Sikh Students Conference ||

The Sikh Students Conference will bring focus on the determining factors in the current Sikh situation as well as the trends among the Sikhs. The Sikhs, whose entity has been reduced to subjects after 1849, have been victims of the processes that defined the nature of the secular Indian nation-state. Such definitions represent the imperialist agenda to universalize meaning, construct a uniform identity, and deny any difference. The conference aims to contest the accepted definitions and break away with the conventions in Sikh activism. The conference is a result of the realization of having a fresh engagement with the area of Sikh studies in particular and the related areas such as theory and method in the study of religion and different branches of Western philosophical traditions that provide basis for theoretical approaches. Although the conference is mainly focusing on the 1984 attack on Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, the primary focus is on the philosophical trends that shaped historically-significant events or even the historical context itself.

Therefore, the conference is unlike venues that try to locate the Sikhs within any given space, whether it’s Indian secularism, or the American liberal democracy, but an attempt to locate a Sikh space. Because what Sikhs encounter in life, particularly in the West, is unavoidably complex, simplistic approaches are incapacitating. The few available venues are stifling potential. The Sikh Students Conference aims to foster the faculties critical and necessary for a real engagement with life and the issues.


Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal, Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies, Hofstra University

How is the voice of the Nation State constituted? How is the voice of the Sikh constituted?
What kind of power does the Nation State’s voice command? What are the forces in the Sikh voice? How do these two powers or forces constitute subjectivity and mobilize collective action? And how are they related? I will explore the difference between these two registers of power under various contrasting pairs – the key pair will explore the Nation State’s power as a theatrical one, and the Sikh’s strength as a dramatic one. What is the difference between theatre and drama, power and strength? It will be argued that theatrical power is a coercion that manufactures a silence of obedience, whereas dramatic strength inspires a silence of expectation.

How would one move beyond the Nation State’s machinery that can silence the voice of minority protests and enforce the legitimization of particular stereotypes across the media? What are the background legacies of the colonial encounter with Sikhism and how do they shape the current debates on identity and sovereignty? What violence was wrought through the transition to Modernity? Is the Modern only Modern to the extent that it displaces the religious from the public and political space in which various peoples share their imaginations of civil society? We may be able to see the violence of contemporary Modern Nation States, but can we discern the subtle coercive limitations of Secular Nationalism, Ethical Humanism, and Moral Monotheism? Yet who could argue with a liberal secularity, ethics, humanism, morality and monotheism? – aren’t these the very names that define what Sikh are and believe? I would like to argue otherwise, and explore how to imagine alternative visions of our troubled present, and thereby situate the dark year of 1984 in this broader frame – primarily to think differently and generate responses beyond the voice of the victim, the voice of angry protest, and the voice of injustice and law. What is our strength?

Prabhsharandeep Singh, Center for Sikh Studies

I will center my lecture around violence and metaphysics, which on the one hand will engage with the topic on a philosophical level, and on the other hand will explore the Sikh experience through the most significant events that are 1849 (British occupation of the Punjab) and 1984 (Indian army invasion on Sri Darbar Sahib Amritsar and several other Gurdwaras). While focusing on the Sikh experience, I will share a reading of the basis and effects of the conflicts of interpretations that the Sikhs have been through during the past century and a half. Also, I will read through the nihilistic undertones of the romanticism that lie in the very fabric of the Indian nationalism. The violence of 1984, in my experience, is not mere political or military violence against the Sikhs, but a violence of metaphysics that was there long before 1984.

Harjit Singh Grewal, University of Michigan

I wish to understand how art can serve as a canvass for the transposition of a desire for autonomy subsequent to the repression of said aim by a violent encounter with the modern nation-state. In order to begin then, and to do so arbitrarily as we must do, I attempt to use as a lens that violence surrounding the events related to the Sikh demand for greater socio-political freedoms—through what is collectively memorialized as a Sikh separatist demand: Khalistan. We begin looking for expressions of resistance renewed anew; dreams of violent resistance to the organized military machine. Through an analysis of such sources, I believe we can begin to understand how violent repression, violent force, turns into fantasies of violent resistance, creative resistance as a transiting of violence.

Amandeep Singh, Stony Brook University

This lecture, taking its cue from postmodern theology, specifically the philosophy of event, will trace the relationship between Sikh hermeneutics of receptivity and the genocide(s) of 1984, namely the link between the deconstruction of metaphysics inherent in the socio-political, embodied nature of Sikh hermeneutics and the excessively violent response of the Indian Nation State.
This discussion will revolve around the deconstruction of time, and the rethinking of the event, not as what occurs but as that which is astir in what occurs—which simmers beneath the historical surfaces of names, things, and situations—the in-deconstructible and unconditional ground of their possibility and impossibility. Sikh hermeneutics will be conceptualized as the process of cultivating and nurturing a receptivity towards this incalculable and unexpected event that is harbored in the name of Guru/God.

