Ten years at UC Santa Barbara by Gurinder Singh Mann, Ph.D.

* Read the Introduction to this Feature

UCSB CampusIn the mid-1990s, the newly-created Global and International Studies Program at UCSB, directed by Mark Juergensmeyer, requested the allocation of a position in Sikh and Global Studies. At the same time, Juergensmeyer, whose association with Sikhs and the Punjab went back to the 1960s, was able to persuade Narinder Singh Kapany, Chairperson of the Sikh Foundation, Palo Alto, to attach an endowment that would provide research funds to this new position. This effort eventually resulted in the creation of the Kundan Kaur Kapany Professorship in Sikh and Global Studies, and after a national search for candidates for the position, I had the good fortune to be invited to be its first occupant.

I began my work in Fall 1999 with three goals in mind: to initiate the teaching of Sikh Studies at UCSB; continue my research and publications; and work toward establishing UCSB as the leading center of Sikh and Punjab Studies in North America. This brief report emerges from a sense of profound gratitude for the cooperation of students, colleagues, and departmental chairs at UCSB; the advice of friends at other universities in the U.S., U.K., and the Punjab; the support from the Sikh and Punjabi community; and the total confidence of the Kapany family in my work. Let me summarize our activity along the three above-mentioned goals.

The first punjabi class at UCSB 1999


Before my arrival at UCSB, the Sikhs and the Punjab briefly appeared in the teaching of Mark Juergensmeyer’s (Global Religions, Religious Nationalism) and Scott Marcus (Music of North India), and it was easy to build on their offerings. I began with the introduction of a course entitled “Sikhism (RS 162C),” and this continues to constitute the center of my undergraduate teaching. In its first offering in Fall 1999, 22 students were enrolled in the class and it is gratifying to report that this year, in Fall 2009, this course has 245 registered students. The other courses that I have developed include “Indian Civilization (RS 20),” an entry-level course for those interested in the subcontinent, and “South Asians in the United States (RS 162F),” which deals with the issues that face the Sikhs and other South Asian communities in the U.S. In addition, we offer Punjabi language at elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels. In Fall 09, 17 students have registered for Punjabi (RS 60A).

I thus begin my yearly cycle with a survey of Indian civilization, in the middle I focus on the Sikh tradition, and finally I conclude with the history of Indians overseas. Course evaluations at the undergraduate level indicate that students are pleased with my approach as well as the contents of my teaching. Students’ written comments have also been consistently positive. For details, please see Rate My Professors. Over the past decade, course enrollments have continued to rise. Between 2004 and 2009, 1371 students took these classes, and had a varied degree of exposure to Sikhism and the Punjab.

On the graduate level, I have developed three seminars (RS 213) and readings for advanced Punjabi (RS 292) students. “Religion and Society in the Punjab (RS 213A)” deals with the cultural history of the region; “Issues in Sikh Studies (RS 213B)” focuses on the landmarks in Sikh history; and “The Guru Granth and the Sikh Tradition (RS 213C)” examines the making, the status, and the role of the sacred text in Sikh life. In a three-year cycle then, we begin with an examination of historical and cultural developments in the Punjab, study the history of the Sikh community, and finally close with a detailed discussion of the Guru Granth. A seminar in advanced Punjabi (RS 292) resulted in a special issue of the Journal of Punjab Studies (2006: 1-2) discussed later in this report.

Four students working on Sikh and Punjab Studies have completed their doctoral dissertations in the past ten years. Anna Bigelow did her research on Malerkotla (2004) and teaches in North Carolina State University; Dan Michon wrote on the archeology of the Punjab (2007) and teaches at Claremont McKenna College; Kristina Myrvold (History of Religions, Lund University, Sweden) wrote on the Sikhs of Banaras (2007) while visiting UCSB as a Fulbright scholar and now teaches at Lund; and Rahuldeep Singh Gill completed his dissertation on Bhai Gurdas (2009), and now teaches at California Lutheran University. Myrvold holds the distinction of having offered the first course on Sikhism taught in a European university.

