels1.htm

    I hope this helps.

    Regards,

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