Randeep Singh, University of California, Berkeley

I will speak on the topic of Kantian ontology, and its conditions for the very possibility of a theology. In order to obtain apodeictic certainty about matters of metaphysics, Kant’s enterprise sets off on a path that commits him to the thesis that mind cannot obtain any knowledge as pertaining to matters as they are in themselves apart from the mind. This results in two discoveries. According to Kant, from this it follows that God, God’s nature, and His Existence are something of which no knowledge —neither positive or negative—can be ascertained. As a result, Kant explains, we find ourselves with various theological antimonies.
I will comment on Kant’s metaphysics and attempt to demonstrate the tendency towards secularism in Modern philosophy, and therefore the tendency towards secularism in colonized subjects. It is this very metaphysically grounded secularism that flushes out differences amongst those who don’t conform—in this case the Sikhs in the Indian state. The imposition of secularism upon the colonized is, I will explain, parallel to India’s relationship to Sikhs. This is most evident in India’s attempt to transform Sikhs through state sponsored violence seen in 1984.

Puneet Kaur Dhillon, University of Michigan

There has been the creation of a Sikh nation in the diaspora that people are very aware of. This nation still related to Punjab as the Sikh homeland and looks to be effected by the issues that come up there. However it is very difficult to merge the two (diasporic and non). Sikhi in Punjab (from what I have seen) is immersed in a culture very vibrant and strong. There are ideas and traditions that are not understood or are not part of the collective history which the Diaspora shares. In India, Sikh and Punjab almost become synonymous –Here they do not. I have encountered numerous individuals/peers who do not relate nor do they care to connect themselves with Punjab. Yet, due to the Sikhi aspect they feel entitled to connect with the Sikhs in India and empathize with the victims of tragedies like 1984. A whole second part is disregarded. The politics of Punjab, in which the Sikh political groups are highly involved are not understood and recognized.



3-6 PM Check-in/Registration
>Arrive at Unit 2 on 2650 Haste St, Berkeley, CA 94704
6-9 PM Dinner. Introductions.
>Attendees introduce themselves & select a relevant online film clip to play.
9-10 PM Ardas, Shabad Kirtan
10-11 PM Introduction


7:30 – 9 AM Nitnem & Kirtan
>attendance encouraged
9-10 AM Breakfast
10-10:30 AM Arrive at discussion location
10:30 – 1 PM Discussion 1
>11:30 am Refreshments
1 – 2:30 PM Lunch
3 – 5 PM Discussion 2
>snacks provided
5 PM Dinner, Bonfire


7:30 – 9 AM Nitnem & Kirtan
9 – 10 AM Breakfast
10:30 – 1 PM Discussion 3
1 – 2:30 PM Lunch
3-5 PM Discussion 4
5 PM Dinner
Picnic Tilden, hike to summit, reach top at sunset


7:30 – 9 AM Nitnem & Kirtan
9 – 10 AM Breakfast
10:30 – 1 PM Discussion 3
1 – 2:30 PM Lunch
2:30 – 5 PM Outdoor activity, gun range

Lectures will be accompanied with free-ranging discussions affording participants an informal environment to engage scholars, or to just listen. Attendees will have the opportunity to get to know each other, and to foster dialogue amongst professors to bring about familiarity with the academic discourse of Sikh Studies.

Unit 2, part of the UC Berkeley student housing, will be providing accommodations. Located adjacent to campus, it will be a convenient, comfortable, private and friendly atmosphere for attendees.
• Incredible views of the Bay from top floors
• Academic Center with computer lab
• Sound–proof music rooms
• Large meeting rooms complete with comfortable sofas and chairs
• Pool/ping–pong tables, cable TV, and fireplace in lower lounges
• Huge flat screen TVs with cable in Recreational Room

UC Berkeley is home to an eclectic tradition of cuisine both close to campus and throughout the city. Attendees will be provided food, and have the opportunity to explore various spots in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In a pleasant and sunny region of California, the weather in Berkeley lends itself to a variety of outdoor activities. Close in proximity to San Francisco and several beaches, scheduled events will make for an entertaining and memorable conference experience.


  1. :(
    Same weekend as Jakara
    sikh resources are limited, hopefully the organizers of both conferences can be in touch so as not to repeat the same unfortunate circumstance


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