Anna Bigelow, Dan Michion, Gibb Schreffler, Ami P. Shah, and Randi Clary won prestigious scholarships to do their fieldwork in the Punjab. At present, seven doctoral candidates are pursuing their research in Sikh and Punjab Studies. Their projects vary from the preparation of a translation of an early eighteenth-century text to the study of the institution of the Gurdwara; the history of modern education and journalism in the nineteenth century Punjab; and the anthropology of Punjabi music. Three doctoral candidates at UC Los Angeles, Columbia University, and University of Jyvaskyla (Finland) are also affiliated with our program.

PublicationsResearch and Publications

Contemporary Sikh history figures in important ways in Mark Juergensmeyer’s authoritative writings on religious violence and global politics, and my publications have expanded this work to include other areas. “The Making of Sikh Scripture” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) traces the history of the Guru Granth and it became the first book in Sikh Studies to be turned into an Internet edition in 2006. Additionally, OUP- New Delhi has released four editions of this book for sale in India (hardbound, 2002; paperback, 2003, 2006, and 2009). “Sikhism” (Prentice Hall, 2004), a short introduction to the Sikh tradition, has had several reprints and its translated versions in Japanese and Spanish were released in 2007. “Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), which I co-authored with P. D. Numrich and R. Williams, addresses the history of the Sikhs in the U.S. It was turned into a paperback edition in 2007. Please see, USCB for more details.

In addition, I have edited two special issues of the “Journal of Punjab Studies” (2006: 1-2 jps_15_coverand 2008: 1-2), and have co-authored a book with four scholars (2009). The first issue of the JPS focused on the twentieth century Punjabi poetry. Its primary contents emerged from “Advanced Punjabi (RS 292),” a graduate seminar we held in 2005. It includes translations of 50 Punjabi poems done by Randi Clary, Gibb Schreffler, and Ami P. Shah, all doing graduate work at UCSB. This project provided these scholars with the opportunity to translate Punjabi, an exercise that helped the progression of their doctoral research as well as build their publication portfolios. Surjit Patar (Ludhiana), Najm Hussain Said (Lahore), and Amarjit Chandan (London), three leading figures in Punjabi literature, wrote praising both the selection of the poems and the quality of their translations. For its contents, click here

The second issue of the JPS was dedicated to Guru Gobind Singh (1661-1708), the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. A New Delhi based scholar, thought this effort to be “the only meaningful academic tribute on the third death centennial of the Guru.” For the table of contents, please Click here. I plan to expand this version into a volume of essays entitled Guru Gobind Singh: New Sources, New Voices, which will serve as an authoritative statement on this topic. Additional essays for this volume are being written and the manuscript will be ready by December 2009.

“An Introduction to Punjabi: Grammar, Conversations, and Literature” is being published by Georgetown University Press. This book has been a journey of learning, teaching, and writing that has spanned over the last twelve years involving Gurdit Singh, presently an American diplomat, Ami P. Shah and Gibb Schreffler, currently completing their doctoral work, and Anne Murphy, the holder of the Chair in Punjabi Studies, University of British Columbia, and myself. The teaching of Punjabi as a foreign language is an entirely new area of research, and we expect “An Introduction to Punjabi” to serve as a foundational text that will be used by foreign learners of Punjabi all over the world as well as referred to by teachers both in the East and West Punjab. In the next stage of this project, we plan to make the teaching of Punjabi available on the Internet beginning in Fall 2010.

In addition, I published ten articles and book chapters, one of which has received particular attention. This is entitled “Sources for the Study of Guru Gobind Singh’s Life and Times,” and is said to “revolutionize our understanding about Guru Gobind Singh. The best work on him since 1967, and cannot be surpassed for decades (J.S. Grewal).” It was also thought to be “most interesting in the breadth of its coverage of non-literary sources (many entirely unfamiliar to me) as well as the textual stuff (Chris Shackle).”

