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Contemporary Sikhism

This lecture series is presented by Professor Radhika Chopra (University of Delhi). Read more about her research here.


Part 1: Recognizing Sikhism 

About the lecture

Emerging in the 16th century in the Indian sub-continent, Sikhism is perhaps the most ‘visible’ religion today in the world through its symbols, rituals, and cultures. Like any other religion, the evolution of Sikhism throughout the centuries have been shaped by both its sub-continental roots and its global spread, while at the same time also effecting the religion itself. Prof. Radhika Chopra talks about the various symbols, scriptures, and shrines through which one can recognize Sikhism in the modern world, and takes us on a long journey of experiencing the religion through her lens. 


Part 2: Contextualizing Symbols, Reinscribing Identity

About the lecture

Moving on from talking about the varied symbols in Sikhism, in this segment Prof. Chopra explains the need to contextualize these symbols to determine how this then leads to slight alterations in how rituals are practiced within the religion. Taking historical examples of how the ‘turban’ and the ‘kirpan’ became points of discrimination for Sikh men throughout the history of Sikhism within and without India, Prof. Chopra explains that the adornment or open representation of Sikh symbols in the public sphere became an act of protest and rebellion for Sikhs.

Such actions percolated down to the individual level, where every Sikh felt the strong urge to display their cultural symbols flamboyantly as a marker of dissent. Towards the end, Prof. Chopra also talks about Operation Bluestar carried out by the Indian Government in the 1980s that led to devastating outcomes for Sikhs and their traditions for years to come. 


Part 3: Commemoration, Repair, and Remembrance 

About the lecture

In this part, Prof. Chopra closes her discussion on Sikhism by talking about the aftermath of the events of Operation Bluestar as discussed previously, and talks about how in the aftermath of the events the rituals practiced by Sikhs in the public sphere underwent a profound change to ‘repair’ the community. The emergence of international aid groups within the Sikh community that focus on sewa and philanthropy have been central in executing this process of repair. In any case however, since religion is not static, and always in a state of flux, Sikhism too has been successful in being responsive and incorporating elements important to exist as a belief system in modern times.