Other Activities

In 2004, we were able to bring the “Journal of Punjab Studies”, the only journal in the West that focuses on the region of the Punjab, from its original base in England to UCSB. Now in its sixteenth year of publication, the JPS has considerable name recognition and its presence at UCSB helps bring our program to the center of research in Sikh and Punjab Studies. In the past years we have had issues on agriculture, culture, geography, economy, and literature, which are now being used as standard teaching materials on these themes. The JPS is playing an important role in setting the parameters of research for an emerging generation of scholars in Punjab Studies.
Nihang Center
The Summer Program in Chandigarh, India, which I started in 1997, has continued with considerable degree of success over the past years.
. The program provides a unique opportunity for us to help and guide scholars interested in Sikh and Punjab Studies from all over the world. In the thirteen years of its history, 180 scholars from 71 universities in 10 countries have participated. As a sample, the 2009 group of sixteen participants included, one university professor, three school teachers, five doctoral candidates, three holding masters degrees, three undergraduates, and one with a degree in nursing. The universities they were affiliated with included Columbia, Coventry, London, Lund, Harvard, Montreal, New York, Rochester, Temple, Toronto, British Columbia, UC San Francisco, and UC Santa Barbara, and their areas of research ranged from art, economics, education, history, literature, medical sciences to religion.

Amarjit ChandanA wide array of scholars, creative writers and community leaders visited UCSB for lectures and interaction with our students. These included A. T. Embree, J. S. Grewal, J. S. Hawley, W. H. McLeod, Christopher Shackle (history); Amarjit Chandan, Surjit Patar, Ahmad Salim, Ajmer Rode (poetry); B. N. Goswamy, Susan Stronge, and the Twin Sisters (art). In addition, we have arranged international conferences on the themes ranging from Guru Gobind Singh (1999) to Sikh Diaspora (2001), Punjabi Culture (2003), and South Asian Studies in the U.S. (2005). A plan to hold another conference entitled “Expanding Horizons: Sikh Studies at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century” is in place (November 13-15, 2009), and we look forward to a group of younger scholars making presentations in new areas of research.

In addition, we have also collaborated with other institutions and co-sponsored conferences held at Lund University, Sweden (June 2004), and Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Punjab (March 2009), and I have been involved in with the Sikh Heritage Project at Smithsonian Museums (2002-07), and worked with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History for their very successful exhibition on Sikh Heritage (Spring 2009). For details click here.

In Conclusion

During the first decade of our program in Sikh Studies, we have successfully developed a cluster of courses around Punjabi language and the history of the Sikhs and the region of the Punjab. These courses provide foundation for students interested in this area of study. Reception of these courses has exceeded my expectations and I am grateful for the warm and eager responses of students. Simultaneously, our conferences, visiting lectures, artist in residence, Journal of Punjab Studies, and Summer Program in Chandigarh, have brought our program to the attention of scholars working around the globe, and UCSB is increasingly recognized as an important center of teaching and research in Sikh and Punjab Studies. This is reflected in the fact that Fulbright scholars from Finland (2009), India (2008), and Sweden (2006) selected UCSB to pursue their research while visiting the United States.

UCSB was the fifth major university in North America to begin Sikh Studies in 1999, and I am relieved to report that we now hold the distinction of being the first program to have completed the first ten years of its existence without a break. Unlike the earlier programs that had either ended (Toronto and Columbia), underwent temporary suspension (British Columbia), or remained in animated suspension (Michigan) due to a complicated set of tensions between the university authorities and the leadership of the Sikh community, we at UCSB have managed to lay the foundation of a sound academic program while simultaneously building a reservoir of goodwill within the Sikh community both in the U.S. and abroad.

Venture Sikh House WorshipUCSB students are warmly received in the gurdwaras in the vicinity (Santa Barbara Independent, May 24, 09) and our Summer Program participants and graduate students doing fieldwork in the Punjab are accorded welcome at the university campuses there. Financial support has also been forthcoming for the Center for Sikh and Punjab Studies’ programs from the members of the Sikh community View list of Patrons. From January 1, to August 31, 2009 over 9000 people visited the Center for Sikh and Punjab Studies, UCSB website, and it is encouraging to know that these many people are interested in our activities. I can only hope that the work of the past decade meets the expectations of the creators of the position as well as the Sikh community in general, which, in my view, is its primary beneficiary!
Gurinder Singh Mann, Ph.D.
View Dr. Mann’s C.V
UCSB – Center of Sikh and Punjabi Studies


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